February 24, 2004

In the Hall of the Martian King, by John Barnes

This is the third of Barnes' Jak Jinnaka series; I like it considerably better than its immediate predecessor, A Princess of the Aerie, though not as much as the first book, The Prince of Uranium.

In this episode, Jak Jinnaka is serving his time in his first post as Vice Provost of Hive's base on Deimos. Ostensibly he's a civil servant; really, he's an agent of Hive Intelligence. His boss, the Provost, is a wise and canny fellow who unaccountably likes living on Deimos, has two ways of dealing with his VPs: either they are incompetent, in which case he sacks them for the good of Deimos, or he arranges for them to look so good they get promoted elsewhere. As the book begins, said boss is about to take a trip to Earth, living Jak in charge. There's bound to be a crisis of one kind or another while he's gone, so he tells Jak; if Jak can rise to it, it will make his career.

A crisis does arise, of course, and a variety of funny, distressing, and action-packed scenes follow, and as I say I enjoyed the ride. Nevertheless, the series leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. It appears to be Jak's fate to be double-crossed by everyone he trusts, and in particular by his employers, and to be swept hither and yon by powers too subtle for him to perceive until it's too late. It's as though Barnes has a kind of anti-Heinlein thing going. Instead of a main character who's too amazingly competent for belief, we've got a guy whose own desires are almost literally beside the point.

I enjoyed it enough to read the next one, if there is a next one, but it's still a little too cynical for my taste.

Posted by Will Duquette at February 24, 2004 08:23 PM

Jaquandor said:

After reading the first one, I kept mentally sticking the word "toktru" into my sentences. Weirdest thing.

Will Duquette said:

Me, every time one of the characters said "toktru" I wondered where the word came from. "TOo Kompletely TRUe"?