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The Duke of Uranium    by John Barnes order for
Duke of Uranium
by John Barnes
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)

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* *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Barnes has gone back from the hard realistic SF he writes so convincingly, as in The Sky So Big And Black, to Heinlein, who must have been the hero of his youth. With, I suspect, his tongue firmly in his cheek, he has written a rambunctious teenage adventure that everyone should thoroughly enjoy.

Jak Jinnaka, 18, who has a pretty girl-friend, Sesh, and an indulgent uncle, Sib, has just finished school without learning very much; he and his friend Dujuv have both failed the citizenship examination, to the surprise of neither, and have to look forward to the Army (for Jak) or to become a professional slamballer (for Dujuv). Dujuv, incidentally, is a panth, which is slang for 'a designed human with panther genes'. Indeed, Barnes has invented a whole series of teenage slang expressions (as in Clockwork Orange). Although most are identifiable from the context, it may make the story difficult for some readers.

Things start to fall apart for Jak. Sesh is kidnapped and Jak discovers not only that she is the Princess of a powerful planet, but that his Uncle Sib is really a senior intelligence agent
or an underground political group. Sib persuades Jak to act as a go-between to Sesh's kidnappers, a no-risk venture, he claims. Unfortunately, this proves to be somewhat optimistic. Jak finds himself working with a trading starship's crew, having his shuttle to Earth shot down, being imprisoned with the heir to the duchy of Uranium, being beaten up, rescued, beaten up and rescued again, and finally discovering that life is a great deal more difficult than he ever expected.

Barnes gives us plenty of action, interesting if somewhat shallow characters, and a plot which is amusing if totally nonsensical. He has pictured a society of considerable complexity, and if this is, as I suspect, the first of a series, he may develop his characters and his plots with greater depth and realism in future novels. I look forward to reading them, as I do indeed to all of his books.

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