After several years playing in Dad’s sandbox (Frank Herbert’s Dune universe, to be exact) Brian Herbert and collaborator Kevin J. Anderson have teamed up again – this time creating their own brand new universe.
And despite the title of the first book, it’s not a bad place to be.
Hellhole is the first in a trilogy of books centered around the planet Hallholme, an asteroid-wrecked planet where General Tiber Aldolphus has been exiled by Diadem Michella Duchenet after his failed rebellion – failed, only because he refused to open fire on ships he thought carried thousands of civilians. Michella, of course, sabotages the supplies and does everything she can to make sure the colony doesn’t prosper. But with the help of sympathizers, Aldophus manages to eke out a fairly successful colony.
While the Diadem rides herd over scheming factions in the Constellation of Crown Jewel planets, Aldolphus has been busy planning his own little Second Revolution, putting together a coalition of Deep Zone planets and connecting them with a second network of faster-than-light channels that bypass the one single hub controlled by the Diadem.
When she finds out, she’s not going to be happy.
But plans meet Mr. Murphy, as a sudden discovery on Hallholme changes everything. Pools of fluid that contain the memories of the indigenous species that lived on the planet before everything was destroyed by a giant asteroid.
There’s plenty more in the book, which clocks in at 102 chapters (even though they’re short). Anderson and Herbert make a good team, and this story is a good first book in a larger scale universe of stories. In spite of the word that this is a trilogy, I expect it will go beyond three books.
First, the nit-picky stuff: at the beginning, I was unclear that this was a far-flung collection Earth colonies. At the first mention of a Faraday Cage, I thought it odd that they’d use the same terminology, but a little while later they mention Napoleon and all was good. OK, this is Earth colony stuff.
And the one structural/story gripe I have is this: each character has a “flashback” moment to give the reader back-story. In some cases it works, but in most cases it’s not quite as organic to the story as I’d like for it to be. And it was the same way for each of the major players. It was almost as if Herbert & Anderson said “OK, here’s where we crowbar this character’s history… here” and dropped it in. Yes, the placement makes sense for each of them, but did they have to do it the same way for all of them?
Now, the rest of the story is well-told. It moves at a good pace without feeling rushed and never leaves you wondering what’s going on. The authors manage to keep a number of plates spinning at the same time, and it never feels like there’s anything missing. There’s plenty of breathing room, both for the A-plot and B- C- D- stories and for the audience.
[And I even, at one point, saw those little dune-buggies from “Battlestar Galactica” in my head a couple of times. You know, the one Muffet jumped from and ran off, with Boxey running after… oh, wait. Ahem]
In any brand new universe, the audience has to have time to catch up and get a feel for the setting, for these new characters and situations. It’s not enough to say “OK, this is like Star Wars, except for this…”. The characters in Hellhole are familiar enough because they’re types.
What I found really the most interesting aspect of this book is the parallels to the American Revolution. The Diadem and Michella are the stand-ins for Britain and King George III, while Hallholme is Lexington/Boston and Adolphus is Washington. In this day and age where everything is politically correct, it’s nice to see a story that shows just how twisted and pathetic a government can get when it focuses only on its own power and vanity.
[No, I’m not going to get into a political discussion here, but it’s worth noting that this book would be a good way to open up talks about American History with that sulky teen in the basement, Dad…]
Set-up to book 2 is done nicely, and it leaves you ready to witness the next confrontation between these two forces, which seem to be perfect proxies for the Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object scenario.
Hellhole is out on book shelves now. And yes, it’s available for e-readers, but be real and put a good book in your hands.