Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
*** 688 pages Tor
I first heard about this novel when one of the authors was on the Dragon Page cover to cover podcast. I thought it sounded very interesting. After years of working on Brian Herbert’s Father’s universe the duo had produced the first novel in a universe they had created by themselves.
Hellhole is a far future novel similar to Dune in only that respect. Earth is a distant memory but still in the memory of the human species. They live among seventy or so worlds. The inner planets are called the crown jewels and the 54 colonies in the outer rim are called the deep zone planets.
The crown jewels have monopoly on the stringline, a network that makes FTL starships travel between far flung planets possible. The story takes place ten years after a failed rebellion. I loved the dark concept of a rebel leader in a Napoleon like exile on a barely habitable world. The world is called Hellhole by the people in exile, the planet is recovering from an asteroid impact five centuries earlier. The story really moves into interesting territory when they discover evidence of an advanced civilization that once existed on that world. This creates most of the interesting elements of this novel.
Almost 700 pages this is a vast universe that sometimes feels like it might have too many characters. I liked the concepts, and the story. I enjoyed this novel as pulpy space opera. Does it have the power and depth of Dune…No way. Is it unfair to compare Hellhole to Dune. Yeah it is probably unfair but this is the first time this team is writing outside of Dune so I think most readers will. It’s hard not to do it.
So why only three stars? Well a lot of this book falls into one of the worst habits of Science Fiction authors who lack strong editors. Tons of info-dumps that break up the narrative, for some reason John Scalazi gets away with it, but huge parts of the narrative gets broken up by chapters that read like a far future history book. Tons of telling, not showing, the story loses organic flow often.
That being said I enjoyed the novel overall, perhaps the most annoying part was the cliff hanger that set up the next book. I felt like I read a lot of build up without a release. Imagine if Star Wars ended as Luke first entered the trench in the Death Star. Well, I intend to read book two so mission accomplished.