John Barnes

Skip down to read a review of A Princess of the Aerie (2nd book in series)
Skip down to read a review of In the Hall of the Martian King (3rd book in series)


"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."

The Duke of Uranium at amazon.com

Jak Jinnaka is bored out of his mind, at least until his girlfriend, Sesh is kidnapped, giving this too smart for his own good, contrary young man a much-needed sense of direction. He's just discovered that his Uncle Sib raised him from birth to be a secret agent, and Jak is only too happy to use these skills to free her from the Duke of Uranium's clutches. But is that his real assignment? Jak soon learns that everything that he has taken granted in life is built upon a complicated frame work of lies and half truths, and the only way to live long enough to free Sesh is to discover what his Uncle really wants him to accomplish.

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)

A Princess o fthe Aerie by John Barnes

Ok. First, a warning. If you just read my review of the previous book in this series (above), The Duke of Uranium, and thought, "Oh! That was cool...I wonder how this one is?" you must go no further, because by the very nature of this second book, I thoroughly spoil surprises, let cats out of bags and ruin the reputations of some of the characters from the last book. Well, not that bad...but if you are like me, and hate knowing what happened in the last book before you got to read it, you may want to wait until a later time. So, summary for those who are going to not read this review: It's a good book, and if you like The Duke of Uranium, you'll like this one just as much.

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)

In this third book in the series, Jak Jinnaka has been picked up by the Protectorates Administrative Service Corps (read: administrative duties) and posted on one of Mar's moons. With his boss, Reeb Waxajovna going on vacation, it looks like Jak will be in charge of the boring, quiet outpost for five months. All he has to do is make sure Waxajovna's great-great granddaughter Pikia stays out of trouble and builds up her resume enough so that Jak can write her a glowing recommendation that will help her get into the PSA, an important school. When a life log...a diary...written by the man who started the Wager, the religion their whole culture is based on is found in a Martian Kingdom, Jak's second job comes into play. He is a secret agent employed by The Hive, the largest and most powerful country in the union. (Country is not quite a good word...but the human tongue does not yet quite have a world for a huge space station that is in its own right a place with a name and currency and rules.) They want this lifelog, knowing that whoever has it holds the key to either changing the world or keeping things the same. They're not the only ones...Green World wants it too, forcing Jak to cross paths with his ex-lover, the Princes Shyf, who has had him conditioned to be her love slave, a conditioning that the Hive promises to undo, if he gets the lifelog, and if he gives all the credit to Clarbo Waynong, a man who, well, has more influence than brains. If he makes Clarbo look good, then he will not only be reconditioned so that he doesn't desire to kill people every time the mention the princesses name, but give him a new position in Hive Intel.

Read excerptThe 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)

Century Next Door:

Thousand Cultures:

Timeline Wars:

Jak Jinnaka/Duke of Uranium series:

Master of the Game Trilogy:

Written with Buzz Aldrin

 

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Book Marks:

 

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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.

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