"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
 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.
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