Overthrowing Heaven by Mark L. Van Name

ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-3371-2      
Baen Books,: May 2010
Mass Market Paperback, Pages: 560    
Sample Chapters: 


Mark L. Van Name, with three books into his Jon and Lobo series, is becoming a go-to SF author for me.  This review concerns itself with the third book, Overthrowing Heaven, and picks up not long after the second novel in the series.  Don’t worry, Van Name crafts the novel in such a way that this installment can be read without having read the previous volumes. So while it builds on the characters of Jon and Lobo from the first two novels, readers who haven’t read those can jump into Overthrowing Heaven just fine.

The setting of these books is a fairly distant future where space travel is prevalent, nanomachines are part of everyday life, artificial intelligence is commonplace and travel to distant parts of the galaxy/universe is achieved through the use of “gate” technology.  Lots of cool SF-nal ideas in the premise right there and perhaps most mysterious is the gate technology which is a leftover technology from an ancient as-yet-undiscovered race. The main characters in the novel are, obviously, Jon and Lobo.  Jon is the nano-enhanced human whose 30-year old appearance masks the fact that he’s over a century old.  Born mentally handicapped, scientists on Jon’s home planet of Pinklepopper experimented on the unwitting dimwitted boy with taboo techniques to achieve something in Jon about which they couldn’t imagine.  Lobo is also much enhanced but unlike Jon, Lobo is not human; he is a Predator-Class Assault Vehicle (PCAV), in other words a living ship with an artificial intelligence.  Jon acquired Lobo in the first novel, One Jump Ahead. As I’ve recounted on my blog (, the non-verbal communication between the two, and how Jon and Lobo’s personalities play off each other reminds me a great deal of the silent banter between Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos and his familiar Loiosh. That’s the premise of the series.

On to the novel at hand…Jon decides to help a woman (Pri Suli) find her missing child, but soon after he agrees to the job, he comes under the lens of one of the governmental bodies of the galaxy who wishes to secure Wei, the man responsible for kidnapping her son.  Wei is conducting illegal experiments on children on the fantastical planet Heaven.  This hits very close to home for Jon, since he was once a young boy upon whom doctors like Wei experimented.  His conscience overrides his frustration with government and he agrees to help Suli find her son, and in turn to find the mole the government placed in Dr. Wei’s staff, and bring Dr. Wei to justice.

When they arrive on Heaven, Jon discovers the planet lives up to its reputation as a giant, planet-sized amusement park for adults.  Bioengineered life forms such as dragons and magnificent flora provide a colorful and often relaxing environment. The government is keeping Dr. Wei in hiding under the guise of continuing to help expand the biodiversity of Heaven. As part of Jon’s plan to find the mole and Dr. Wei, he acquaints himself with a highly-priced and prestigious companion named Matahi and manages to get a job with the security force – comprised of retired military personnel – responsible for protecting the vast laboratory run by Dr. Wei.

That’s the primary thrust and action that drives the novel.  Van Name gives weight to all the supporting characters. Beyond Jon and Lobo, the next level of primary characters would be the two women with whom Jon finds himself working.  Both women are strong in their own right and even though Suli is something of a damsel in distress, she is very much a capable character.  Matahi is a smart, sexy prominent figure on Heaven who exudes mystery and strength.  In addition, Jon gets to know a couple of the members of the security force for whom he works while trying to find the mole and Dr. Wei.

Overthrowing Heaven is mostly a Space Opera, but it also has flavors of Military SF and posits some very thought provoking philosophical arguments.  I found the ending to be very satisfactory as it brought to a close the full arc of the novel. There’s indeed a promise of more stories for Jon and Lobo and I for one will be following these protagonists on their next adventures.

The Jon and Lobo novels by Mark L Van Name should be getting a lot more attention than I see them getting. Van Name gives readers believable characters who are very engaging, posits future scientific advances in both the minor details and the grand scale, and simply tells terrific stories. Overthrowing Heaven would work well enough for new readers, but Jump Gate Twist would also work as it is an omnibus volume containing the first two novels One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack.

Highly Recommended.

© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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