Duke of Uranium, by John Barnes

duke-of-uranium-by-john-barnes coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Warner Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four and a half stars
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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With the Duke of Uranium, John Barnes has singing-on nailed science fiction high-adventure. Toktru. Not only that, but he’s added some cool slang, masen?

The Duke of Uranium isn’t very much about the Duke of Uranium, rather it’s the story of Jak Jinnaka, an eighteen-year-old who has just graduated high school when his girlfriend gets kidnapped and he’s forced to join in with his Uncle Sib and his cohorts in Circle Four, a social engineering zybot. I can’t really explain the zybot without explaining the Wager, so let’s just say that a zybot is a conspiracy–sometimes in the bad sense, sometimes in the good sense and if there isn’t a good sense, there ought to be!

Now, you really don’t need to know any more of the plot than that. There are a few tidbits I could offer without spoilers, but part of the fun of this book is exploring the world(s) that Jak inhabits right alongside him. This is not only a science fiction swashbuckler, it’s also a road story… except without roads, per se. Really what this novel is, is fun. The characters are fun, the plot is fun and even the villains are full of villainy-goodness (in a bad yet good way). I’m telling you, old pizo, that this is page-turning, secret-smiling confectionery that’s still got your FDA certified amount of characterization, snappy dialogue and serious tech.

I haven’t read a lot of Heinlein, but when people talk about it, this is the kind of sense I get. This book gave me that eyes-wide wonder I so rarely enjoy these days. There are chills and spills, but there’s also some seriously futuristic stuff that’s at least grounded in science. You’ve got tame singularities, Lagrange point stations and solar sails to whet the science taste buds in your science fiction.

Now, in case you haven’t fingered it out yet, the main word that describes this book is fun. However, Mr. Barnes in no way skipped his quota of characterization. Sure, maybe he could have fleshed out some of the secondary characters a tad, but his point of view character, Jak Jinnaka is such a treat, it hardly matters. There is room for dissent (as always) and my brother-in-law (who decided to have a gander after hearing me all but singing paens to John Barnes) found Jak’s character slightly annoying. And he is, but he’s annoying in the way an eighteen-year-old high school graduate is annoying. He’s got that arrogance and the affected tired cynicism of a young adult who hasn’t really seen anything. For me, I completely understood Jak. I remember being Jak (yet without the cabal-linked Uncle or the zero-G parties). It rang completely true for me. I guess I was an annoying eighteen-year-old.

I really don’t know what else to say without continuing to gush. The book certainly might not be for everyone, but if you are ready for something a little lighter but that still packs science punch into its fiction, you might want to give the Duke of Uranium a try. I can’t wait to dive into another of Mr. Barnes’ books. I can’t wait to read more about the adventures of Jak Jinnaka, the secret agent who’s an annoying eighteen-year-old. I can’t wait to take another ride on that particular roller-coaster.

Toktru, masen?

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