"Duke of Uranium"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAR 3, 2003)"Teacher Fwidya said you couldn't not dak the idea, because it was so central to the way everyone thought about the world, so naturally Jak Jinnaka tried not to even understand the idea. Jak was that way--tell him he couldn't and he'd try. Uncle Sib always said it was a good thing nobody'd ever told him you can't breathe in a vacuum."
When a book opens with an article called "Fwidya at age 300, Was Jinnaka's Teacher, Disavows all responsibility," you pretty much know that lighthearted fun is the name of the game. But even the most lighthearted games have their darker moments, as you see when you begin to explore the world Barnes creates.
It is a fascinating world. Completely self contained, the hive is a city built in space, where gravity has different levels...the rich have less gravity, and so light often becomes a synonym for wealthy. The first most outstanding aspect Barnes employs to add texture to the word is slang...it takes awhile to dak what they're saying, but toktru, once you've caught on, it really adds to it. Their names are also add to this, from Jak's best tove Dujuv to Duj's girlfriend Myxenna, the names also make this feel like a far-flung time. The technology is quite incredible...under the lighter story is a core of hard science fiction. The AI is incredibly advanced, including "purses" (imagine a glove that is a cell phone, computer/PDA and wise-cracking guardian rolled into one) and Sunclippers that travel between the points of space, using huge sails. Advances are not limited to things. Some people, like Dujuv, are genetically engineered. In his case he's a Panth, which means he's the epitome of physical prowess, with super strength and lightening reactions. Technology is a very huge part of the background, always ingenious, yet often so plausible that you don't think twice about it. For me these technical discoveries, these future possibilities, made up some of the high points of the book.
As I've said, the book is lighthearted. It's not hilarious...you won't laugh out loud, but you'll find that it is pleasant reading that goes down very easily. Jak is so contrary...often he does something simply because it's the opposite. The first moment I got to really liking him is early in the book, while he's talking to Duj, who's just announced that he's going to join the team of a highly dangerous sport...he wants to be supportive, and succeeds, but finds himself unable to stop himself from yammering on, completely ruining all the good he did by being supportive. This is something I've done...and therefore something I can sympathize with. Barnes made some very wise choices...I think that it's a different take, to make the secondary friend the one with all the powerful abilities, and to make Jak unmodified, with only his years of training in the Disciplines (martial arts) and the other things his Uncle has taught him as his only weapons. I think it must be tempting sometimes to give the main character...ostensibly the favored child...the greater powers. To not take the easier way out, to make Jak have to raise above these challenges makes him much easier to reach, and makes the story more believable.
The adventures of Jak continue in A Princess of the Aerie, which I review next.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
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"A Princess of the Aerie"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAR 3, 2003)
When we left the Princess Sesh, she was just about to start her life as a member of the royal court of Greenworld, a branch of the hub called Aerie, and our heroes Jak And Duj were settling into going to school, thanks to the new, kinder Duke of Uranium. Of course, the two can't help getting into trouble...but a junior project to help their old friend the Princess gives them the hope that they may actually make graduation. When they get to Greenworld, though, they are impressed into the Royal guards. Jak is conditioned by the Princess so that he will have complete loyalty and adoration for...and fear of...her. She even has control over their bodies, and it only takes a command from her to turn them into rutting beasts. Jak's ardor cools, however, when he manages to deflect an attempt to assassinate the King, Sesh's father...and discovers that Sesh is behind the plot. To get away from an extremely ticked off princess, the two accept a mission to Mercury, where they must keep Riveroma (who is well known to those who have read the last book) from taking over the planet, which is filled with invaluable mines filled with materials that every being in the galaxy needs to survive.
Like the first book, this book uses a lot of incredible technology. Some of the high points include when Jak, Duj and Myx travel as CUPV's, working their way across space rather than sitting in the warmth and luxury of passenger class. The ships they sail are amazing...the technological details, the sails and the rigging make it feel much more exciting and interesting than the normal mode of space travel.
Technology also brings forth one of my own fears...as exemplified by the relationship between Jak and reporter Mreek Sinda. Sinda uses the technology to pretty much attempt to ruin Jak's life...she can make it look like and sound like he has done and said a million things, and so far, they're all bad. In fact, Jak's her big story, her muse, as covering his attempt to rescue Sesh (in the previous book) is what made her career...but, as she says, you're only as good as your last story. The fact that so many things can be made up and telecast as truth, and there is nothing that Jak can do about it, is very scary. We have rumors of that on some levels in our own time, and to see this advanced so much does tend to make the blood chill.
Like the last book, there is plenty of adventure, and despite the tensions created between the friends by both some of the sexual politics (every one is pretty sexually free...but some people can face it better than others...for example, Duj, being genetically engineered to be a Panth, is extremely loyal and focused, which makes it hard to accept a woman who sleeps with anyone...) and by the lies Sinda created, the interrelationships between the people are done convincedly well. So well, Sesh becomes pretty much unlikable...but, as Myx and Duj point out to Jak, she was always that way to an extent, he just refused to see it. There's still a pleasant light heartedness to the story...it's hard to be completely serious when the chapter headings are called things like "Are you sane?" "I'm trying." or "Outranked by a Toaster."
Barnes continues the things he began in the last book very well, weaving old concepts in with new, yet still telling a fun, self-contained story. I look forward to his further adventures in this series.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
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"In the Hall of the Martian King"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer AUG 3, 2003)
The most noticeable thing in this third installment of the adventures of Jak is that he's genuinely matured. In the first books, he's really just a teenager, for all the years he technically has. The whole feel of the books matched the main character's attitude, making for a more youthful feeling adventure. Again, the main character's attitudes color the tone, so this offering feels older, much more mature. I think that says a great deal about Barnes' talent, to be able to realistically show a character's growth. It also makes Jak a much more likable character. True, he's still pretty clueless about things, instead of considering the situations from all angles he keeps his vision pretty narrow, but he's someone I now have an even easier time relating to, and I found myself favoring him more than his toktru tove Dujuv when in the past the panth was my favorite character. Not that Dujuv, now a roving consul (and also showing a bit of maturity) isn't still as interesting as ever. Even so, Jak still has some hard lessons to learn...one of the reasons why he makes a good serial character. There's room for him to grow.
It's also a very humorous book. Clarbo is...inconceivably stupid. The first words out of his mouth ruin the diplomatic talks just seconds before the King seems ready to give Jak the lifelog. Watching Jak trying to keep the mission on track with this man in tow is rather funny, even as you feel bad for him.
The technology continues to create a deeply textured background. By now the marvels of this world have become second nature to it, yet they still maintain their marvelousness. I would kill for a purse. These small computers go everywhere with you, a simple command gets them to do everything from getting your laundry done to taxes to providing high security codes. All they ask in return is a push of the reward button.
A wonderful mixture of espionage, sf, and an exploration of both friendship and politics, this book is filled with enough adventure...and an deliciously ironic twist...to please readers of any genre.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky (1986)
- Sin of Origin (1988)
- Mother of Storms (1994)
- One for the Morning Glory (1996)
- Apocalypses & Apostrophes: stories (1998)
- Finity (1999)
- Gaudeamus (November 2004)
- Tales of the Madman Underground (2009)
Century Next Door:
- Orbital Resonance (1991)
- Kaleidoscope Century (1995)
- Candle (2000)
- The Sky So Big and Black (August 2002)
- A Million Open Doors (1992)
- Earth Made of Glass (1998)
- The Merchant of Souls (2001)
- The Armies of Memory (April 2007)
Jak Jinnaka/Duke of Uranium series:
- The Duke of Uranium (September 2002)
- A Princess of the Aerie (January 2003)
- In the Hall of the Martian King (June 2003)
Master of the Game Trilogy:
- Directive 51 (April 2010)
Written with Buzz Aldrin
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- Wikipedia page on John Barnes
- NEFSA.org review of Mother of Storms
- Infinity Plus review of Finity
- Booklore review of A Million Open Doors
- Booklore review of Earth Made of Glass
- Strange Horizons reivew of The Duke of Uranium
- NEFSA. Org review of The Duke of Uranium
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About the Author:
John Barnes (born in 1957) is a multiple Hugo and Nebula Award nominee whose novels include the science fiction bestsellers Mother of Storms, A Million Open Doors, and Orbital Resonance. He lives in Gunnison, Colorado with his wife, the author Kara Dalkey.