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The Sky So Big and Black (Meme Wars) Hardcover – August 3, 2002

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Product Details

  • Series: Meme Wars (Book 4)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (August 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765303035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765303035
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,655,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"They don't make 'em like that any more!" say fans of the classic juvenile SF novels, Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage (1968) and the run of Robert A. Heinlein novels that begins with Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) and ends with Podkayne of Mars (1963). Except--John Barnes has made one like that: The Sky So Big and Black. The book's brilliant teenage protagonist, hard science, brisk pace, didactic moments, and strong characterization make it clear that Barnes is working consciously in the tradition of Panshin and Heinlein (especially Heinlein's Red Planet [1949] and Podkayne of Mars). Like his models, Barnes does a superb job. The Sky So Big and Black is a classic. Read it, and give it to any smart, perhaps-outcast young reader whom you want to infect with the science fiction meme.

Terpsichore "Teri" Murray lives on Mars, an eco-prospector-in-training and the daughter of a widowed ecospector. Instead of gold, ecospectors seek underground rivers and gas pockets, which they blast to the Martian surface in hopes of earning fabulous wealth. The ecospector life is hard, primitive, dangerous, and perhaps doomed to extinction, as the Martian atmosphere thickens and the genetically engineered "Mars-form" humans increase their population. An Earth-form human, Teri doesn't want to give up ecospecting, which she loves as much as she hates the city and school where she's forced to spend part of every year. But she finds herself with new, far more ominous worries when a devastating planetwide disaster isolates the colonies from one another, strands Teri in the Martian outback with several injured young children, and opens the entire planet to attack by One True, the collective intelligence that rules Earth in a terrifyingly total dictatorship. --Cynthia Ward

From Publishers Weekly

Barnes (Candle) is up to his old tricks in creating a sharp novel that is not about who or what readers will think it is and that comes with a perfect, unexpected ending. Teri-Mel, a human growing up on the harsh, wild frontier of Mars, is in trouble the kind of trouble a special shrink has to deal with. As the doctor plays recordings of previous sessions with Teri-Mel, he discovers that even listening to her story can have unexpected consequences. Circling around an unnamed tragedy, the recordings tell of life in a spacesuit on the unprotected surface of Mars, "ecospecting" with her father to help make the planet fully habitable. They reveal a rough girl maturing into "Full Adult" status both legally and emotionally. Teri's future is uncertain: though she may get rich from a big ecospecting "scorehole," she may have to return to dreaded CSL school, while her fiance is becoming increasingly distant. As always, Barnes's characters are beautifully natural. His sense of how the conditions of a place can create a culture and individual sensibilities is outstanding, and here he even allows his slang to evolve. Readers new to Barnes's work may be a bit confused by the ever present threat of One-True the computer virus that has taken over the minds of the inhabitants of Earth but enough information about it is leaked over time for them to catch on. As with every work by Barnes, this book should be read by anyone interested in vivid near-future worlds, engaging characters and moral questions with no simple answers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

My thirty-first commercially published novel came out in September 2013. I've published about 5 million words that I got paid for. So I'm an abundantly published very obscure writer.

I used to teach in the Communication and Theatre program at Western State College. I got my PhD at Pitt in the early 90s, masters degrees at U of Montana in the mid 80s, bachelors at Washington University in the 70s; worked for Middle South Services in New Orleans in the early 80s. For a few years I did paid blogging mostly about the math of marketing analysis at TheCMOSite and All Analytics. If any of that is familiar to you, then yes, I am THAT John Barnes.

There are also many Johns Barneses I am not. I am not the Jamaican-born British footballer who scored that dramatic goal against Brazil, the occasional Marvel bit role who is the grandson of Captain America's sidekick, the Vietnam-era Medal of Honor winner, the lead singer for the Platters (and neither he nor I is the lead singer for the Nightcrawlers), the Australian rules footballer, the former Red Sox pitcher, the Tory MP, the expert on ADA programming, the member of the Ohio House of Representatives (though we're almost the same age and both grew up in northern Ohio), the former president of Boise State University, the film score composer, the longtime editor of The LaTrobe Journal, the biographer of Eva Peron, the manager of Panther Racing, the British diplomat, the conservative Catholic cultural commentator (now there's an alliterative job), the authority on Dante, the mycologist, the author of Marketing Judo (though I have an acute interest in both subjects), the travel writer, the author of Titmice of the British Isles, the guy who does some form of massage healing that I don't really understand at all, the corp-comm guy for BP (though I've taught and consulted on corp-comm), the film historian, or that guy that Mom said was my father.

I used to think I was the only paid consulting statistical semiotician for business and industry in the world, but I now know four of them, and can find websites for about ten more.

Semiotics is pretty much what Louis Armstrong said about jazz, except jazz paid a lot better for him than semiotics does for me. If you're trying to place me in the semiosphere, I am a Peircean (the sign is three parts, ), a Lotmanian (art, culture, and mind are all populations of those tripartite signs) and a statistician (the mathematical structures and forms that can be found within those populations of signs are the source of meaning). The branch in which I do consulting work is the mathematics and statistics of large populations of signs, which has applications in marketing, poll analysis, and annoying the literary theorists who want to keep semiotics all to themselves.

I have been married three times, and divorced twice, and I believe that's quite enough in both categories. I'm a hobby cook, sometime theatre artist, and still going through the motions after many years in martial arts.

Customer Reviews

In this future, the concept of Memes that can control the human mind are central to the story.
Michael Pusateri
The story is told largely in Teri's words as she details her recent history to a police psychologist.
I take it this book was marketed at a YA audience, and a SF minded teen/tween would probably like it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book continues both the Meme Wars arc from Candle, and the off-Earth arc from Orbital Resonance. We follow young Teri Murray and her father around on Mars, as ecological prospectors. The characters are wonderful and the setting is gorgeous.
Most other Barnes books include at least one instance of utter personal brutality, and I was pleased to see that this one doesn't. They are all good books, but Mother of Storms and Kaleidoscope Century both made me want to throw up.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on March 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The Sky So Big and Black is a first-rate novel, clearly a Hugo contender in my view. It's scary at times, sweet at times, it presents a fascinating social structure, and some excellent SFnal speculation about terraforming Mars. And it features one of the scariest SFnal ideas since Vernor Vinge's "Focus" (in A Deepness in the Sky).
It is very well structured, presented as a psychologist listening to a series of interviews he did with Teri-Mel Murray, a young woman on Mars who was working with her father as an "ecospector". It's clear from the start that something terrible happened, and indeed that the psychologist was forced to erase Teri-Mel's memory. It's also clear that he likes her a lot, and is really torn up by what has happened, and worried that he may have to treat her again, for some mysterious reason that takes a long time to become clear. The interviews tell of Teri and her father travelling across the lightly terraformed planet to a "Gather" of the "rounditachis", people who live more or less in the open on Mars, working to help advance the terraforming. Teri is hoping that she will be certified a "Full Adult" at the Gather, and be free to marry her boyfriend. Her father wants her to go back to school for one more year, because he's not convinced that ecospecting will remain a good living. As they travel, they plan to make one more attempt at a big "scorehole". And Teri is starting to worry about her boyfriend.
All the above is cute stuff, and interleaved with neat SFnal details about the terraforming of Mars. In the background lurk details about the future history up to this point, especially the takeover of ecologically ravaged Earth by a "meme" called "One True", or "Resuna", which more or less has turned Earth's population into a hive mind.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Pusateri on May 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've enjoyed John Barnes's novels for a while now. This novel takes place in the future laid out in the previous novels Kaleidoscope Century and Candle. In this future, the concept of Memes that can control the human mind are central to the story. They aren't memes like an idea that spreads across the internet and becomes part of the culture. We are talking about the concept of a method by which a Meme can take over and control a human mind.
In Barnes's future, the Earth is completely taken over by the Meme called One True. The rest of humanity, spread out in space on the Moon and on Mars try to make do without the Earth.
This story takes place on Mars with a group of ecospectors, ecological prospectors. Rather than hunting for valuable minerals, they hunt for ways to terraform Mars by releasing water or identifying other organic resources.
Mars is cast in the light of the seminal Heinlein Libertarian society. Few laws, much personable responsibility, and a huge focus on trust and reputation. It very much harks back to ideas from Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Without giving out any spoilers, the Martians face a tragedy are must make choices between their lifestyle and dealing with One True for help. Barnes looks at how the libertarian world (Mars) and the socialist world (Earth) can interact and what price are the libertarians willing to pay to keep their way of life.
I recommend the book. It's a fast read and has plenty of neat technical ideas interspersed with the storyline.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 26, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
No, this isn't SF at all; it is a detective story. There are two characters reacting to each other, and one is simply a transcript. But the other is a psy-cop, and they speak in the patois of a rough-and-tumble frontier. I loved to ferret the meaning of terms used during exchanges of viewpoint. Through them, we see what is a massive terra-forming project, and humans adapting to hostile (even lethal) conditions...
...yet maybe it is science on a planetary scale- spacesuits, personal solar power packs, GPS & prospecting satellites, and my favorite, molecular generation of building materials or edible sugars from materials on site. But after this introduction, events cause both characters to call upon their own resources; eventually to meet and face the villain. I feel this book belongs on every reader's shelf. Buy more to give to young readers.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By booksforabuck VINE VOICE on September 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
With earth controlled by the One True meme (an engineered computer virus that infects and controls human minds), Mars and the planets struggle to survive. Distance prevents a direct takeover, but Mars defense forces must constantly resist earth-sent attacks. Meanwhile, the continuing terraforming of Mars continues. Rounders like Teri Murray search for water, carbon dioxide, and methane hidden beneath Mars's surface in the battle to make Mars habitable without all the equipment that keeps Teri alive.
THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK follows Teri and her father during the last days before 'Sunburst' as they discover a methane dome so large that it makes them rich, then deal with teen angst about Teri's fiance, and the complexities of a Rounder gather. The story is told largely in Teri's words as she details her recent history to a police psychologist.
Although this method of narration normally distances the reader from the story, author John Barnes makes Teri's story completely compelling. Like Heinlein at his strongest, Barnes develops a complete and logical society, language, and way of life. As Teri 'roos' her way across Mars, the reader is drawn into the story, the endangered planet, and the people who are battling to make it habitable--and to keep it free of Earth's disease.
In itself, the concept of a computer-style virus that attacks the human mind is interesting but not the center of this story. Rather, it is Barnes's powerful writing, his world/society-building, and his believable characters that make THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK completely compelling.
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