Friday, September 17, 2010

Sci Fi Friday Review: Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill

Found via: Bookends

I feel like I can play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with this book, except instead of Kevin Bacon the goal person is Suzanne Collins. I know Cindy Dobrez. Cindy Dobrez reviewed Black Hole Sun for Booklist and her review is on the back cover. Also on the cover? Suzanne Collins. So that puts me one degree away from celebrity, right? (I'm also one degree away from James Earl Jones, but that's another story).

Black Hole Sun
Durango is eight and a half Mars years old (17 Earth years), and the disgraced leader of a ragtag group of mercenaries hired for a fool's errand - to protect a group of poor miners from the cannibalistic draeu. The draeu are the boogeymen of Mars, unfeeling and terrifying cannibals, while the miners are some of the lowest of the low, originally necessary to procure materials to build Mars and then abandoned when the planet was habitable enough. The only people lower on the totem pole than the miners? Dalit Regulators, like Durango and his second-in-command, Vienne. A man of honor, Durango is determined to protect the miners, even when it's clear they're hiding something from him, and the fight against the draeu is taken to a whole new level when the true extent of their abilities, and their leader, is finally revealed.

I've gotten progressively more excited about this book since page one. This is a perfect blend of science fiction, action-adventure, and humor. I finished it on the subway ride home yesterday (right around the time a possible tornado was in the area - I missed the whole storm while underground!), and was satisfied, even happy with the story. But as the evening wore on I found I had more and more I wanted to talk about - conversation about the book ended up dominating my dinner conversation, overshadowing discussion of the storm and my new promotion (I'm very proud of it, thus sneaking it into conversation - or blog posts - whenever possible!). That has to be one of the best signs of a great book, right?

Easily what sets this book apart from other science fiction novels is the humor. Durango and Mimi, his former commander turned artificial intelligence implanted in his brain, have a constantly running sarcastic repartee throughout the book. And then there's Fuse, the explosions expert. And Leroy Jenkins.

Yes, Leroy Jenkins.

Big thumbs up for that, Mr. Gill. I just burst out laughing the first time I saw his full name (usually he's just Jenkins), and he quickly became my favorite character.

There's also some intricate world building here - we're dropped right in the middle of an incredibly complex and class- and honor-conscious society, and there's no hand holding to explain the finer points of Mars etiquette. We learn the necessary details on the go, with enough questions answered to leave the reader satisfied, but so many open possibilities that Gill could easily extend this into a long running series without running out of juicy material. The ending definitely leaves open the possibility for a sequel, but there's no annoying cliffhangers or gimmicks here. This chapter of the story is over, and while I certainly hope to see more of Durango, Mimi and Vienne (and Jenkins, of course), I can't be too disappointed if this is the last we see of them.

This is exquisite science fiction, folks, in a style that hasn't been too common in YA lit to date. Oh there's plenty of YA sci-fi out there, especially with the current dystopian trend, but like the rest of YA lit, the science fiction has tended to focus on relationships with the science in the background - it's just teenagers on a future Earth that has had all kinds of crazy stuff happen. This is a true action-adventure story, set on an alien world. The closest other recent book in terms of setting would probably be Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, but even that is much more about Todd and Viola and their struggles with Mayor Prentiss and Mistress Coyle than presenting a hard science fiction story. In Black Hole Sun, there is absolutely no forgetting that we're not in Kansas anymore.

I already loved Gill's writing in last year's Soul Enchilada. With Black Hole Sun he proves he's definitely not a one hit wonder, and has some range to boot. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next! I'll be sure to pick it up on day one.


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