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Fugitives of Chaos
John C. Wright
Tor, 320 pages

Fugitives of Chaos
John C. Wright
John C. Wright is a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor. He presently lives in Virginia, with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their two children. He has published shorter works in Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, one of which was selected to appear in Year's Best SF 3 edited by David G. Hartwell for 1997.

John C. Wright Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Orphans of Chaos
SF Site Review: Mists of Everness
SF Site Review: The Last Guardian of Everness
SF Site Review: The Golden Age
SF Site Interview: John C. Wright

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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The premise of The Prisoner, a cult British television series of the 60s, was that of an abducted ex-spy confined in an isolated village engaged in a battle of wits with his mysterious captors as he plots escape. Of course, he doesn't succeed, for the practical reason that would be the end of the show (indeed, even when it did end, the hero never really escaped because the whole point was that ultimately none of us can be free of our circumstances).

This very same existential sandbox is where John C. Wright plays in Fugitives of Chaos, the sequel to Orphans of Chaos. Five boarding school students discover there is something decidedly strange about themselves; in fact, neither they nor their teachers are human. The students do not age beyond adolescence because the isolated school environment is actually a subterfuge to control their powers that, unleashed into the world, threaten not only the pagan gods who have confined them, but the very fabric of the universe -- hence the reference to "chaos."

Each of the students represents a different paradigm. Amelia, the narrator, can travel not only in the fourth dimension, but the fifth; Victor is the supreme intellect, able to manipulate matter at the molecular level, whose perception of reality is grounded in the atomism of physics; Quentin represents the opposite extreme of mysticism and magic; the youngest, the psychic Colin, is a willing sacrifice to the needs of the others; and Vanity, well, no one really knows how she fits into the larger scheme, but she can manipulate physical space to forge secret passageways (a particularly handy skill for a group bent on escape). The school headmaster, teachers and staff are variously incarnations of figures from Nordic, Greek and Anglo-Saxon mythology. How all these entities are supposed to interact is the dilemma that underpins the narrative.

Every time we found out more the situation, it seemed increasingly complex. In stifling our powers, for example, they had used not one but two or maybe three methods, each from a different paradigm, each operating by its own rules. Our enemies had factions, and each faction had factions in it, and even within a single person… there were opposing impulses and imperatives.
p. 41
In Orphans, the students discover their true identities and the forces behind their imprisonment, but are caught in the course of their investigations and their memories are erased. Fugitives picks up on how they regain the sense of their unique powers and use that knowledge -- though still incomplete -- to escape. The gods, however, are on the chase.

Since there is at least one more volume (Titans of Chaos due out in April, with another related trilogy apparently in the works), the fate of our heroes and whether their escape succeeds -- and how that escape may affect the workings of the universe -- remains unknown. However, the plot is less for the purpose of an exciting story line than it is to provide a framework for the characters to debate among themselves classically grounded concepts of the nature of reality and their specific role in defining it. This isn't ponderous Olaf Stapledon territory, however; the erudite Wright encases the continuing contemplations of the characters with humor and sexual innuendo that reflects the struggles of young people to understand themselves in the context of a bizarre adult world.

I said, "If our powers our powers were working, they have to split us up to defeat us. They'd be posted around the boundaries."

Colin said, "But? Dark Mistress, our powers are not working."

"They don't know that. I am afraid of splitting up. They can crush us singly."

Colin said, "Dark Mistress, hello? Hello? Earth to Amelia! If none of our super-duper powers are operating, they can crush us anyway, singly or as a group."

"I want to see if I can turn Victor on."

I turned toward Victor.

Colin said, "I could make the obvious joke at this moment…"
p. 84-85

At other times, however, Wright ditches the sophomoric dialogue for something more incisively bittersweet.
When I was young, I thought the act of getting older meant, year by year, getting more sophisticated, more hard, cool, and unpitying. Less innocent.

Maybe that was a childish idea of what getting older was about. Maybe adults, mature adults, get more innocent with time, not less. Because the word "innocent" does not mean "naïve," it means "not guilty."

Children do small evils to each other, schoolyard fights and insults, not because their hearts are pure, but because their powers are small. Grown-ups have more power. Some of them do great evils with that power. But what about the ones who don't? Aren't they more innocent than children, not less?

So I trudged the snow, weeping slow tears for a dead monster who had wanted to marry me, and wishing I were like a child, cruel and unpitying again.
p. 181

Impending danger looms as our heroes confront a cliffhanger expected of a middle book in a trilogy. So whether they can every truly escape remains to be seen, though I suspect the answer will be that they cannot, both for their sakes and for the rest of us living in this particular universe, not to mention to keep the series going for future continuations.

Wright's point, if there is a point beyond having great fun with all this stuff, may be that escape isn't possible, but perhaps escape is not as important as realizing and living up to our natures.

Copyright © 2007 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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