Hellhole

by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

 

I guess it’s possible that you’re less nerdy than I am and don’t know who these people are. Brian Herbert is the son of Frank Herbert, who created the Dune series, the first of which I recently read. It was pretty dope. I wrote a review that you might not have read. I haven’t read anything else by Herbert fils, but he’s pretty much science fiction royalty.

I know Kevin J. Anderson for a slightly nerdier reason. He wrote a great book, that just happened to take place in the Star Wars universe: Tales of the Bounty Hunters. For those of you who don’t read novels based on blockbuster motion pictures, Bounty Hunters relates the story of the bounty hunters that Lord Vader assembles to track the Millennium Falcon. If you haven’t seen the movie, die.

This is a serious science fiction pedigree. Stumbling across it while browsing the Public Library, I couldn’t resist taking it home. Unlike most things I decide to take home, it still interested me the next day. (Or: “Unlike most things I decided to take home, it was still there the next morning.” A more accurate joke.)

Ahem. Hellhole was pretty good. Like a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, it starts off by introducing more characters than the reader can keep track of; if you read these kinds of books, you know the “I don’t give a fuck!” introductory chapters that I’m talking about. But that’s alright, because (hopefully) we’re getting to know a world that’s worth the effort. The characters here include: General Adolphus, exiled leader of a rebellion who now leads a struggling colony on an inhospitable planet; Diadem Michella, dictator of the the Constellation and enemy of Adolphus; Keana Duchenet, the Diadem’s daughter; Vincent Jenet, a new arrival to Halhomme; and many others. There is no single ‘main character’ around which the novel revolves, and there are several subplots of varying importance to the story. As this is the supposed first of a trilogy, hopefully these plots will have more impact later on.

Moving right along to my gripes with the novel. The beginnings to sci-fi and fantasy novels are always a little slow, because they have to simultaneously introduce the setting, the characters, and the plot; the author has a lot on his plate right from the get-go. I understand that. But the whole book had that feeling. New characters and plot points kept introducing themselves, and I never really felt that the story had begun. It all just seemed like exposition.

Now, I think a major problem was that the chapters were very short. Each character would have a roughly five-page chapter, and then a new narrator would take over. This made for a speedy read, but left me feeling a little bit unsettled. It was hard to get into the characters’ heads. I wouldn’t say that they were thinly drawn, but with so little time devoted to each one, I never truly felt situated in the story.

My hope is that the next two books will have longer chapters, and perhaps fewer narrating characters. I would feel more immersed in the world if I spent, say, 20 pages taking in events from a single point of view. I hate to compare father and son, but I will anyway. Frank Herbert had a few characters telling their stories, and allowed for some nuance in the way they interacted. The characters of Hellhole were simply not as compelling in this way. While I doubt that the authors would change the structure at this point, I think it might be for the better.

Of course, the advantage to having innumerable characters and short chapters is that there’s constant action throughout. It also had a solid sci-fi plot, and if a little seemed borrowed, well, whatever. It seemed to draw a little bit on Dune (obviously), Star Wars (obviously), Starcraft (surprisingly until I found out that Anderson had written fiction set in that universe), and others. That’s a sweet combination.

*MOTHAFUCKIN SPOILER ALERT* Why’d there have to be aliens? I know aliens are a sci-fi staple but it was going so well before that. It was a pretty jarring transition. “Hey, this is a sick novel about the future of humanity, still dealing with similar problems Different day, same shit. Oh wait, aliens.” It’s not quite a twist, because we all knew it was a possibility, but it is a disappointment when an enjoyable book falls back on such an obvious cliche.

Overall, though, I can’t deny that Hellhole was pretty enjoyable. The authors have been writing sci-fi for a long time, and they know what they’re doing by now. It took me a while to read, for a variety of reasons, but it was a page-turner that had its share of surprises.

Despite its flaws, Hellhole is a decent science-fiction novel, though it doesn’t do much to expand the genre.

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