Short works

Books : reviews

John Barnes.
The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky.
NEL. 1986

(read but not reviewed)

John Barnes.
Mother of Storms.
Millennium. 1994

John Barnes.
One for the Morning Glory.
Tor. 1996

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 11 March 1997

John Barnes is best known as a writer of hard SF, but here he turns his hand to fantasy. Or rather, to fairy tale. And very well he does so, too.

What do I mean, not fantasy, but fairy tale? Well, in most of the contemporary "sword and sorcery" fantasy genre it seems that the inhabitants, intended to be real people, react to their magic the same way we react to our technology -- magic is usually matter-of-fact, almost "mundane", even when overwhelmingly powerful. In fairy tales, however, there is something truly "magical" going on, and the characters, usually stock placeholders such as "prince on a quest" or "princess in disguise", can even know that this is the case. They certainly do so in One for the Morning Glory:

After all, a year and a day is an auspicious time in a fairy tale, the King said to himself.

I got a similar feeling of being in a fairy tale from One for the Morning Glory as I did from, say, William Goldman's The Princess Bride, or Marjorie Phillips' Annabel and Bryony (although rather darker). You won't find deep characterisation here, or any bloodily realistic descriptions of battles and dark magical ceremonies, but you will find wit, and charm, leavened with darkness, and over all, a magical quality.

John Barnes.
Apocalypses & Apostrophes.
Millennium. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 13 March 2004

A good selection of short stories and essays, ranging from very early attempts to more recent offerings. The stories I liked best are "Restricted to the Necessary" and "Empty Sky". And these are in some sense showing worlds much further from our own than the others do. Which fits in with my lack of enthusiasm for post-apocalyptic tales. Especially ones where the viewpoint country has become a Fundamentalist dictatorship (a recurring theme). Too close to a terrifying possibility to be fun to read, I suppose.


Between Shepherds and Kings. 1997
An SF author is having trouble writing a short story for the Free Space anthology, reconciling his own views with the premiss of the collection.
Two Cheers for Nedd Ludd and One for Crazy Eddie. 1998
essay: In praise of Luddites: adolescent power fantasies should stay fantasies.
Gentleman Pervert, Off on a Spree. 1998
(Set in the Mother of Storms universe.) Ken Greer suffers from a sexual compulsive disorder, and is in deep trouble. His wife has just divorced him, he's broken parole, and he's lost his job. So he decides on one last spree. But he ends up in a very alternative therapy clinic. [An icky premiss that knows it's an icky premiss.]
How to Build a Future. 1990
essay: the detailed background calculations and assumptions that went into designing the "Thousand Cultures" universe.
Stochasm. 1986
The Russians won the Cold War, and everybody has a classification number so that they know where they fit in society.
Under the Covenant Stars. 1988
A Fundamentalist USA's attempts to get back into space after the Canadians stopped the War.
Finalities Besides the Grave. 1985
The UN is preventing a Fundamentalist USA from gaining dangerous technology. But should it be doing more for the repressed citizenry?
Restricted to the Necessary. 1989
In a future with many intelligent species, there are very strict guards against specieism. But that doesn't mean you can abuse specieists.
Enrico Fermi and the Dead Cat. 1998
Another solution to the Fermi Paradox (Where Are They All?). Let's be careful about following instructions from the stars.
Empty Sky. 1998
Parallel Worlds where magic works aren't nice places to live, because they have mean-minded creators.
Why the Stars Are Always So Bright from Cousin Sid's Farm. 1998
The military discover the ultimate particle weapon, based on the "thinkon".
That Style Thingie. 1998
essay: on writing with (or without) style, and whether that makes for good story telling.
Delicate Stuff. 1988
(Set in the Orbital Resonance universe.) After the Moratorium, Homer Bizet has two full-time jobs: the Dolework that only just pays the bills, and designing starship parts, which pays nothing, but is his heart's desire. But his wife wants him to find a better paying job.
Deep in the Heart of Genre. 1998
essay: whether to do something new, or to do something better
Bang On!. 1998
An alternate history of Columbus, where the characters know they are in an alternate history [cf One for the Morning Glory], and aren't terribly happy about it.
Hope Against Hope. 1998
essay: we need some new reasonable hopes
Information and Unfictionable Science. 1995
essay: SF is making the future familiar
That Kid Watching His Shoes. 1998
essay: how SF helps teenagers puzzle out the world, and does media SF provide the same help?
Digressions from the Second-Person Future. 1987
Evolution after humans
My Advice to the Civilized. 1990
A letter to the future, just after an apocalypse
The Kids Are All Right. 1998
essay: the baby-boomers have done their children no favours, but they are doing alright anyway

John Barnes.
Tor. 1999

John Barnes.
Losers in Space.
Viking. 2012

In 2129 no one has to work for a living. But there is one job people would kill for: professional celebrity.

The girl: Susan Tervaille, 16-year-old daughter of a famous actor.

The guy: Derlock Slabilis, 16-year-old son of the most famous media lawyer on the planet.

The problem: No children of celebrities can inherit their parents’ money unless they earn the rank of professional celebrity, too.

The Solution: Stow away (with their friends) on a Mars-bound ship. The publicity will cement their fame and futures.

The real problem: Derlock is a sociopath.

John Barnes.
Orbital Resonance.
Tor. 1991

rating : 2 : great stuff

"rites of passage" in an asteroid colony

John Barnes.
Kaleidoscope Century.
Phoenix. 1995

John Barnes.
Tor. 2000

John Barnes.
The Sky So Big and Black.
Tor. 2002

John Barnes.
Directive 51.
Ace. 2010

John Barnes.
Daybreak Zero.
Ace. 2011

John Barnes.
The Last President.
Ace. 2013

For more than a year, Heather O’Grainne and her small band of heroes, operating out of Pueblo, Colorado, have struggled to pull the United States back together after it shattered under the impact of the event known as Daybreak. Now they are poised to bring the three or four biggest remaining pieces together, with a real President and Congress, under the full Constitution again. Heather is very close to fulfilling her oath, creating a safe haven for civilization to be reborn.

But other forces are rising too—forces that like the new life better…

In a devastated, splintered, postapocalyptic United States, with technology thrown back to biplanes, black powder, and steam trains, a tiny band of visionaries struggles to re-create Constitutional government and civilization itself, as a new Dark Age takes shape around them.

John Barnes.
The Duke of Uranium.
Aspect. 2002

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 3 September 2003

Jak Jinnaka is a typical teenage boy growing up in the Hive space colony, more interested in girls than school. But when his girlfriend is kidnapped in front of his eyes, he discovers he has been brought up as a secret agent by his mysterious uncle, and is given the task of rescuing her. But he's still more interested in girls than in being a secret agent.

This is a Heinlein-esque juvenile, with lots of action, lots of showing how to be a responsible crew member on a space ship, lots of how to face death bravely, quite a bit of infodumping, and lots more action. It's an interesting world, but Jak is an irritating character who seems to react the way the plot demands it -- serious crew member when it's time for the lectures about responsibility, and hormone-driven teenager when it's time for the sex scenes (it's an updated Heinlein-esque juvenile). But the world building and action are engaging enough that I'll be taking a look at the sequels.

John Barnes.
A Princess of the Aerie.
Aspect. 2003

John Barnes.
In the Hall of the Martian King.
Aspect. 2003

John Barnes.
A Million Open Doors.
Millennium. 1992

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

(diverse human cultures; nanotechnology)

John Barnes.
Earth Made of Glass.
Millennium. 1998

John Barnes.
The Merchants of Souls.
Tor. 2001

John Barnes.
The Armies of Memory.
Tor. 2006