4 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill

Title: Black Hole Sun

Author: David Macinnis Gill

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publisher: HarperTeen
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.

Sound familiar?

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

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  • Andrea
    January 19, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Have you ever read any of Andre Norton’s SF? It would be really interesting to see your reaction to, say, “Catseye”, “Beastmaster” or “Sargasso of Space” compared to this book.

  • April
    January 19, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Wow. That chapter excerpt is horrid.

    I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to read Black Hole Sun for awhile now so this review was very helpful. I’m a fan of all the alternatives you’ve mentioned and since this wasn’t as compelling as any of them, I feel a lot better about ignoring Black Hole Sun in favor of other books.

  • Lenore
    January 19, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Ouch! I actually quite enjoyed this one, but I’m not as big of a sci-fi reader as you are so I didn’t catch the Magnificent Seven Samurai parallels. I did compare it to Firefly though!

  • Sean Wills
    January 19, 2011 at 3:01 am

    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).

    Haha, YES. Such an awesome book.

    I was intrigued by Black Hole Sun because of the title (I know, shallow), but the writing in an excerpt I read really put me off. I’m not a huge fan of ‘kickass adventure stories’ at the best of times, but the writing in this one came across as fairly juvenile.

  • Jennifer (An Abundance of Books)
    January 19, 2011 at 3:22 am

    I’d not seen the book, nor am I likely to pick it up after your review, but it was a good review. I love Firefly, Seven Samurai (have you seen the futuristic anime version?), and Magnificent 7 – maybe I should read my husband’s copy of Wolves of the Calla. 🙂

    I do have a question; I stumbled over the fact that Durango is 16 and has all of these people following him. Yeah, sure he’s tough, but it just doesn’t seem ‘realistic”. Did his age affect the story to, or did it work?

  • Patti
    January 19, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Wow, I really enjoyed Black Hole Sun! I loved story, the characters, and the humor. So, before you decide not to read this book, check out some other reviews first. There are plenty of good ones!

  • Lisa
    January 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Wow! Thanks Thea 🙂 Dint get this good review in other sites like allreader, NYTimes.. Gonna buy it online now through myBantu! 😀

  • Becky
    January 20, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I also disliked this book. I think the writing is just horrible and I never connect with the characters.

  • Amy C
    January 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    When the words “space cowboy” popped up in your review, the first thing that came to mind was the Japanese anime Cowboy Bebop. Have you guys heard of it before? I usually LOATHE anime, but Cowboy Bebop is basically the Japanese animated version of Firefly— only just as good, if not better. If anything, Firefly is the Westernized version of Cowboy Bebop, since Bebop came first! I’m totally curious to see what you guys think of the show- I’ve read Black Hole Sun and agree- complete Firefly ripoff, but Cowboy Bebop is pure television gold 🙂

  • Lila Busca
    January 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Black Hole Sun is one of the best books of last year. My school library can’t keep it on the shelves. I’m a big time SF fan, and I loved this book! So did lots of other reviewers, which is why we acquired it.

    The biggest problem with your review isn’t that you didn’t like the book, it’s that you insulted the guy repeatedly without any proof and then the posters on your site decided to join in. So basically, you all suck.

    Gill said in an interview I read that the book is “Seven Samurai on Mars.” He’s not exactly hiding that, or didn’t you notice that Magnificent Seven is Seven Samurai in Texas?

    As for the Firefly rip-off accusations, Whedon wrote a space opera. Gill wrote a space opera. Star Wars was a space opera, too. All the cliches are the same: The young, dashing hero, the old master, the loyal sidekick, and the beautiful princess. Mal is just Han Solo for TV. They have the same outfit and same haircut. Jane is a wookie with less hair. Who’s ripping off who now? The only thing I see is they both have cannibals. Right, so Whedon invented cannibals? That’s like saying he invented vampires and Stephanie Meyer ripped him off. Go read some early Heinlein, and you’ll know where Whedon and Lucas, who was doing Kurasawa in space, got their ideas.

  • Kate
    January 22, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Okay, you’ve just convinced me that I really, really need to see the Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven! And that maybe giving The Dark Tower another go might be good…

  • Lop
    January 25, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    @Lila Busca

    So the writing is pretty awful and the concepts are unoriginal but we all suck?

    There’s one thing that sucks here, and that’s the book. You can defend it as much as you like, but you can’t honestly think that having characters and a situation very similar to Firefly already and then adding cannibals to the mix is still not a ripoff. And before you say anything else, I’m a sci-fi fan who doesn’t really Firefly at all — and I can still see the striking similarity. So don’t go throwing around the old ignorance excuse when some of us here have read/seen just as much as you.

    That being said, you are free to enjoy this atrocious book as much as you please.

  • Justin S.
    November 14, 2012 at 1:47 am

    One thing that really bugged me was title. The only “black hole” that’s mentioned in the book was the cave that Anie lead Durgango into beneath the glacier, with the “sun” above glaring in above making the ice walls a beautiful blue. The title is one of the things that persuaded me to read the book, which I enjoyed thoroughly, but it irratated me when I figured out how misleading it was.

  • Logan C.
    June 5, 2014 at 2:24 am

    I was less than one fourth of the way into “Black Hole Sun” when I realized that it was “Seven Samurai” on Mars. And I had not read this off the internet at that point. The plot scenes just kept on corresponding — The Bushido code in both Regulators and Samurai; saving the child(ren); masterless Samurai/Regulators going hungry; three farmers/miners looking for Samurai/Regulators to protect them and getting into trouble in the bar; farmers/miners hiding from Samurai/Regulators and being called in by their own warning signal; only having 6-7 Samurai/Regulators; Scoping out the farms/tunnels; setting up barricades; attacking the bandits/Draeu; stealing 2 guns/chain-guns; boxing out bandits/Draeu but letting in a few at a time to be killed; farmers/miners not telling the samurai/regulators that they actually have treasure in armor/chigoe-diggers; and so forth. The basic plot is just so un-original as to be disappointing.

    Yes, the author does throw in other Sci-Fi elements as well: the Reavers from Serenity, The tunneling rock-turtles from Star Trek (original series). This is really just a fast-action story that borrows many elements from several sources, and fails to develop the characters into real people, but transforms them from one cliche into another. Vienne is the ultimate adolescent male’s fantasy, hard as steel (ouch what a cliche) in a firefight, but ends up being wounded (in the heel) and practically fainting from loss of blood at the end, then snuggling up to her chief on the back of a motorcycle. Yeah, right.

    I can take the author throwing in the Bushido, but the one reference to Valhalla was just one too many borrows for my taste. It was just wrong.

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