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    Review of THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK by John Barnes

    TOR, August 2002

    With earth controlled by the One True meme (an engineered computer virus that infects and controls human minds), Mars and the planets struggle to survive. Distance prevents a direct takeover, but Mars defense forces must constantly resist earth-sent attacks. Meanwhile, the continuing terraforming of Mars continues. Rounders like Teri Murray search for water, carbon dioxide, and methane hidden beneath Mars's surface in the battle to make Mars habitable without all the equipment that keeps Teri alive.

    THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK follows Teri and her father during the last days before 'Sunburst' as they discover a methane dome so large that it makes them rich, then deal with teen angst about Teri's fiance, and the complexities of a Rounder gather. The story is told largely in Teri's words as she details her recent history to a police psychologist.

    Although this method of narration normally distances the reader from the story, author John Barnes (see more reviews of novels by this author) makes Teri's story completely compelling. Like Heinlein at his strongest, Barnes develops a complete and logical society, language, and way of life. As Teri 'roos' her way across Mars, the reader is drawn into the story, the endangered planet, and the people who are battling to make it habitable--and to keep it free of Earth's disease.

    In itself, the concept of a computer-style virus that attacks the human mind is interesting but not the center of this story. Rather, it is Barnes's powerful writing, his world/society-building, and his believable characters that make THE SKY SO BIG AND BLACK completely compelling.

    Highly Recommended.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/25/02

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