The Duke of Uranium by John Barnes

In The Duke of Uranium Barnes gives the reader an espionage/spy-thriller wrapped up with a far future space operatic tale that awakens Jak Jinakka to life he had unexpectedly been preparing for his whole life. With that premise in mind, Barnes presents a coming of age tale in a plausible future populated with interesting, if at times somewhat over the top characters. The novel opens with an ending; that is Jak Jinakka and friends have finished their last days of school. Jak finds out the results of a placement-type test that would have set him on his path for life, and unfortunately the results aren’t exactly what Jak was hoping for. He and his friends head to the local club to party. Jak realizes after being beaten up, that he is a secret agent in training and his girlfriend is much more than he initially thought. From here, Barnes does a commendable job of peeling away the layers of Jak’s assumptions, revealing to him, and the reader a galaxy that is very much controlled by politics and espionage.

There are a number of aspects of this novel that will appeal to younger readers: a cast of characters primarily in their teens, the initial school setting, characters acting as kids today would act, and budding romance between Jak and some of the female characters. As the blurbs on the book imply there are similarities between this and some of Heinlein’s work. Particularly, the inventive language and phrases Barnes uses are very reminiscent of the linguistic creations in Stranger in a Strange Land.

That being said, there were a couple of minor problems with the book, at times it seemed as if Barnes was just info-dumping facets of the future world he created. The story would have been better served if more showing of the world was employed rather than telling of the details.

Overall, The Duke of Uranium is a novel that should find an audience in the readers of Orson Scott Card’s Ender saga.

Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford

© 2002 Rob Bedford

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