Thursday, March 24, 2011


by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Published by Tor Books

Ok, I admit it: I never made it further than Children in that god-almighty of sci-fi sagas, Dune, let alone delving into Brian Herbert’s extensions and had never heard of Kevin J. Anderson before. However, after reading Hellhole, it’s obvious that they have a hell of a talent for building a universe and wrapping an engaging tale within it, even if that tale, on its own, is ultimately unfulfilling.

In a far-flung future universe, the aging Diadem rules her empire of 20 core worlds (known as the “Crown Jewels”) and 54 pioneer “Deep Zone” planets with an iron fist (if iron sucked the life out of everything it touched). In the aftermath of a failed revolution, she exiled the revolution’s leader (General Adolphus), leaving him in charge of the worst of the DZ planets, the aptly named Hellhole. No one should be remotely surprised to find that he still harbors some hopes for rebellion, but few could predict the empire wide effects of the newly discovered remnant of the long lost original civilization on Hellhole.

It is easy to be impressed with the breadth of this book; taking place on several different worlds, each with their own topography, personality and culture. At the same time, that's pretty much expected from anyone daring to create broad, universe spanning fiction. The real skill on display is in the points of view that are given. There are over ten truly significant characters, standing on both sides of the battle, and each seen through each others' eyes as well as their own. This makes for an intricately plotted and morally complicated affair that I dug quite well. They also walk a tightrope regarding the motivations of the aliens and their method of resurrecting their species. Just enough hints are dropped to keep the situation tense, without directly saying whether it's due to cultural misunderstanding or if they have a much more sinister plan beneath it all. The effect is disturbing in all the best ways.

But a reader of such keen eye and mind as yourself will have noticed that I called it ultimately unfulfilling, despite such glowing, giddy statements. Frankly, I'm not pleased that it wasn't a self-sufficient story, even as part of a larger epic. Brian should have learned from his father's example that the story should have some minor sense of closure even as it opens the door to worse problems on the horizon, yet we get no such thing here. If I had dropped thirty bucks on what amounts to the buildup to a war that doesn't even get started by the end, I'd be miffed about it.

So, great universe building, tremendous characterization and marvelous mounting tension are offset by the fact that it drops you off a cliff at the end. Tough call.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

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