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The Sky So Big And Black    by John Barnes order for
Sky So Big And Black
by John Barnes
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Wesley Williamson

Terpsichore Melpomene Murray, better known as Teri-Mel, lives on Mars, is fifteen years old, hates school and wants to leave, marry her lover, Perry, and settle down as an ecoprospector like her father. Mars is in the process of being terraformed, though it will be centuries before humans can survive on the surface without spacesuits.

Teri-Mel's father wants her to spend another year to finish school, since he believes ecoprospecting is a dying profession. Marsforms, humans genetically enhanced to be able to live on Mars after minimal terraforming, have been guaranteed a very large part of the planet for their sole use, and once they are established, no more effort is likely to be put into further improvement.

Then a sudden fantastic discovery make Teri-Mel and her father very rich, and he withdraws his objections. Unfortunately, when they reach the Gathering and Teri-Mel meets Perry, she finds that he may have made other plans. She survives this shock, but after the Gathering, goes with her father on a training trip for some other children. On the way a planet wide catastrophe kills some of the party, and leaves Teri-Mel with only one option; to survive herself and get the other survivors of the party to safety.

The story is told by a policeman/shrink, who in the intervals when he is sober, plays back the recordings of his treatment sessions with Teri-Mel. Gradually the reader is introduced to One-True, the computer virus which has taken over the minds of all the inhabitants of Earth, and is continually searching for ways to infect the minds on Mars. Readers of Barnes' earlier works will already know about One-True, but those who do not are in for a very special experience, as just enough is revealed, little by little, to catch the reader's rapt attention.

Ecoprospectors are a very special breed, living by choice in spacesuits in a harsh and dangerous environment, and Barnes forces us to experience it but always to see it through Teri-Mel's eyes. It should be emphasized that this is not a teen book; indeed it is rather dark and haunting, lingering in the mind long after the last word is read.

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