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Brother to Dragons by Charles Sheffield

Brother to Dragons (original 1992; edition 1992)

by Charles Sheffield

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1652112,464 (3.5)4
Born of a crack-addicted mother in a charity ward in Washington, D.C. after the crash, Job Napoleon Salk is destined to change the world.
Title:Brother to Dragons
Authors:Charles Sheffield
Info:Baen (1992), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library

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Brother to Dragons by Charles Sheffield (1992)



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My reactions to reading this novel in 1993. Some spoilers may follow.

This book has an absurd premise: that just before the twentieth century ends the Quiebra Grande, the Great Crash, brings down the world economy. Scientists and technologists of all sorts are locked up in concentration camps built on toxic waste dumps while the richest families, the Royal Hundred in America, preserve their status.

The cause of this economic catastrophe? Pollution, we’re told – high-sulfur coal burning, nuclear reactor meltdowns, poisoned oceans, and “quadrupled background radioactivity”, stripped topsoil, and the ever popular decaying infrastructure. Exactly how these things led to economic collapse (of long duration) we’re never told (Increased medical costs? Reduced productivity?) or why things were allowed to deteriorate so far -- the central question/point of all straight-line extrapolation sf novels.

But if you allow the silly premise, this is a very exciting, fast moving novel set in a world that reminds one of a Third World country or, as a reviewer noted, a Dickens novel (orphanages, street people, the Royal Hundred). The novel is the gripping story of protagonist Job Napleon Salk. Born deformed to a drugger mother, dying of radiation poisoning, his is a life of little happiness. We follow him as he grows, learning lessons of life from colorful street characters like a pimp who has fantasies of an old life as as a sociology professor to Skip Tolson fellow juvenile delinquent who has an utterly pragmatic self-centered view of life to Father Bonifant aka Mister Bones. The latter is the moral authority of this novel, the ultimate person the dying Salk looks to when he decides to unleash a fertility reducing, life prolonging virus on the world.

Sheffield ties up a suprising number of thematic/symbolic elements in the final chapter. Salk must stop being a puppet like Tandyman machines. He must decide who should run the world – the scientists of the Nebraska Tandy or the conservatives like intelligence head Wilfred who know how power works in the real but want that power for themselves.(Sheffield curiously portrays his fellow scientists as hopelessly naïve about people. Salk decides that no one can be allowed exclusive power: those who want change things like the scientists (who, like most of the Tandy inhabitants, are too tainted by understandable hate to be allowed to run things) and conservatives and hangers on like Tolson all have their place. The most interesting thing to me in the book were the many instances – by Father Bonifant, the nurse who helps delivers him, Tracey the prostitute, Professor Buckler the pimp – of kindness in this grim world. I found this a nice change of pace for this type of story. Even the grimmest of circumstances – famine, disease epidemics, concentration camps – do not seem capable of quelling all human kindness. ( )
  RandyStafford | Feb 10, 2013 |
Twenty years after its publication, Brother to Dragons is too close for comfort to what it looks like humans are consigning themselves. Well worth reading and thinking about as we Americans face another election. ( )
  pdgarrett48 | Apr 9, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Sheffieldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hickman, StephenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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