Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hellhole - Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson


About the Book

Only the most desperate colonists dare to make a new home on Hellhole. Reeling from a recent asteroid impact, tortured with horrific storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and churning volcanic eruptions, the planet is a dumping ground for undesirables, misfits, and charlatans…but also a haven for dreamers and independent pioneers.

Against all odds, an exiled general named Adolphus has turned Hellhole into a place of real opportunity for the desperate colonists who call the planet their home. While the colonists are hard at work developing the planet, General Adolphus secretly builds alliances with the leaders of the other Deep Zone worlds, forming a clandestine coalition against the tyrannical, fossilized government responsible for their exile.

What no one knows is this: the planet Hellhole, though damaged and volatile, hides an amazing secret. Deep beneath its surface lies the remnants of an obliterated alien civilization and the buried memories of its unrecorded past that, when unearthed, could tear the galaxy apart.

Hardcover: 544 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2269-2
Publication Date: March 15, 2011
Brian Herbert’s Webpage (all I could find is the Dune webpage. If someone can find his personal webpage, let me know and I will update this link).
Kevin J. Anderson’s Webpage
Publisher’s Webpage

Thanks to the lovely people at Tor for sending me a review copy of this book. 

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I have read the first two books in Anderson’s Saga of the Seven Suns, and in some ways I feel like that was, perhaps, practice for Hellhole. Though I don’t think you need to read The Saga of the Seven Suns before you read Hellhole, readers who have dipped their toes in the waters of Keven J. Anderson may be able to follow the vast amount of characters in Hellhole somewhat easier than those that haven’t. It is hard not to compare the two series because their style is so similar, despite the vastly different storylines.

Hellhole is broken up into 102 small chapters numbering about two to three pages each. Each chapter focuses on a different character’s point of view. Just like The Saga of the Seven Suns. While this does work for Hellhole, it does have some drawbacks I feel I should mention. The large scope of characters will probably serve to confuse readers until they get really engrained in the plot. Furthermore, the switching of perspectives after only a few short pages with each individual kept me from getting incredibly attached to the characters until much later in the book. Lastly, while the plot is fairly obvious from the beginning, the short chapters kept me from really getting attached to what was happening until roughly one-forth of the way into the book.

Despite all of that, the chapters and huge cast of characters (eventually) helped support and sustain the plot more than it distracted from it. One of the reasons for that is the fact that the plot is so straightforward it borders on predictable. Though predictability is usually thought of as a bad thing in books, I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment in the case of Hellhole. The characters are confusing, so an easy, enjoyable and even somewhat predictable plot is a nice balance for that.

Once the characters and plot are introduced, Hellhole quickly becomes hard to put down. Herbert and Anderson keep the action nearly constant. The world and universe are unique and refreshing. The authors write in a simple, but descriptive way that keeps difficult and new concepts easily understood by the average reader. While the first half of the book is spent on introductions of people, situations and worlds, it is still just as addictive and absorbing as the quick moving, action packed second half.

As I mentioned above, Herbert and Anderson introduce some unique concepts that seem fairly unique to science fiction. For example, they introduce an alien race and introduce the difficult beliefs and desires these aliens present in a way that is easy to understand, and even thought provoking. Another example I could use is the unique travel system between worlds. Many science fiction books are written with heavy scientific jargon that takes time and patience to understand, but not here. Herbert and Anderson fill their book with strange, foreign worlds, concepts and peoples without weighing them down with hard science talk. This really benefitted the book on the whole and allows the reader to absorb the plot, setting and characters without sifting through tough terms that take time to fully grasp.

Despite its sprawling scope, at the heart, Hellhole is about a military general, General Adolphus, who was exiled to a far-flung, almost uninhabitable planet after losing the battle against a ruthless dictator.  He survived longer than expected and managed to eke out a living on this barren planet, while amassing a network of support and allies for his cause. It is somewhat surprising to see that, despite the sprawling scope of Hellhole, the main plot as a whole remains small, contained and utterly relatable. Adolphus and his allies are easy to sympathize with while the dictator and her cronies are obviously easy to loath. The bold line between the black and white sides of the conflict is, in this case, somewhat refreshing as it keeps things simple.

Hellhole ends on a slight cliffhanger which will leave fans anxiously awaiting the second installment in this series. The myriad of characters and sprawling scope of the world and universe really leave Herbert and Anderson open to many different plot avenues in future installments. Thus, Hellhole might be slightly predictable, and I have ideas as to what future books will offer, but there are so many open ends that I can’t be sure. That unpredictability is a dangling carrot that will appeal to many readers.

All in all, Hellhole was a fast paced, fun and adventurous space opera which took some time to grow on me but eventually left me anxiously counting down the time until I can read the next installment of this series. Hellhole is a lighter read which will appeal to readers looking for something new and refreshing but not quite as serious as other science fiction books out there. Fans of The Saga of the Seven Suns should be aware of Hellhole, as it is written in the same general style and will probably appeal to them. 

Hellhole is the first book in the Hell Hole series.

4/5 stars

4 comments:

  1. I too found the vast majority of the characters to be superfluous at best. Especially Keana and Fernando. Tiber Adolphus was completely unconvincing as a military leader. It takes more than a roman name, a uniform, and repeated assurances that he's brilliant. Each character is neatly packaged with another, forming couples which are rarely if ever seen with any other character.

    The one thing I can't forgive was the vineyards that seem magically impervious to the harsh climate. They discuss protecting them from the dust, but completely ignore the fact that by all rights the storm would have annihilated the fragile vineyards. They even defend the open wheat fields by suggesting that they grow fast enough to be harvested before the climate can destroy them.

    I'd love to hear your own comments on this. I don't want to start a flame war, even if my first comments here are a bit abrasive. As an OH Dune fan, I have a certain bias against the authors for what they have done to Dune.

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  2. I can see and understand your points completely. I had a really hard time with The Saga of the Seven Suns because of the characterization issues you listed above. I have discovered that for the books I have read thus far with Anderson as an author, I generally have to suspend my belief/disbelief and just enjoy the book on a surface level for what it is. If I read too far into things, I get annoyed. Basically, I think this book is fun, entertaining and light but doesn't hold up under close scrutiny.

    That being said, if I was to analyze the book much deeper than I did here (which wasn't that deep), I'd agree with a lot of what you said. As for the crop issue, I did notice what you said, and it did annoy me but I thought I should probably leave it out of a review because, again, I kind of see this book as a "surface level" thing rather than a deep, profound space opera.

    If you want to discuss this further, feel free to email me. I appreciate your comments and criticisms. I like hearing different perspectives and points of view. It helps me figure out how to improve my future reviews.

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  3. I'm really excited to try Hellhole. I'm probably the odd one out in the fact that I enjoyed the Prelude to Dune books a lot, and loved The Saga of the Seven Suns. So I'm guessing I'm going to enjoy Hellhole a whole heap too.

    Thanks for the great, insightful review Sarah :)

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  4. I liked The Saga of the Seven Suns, but the characterization did start bugging me. I'm probably going to go back to it and finish it up. I do enjoy Anderson, he's an entertaining author but I think if people are looking for Peter F. Hamilton type stuff, they will be disappointed.

    I don't know if that makes sense...

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