Author: David Macinnis Gill
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publication Date: August 2010
Hardcover: 352 Pages
Durango is playing the cards he was dealt. And it’s not a good hand.
He’s lost his family.
He’s lost his crew.
And he’s got the scars to prove it.
You don’t want to mess with Durango.
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a standalone novel, but ending is open enough for potential sequels (I think?).
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I’ve had Black Hole Sun on my radar since last year and only finally got around to it when the dear boyfriend purchased a copy for me as an anniversary present.
Durango’s life basically sucks. A fully trained soldier-cum-mercenary, sixteen-year old Durango is one of the lordless “disgraced” Regulators that roam the terraformed, cursed landscape that is Mars. When a group of ragtag miners with only a few meager coins shows up begging for hired muscle to protect their mine from invading Draeu – cannibalistic mutant humans – Durango is honor-bound to accept the gig. With the help of a smarmy Artificial Intelligence implant named Mimi and his beautiful but deadly second in command, Vienne, Durango goes about putting together a team to protect the mine. Of course, things are never quite so simple as they seem, as Durango finds out that the miners have a secret that the Draeu will stop at nothing to retrieve.
I wanted to like Black Hole Sun. Really, I did. Space cowboys, snappy dialogue, nonstop action – what’s not to love?! Unfortunately, Black Hole Sun didn’t do anything for me for three main reasons.
Reason the First: The Firefly Ripoff
I’m not saying that Joss Whedon has a monopoly on all things space cowboy, but there are far too many similarities between Black Hole Sun and Firefly to go unnoticed or to be passed off as clever homage or tribute. First, examine the basic story and setting, in which a ragtag band of disgraceful hooligans with hearts of gold travel the universe doing what little they can for the greater good. There’s the lithe, beautiful and extremely deadly second in command female character, who is a mashup of River Tam (dancer/ninja) and Zoe (badass, no nonsense chick with an unerring moral compass). There’s the cannibalistic half-human threat of the Draeu, who are clearly Reavers. There’s the glib, handsome captain Durango with a tough history of loss, aka Mal Reynolds. Heck, he even curses in CHINESE. Seriously. If just a few of these elements were integrated into the text, or if they were less glaringly obvious (as opposed to the way the book basically shouts, “HEY! I’M MAKING A FIREFLY PARALLEL HERE!”), I would have enjoyed the allusions a bit more.
Perhaps if the story itself had been more original, I would have been able to let the Whedonisms slide, but alas…
Reason The Second: The “Magnificent Seven Samurai” Ripoff
My favorite Western of all time is John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven, starring the ineffable Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. Of course, The Magnificent Seven is actually an American Westernized version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic masterpiece The Seven Samurai (which is my favorite of Kurosawa’s films, too). Both films share the same plot, in which a group of villagers are terrorized by invading bandits and desperately plead for help from mercenaries for hire – mercenaries who, despite their status as unscrupulous guns-for-hire, are honor-bound warriors that accept the job despite the lack of pay and respect.
This alone isn’t bad – many a film has taken the Kurosawa story and spun it in new ways (for example, see Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which is a direct translation of The Seven Samurai, but with insects). The key to success here is to retell the story in such a way that it is imaginative and unique – much like Flick with his quest for “Warrior Bugs” or in Stephen King’s Dark Tower book 5, with Roland and his gunslingers protecting the Calla from invading “wolves.” Also, if you’re familiar with Firefly, this trope was used in the episode “Heart of Gold” (which was never broadcasted, but is included in the DVD set).
Unfortunately, Black Hole Sun makes deadpan allusions to Kurosawa/Sturges, from the ringing of the village/miners’ bell, to the foolish young warrior/acolyte, to the wizened village elder, and so on and so forth. The “spin” that Mr. Gill attempts to invoke here is: 1. The actual presence of “treasure” (another reference to The Magnificent Seven, as one of the seven gunslingers was convinced that the villagers were hiding treasure); 2. The abduction of children by the Draeu (which actually is eerily similar to Stephen King’s retelling of the story in his Wolves of the Calla); and, of course, 3. The outer space setting on Mars (which, considering all the Firefly similarities isn’t unique at all).
Which brings me to my final reason for disliking Black Hole Sun…
Reason the Third: The Writing Just Ain’t That Great
Look. If you want to draw attention to the fact that you are cribbing Firefly and The Magnificent Seven, that’s totally FINE. This can be done beautifully, as evidenced with the aforementioned Stephen King novel The Wolves of the Calla, which blends the Kurosawa with an entirely new and fascinating universe, with DOCTOR DOOM and HARRY POTTER. I am 100% serious (godDAMN, but I love that book so much). Unfortunately, Black Hole Sun lacked the character development, the adroit plotting, even the necessary writing flair to make the story work. In comparison to the awesome sources it draws from, Black Hole Sun is painful to read, deficient in almost every respect. Sentence splices abound and combined with un-funny one-liners and a frustrating lack of backstory and exposition, Black Hole Sun simply couldn’t cut it.
More of a cold dwarf star with more fizzle than bang, Black Hole Sun lacks the sufficient mass and heft to be worthy of its title.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 2:
One of these brats is going to die,” the fat man screeches at me, his tremolo voice echoing off the waterworks’ concrete walls. “You have thirty seconds to choose which.”
“Which what?” I ask.
“Which one is to die!”
“Oh. I wasn’t sure. Your sentence structure made it a little unclear.”
“Imbecile!” he roars, face turning purple. “Choose!”
I love it when the villains pitch a hissy. The fat man’s name is Postule, and he’s standing on a concrete peninsula that juts out over the sludge-filled retention pools. Waving a meaty hand at two children behind him. Both are in shackles, dangling by a chain over the churning cesspool of the New Eden Waterworks.
All I need is a good running start, and I can knock him straight into the vile, greenish water that fills the building with its sickeningly sweet odor.
“Not a good idea,” Mimi reminds me.
Because the children are wired with C-42 explosives, and the fat man holds a tension kill switch. If he lets go, they both are dead. And I get paid nothing for the job. This is not how I planned the mission.
“‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,'” Mimi says.
“No literary references when I’m working.” I canvass the perimeter for a landing zone. After my surrender, the troopers brought me to this room, a concrete box with walls twenty meters high and a glass skylight in the roof.
“There’s a good spot for entry,” I tell Mimi.
“Beat you to it,” she says. “Drop coordinates transmitted to the rescue team.”
“You mean backup team. I don’t need rescuing.”
“Acrophobia and grandiose delusions?” she says. “With your plethora of psychoses, it’s a wonder I fit into your brain at all.”
“Then maybe you should lose some weight.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: If you’ve read or are thinking about reading Black Hole Sun, I highly recommend you check out the following (as mentioned throughout the review). For watching:
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out Firefly (and Serenity) and also delve into some classic western awesomeness with The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai. For your reading pleasure:
By far, my favorite retelling of the “Magnificent Seven Samurai” trope (and also, one of the best books in the Dark Tower series).
Rating: 4 – Pretty Bad
Reading Next: Bound by Donna Jo Napoli