The Duke of Uranium

Posted by : atcampbell | On : January 21, 2003

The Duke of Uranium by John Barnes

Twelve people attended this discussion of at Judy and Jeff’s house. Our topic was The Duke of Uranium, a futuristic SF adventure. The story follows a group of teenage high school friends who get involved in a plot involving kidnapping, conspiracy, aliens, and daring rescues. All but one of us at the meeting had read the book in its entirety, and the other person was just at the meeting to socialize and tag along for dinner.

Several of us found the story to be a fast-paced romp in a classic style. We liked the old-fashioned flavor of earnest young people yearning to do brave heroic deeds. We were interested in the details of the Hive, the space habit in Earth’s L5 point where our protagonists grew up. The story brought up some interesting ideas about economics in outer space, a concept Barnes had dealt with in earlier novels like The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky and A Million Open Doors. We liked reading about our heroes going on an old-fashioned tour of the Solar System. Background elements of the story, involving competing underground political movements, were interesting and seemed like foreshadowing for future adventures of these characters. We thought it evoked some of the flavor of the Heinlein juveniles, but would be more accessible to today’s kids. And we loved the notion of people being “registered social parasites.”

Others in the group were disappointed. Many had enjoyed some of John Barnes’s more ambitious adult novels and were disappointed to read a simpler story aimed at a younger audience. There were many comparisons to the young adult novels of Robert Heinlein, and we noted plot elements that seemed to be tributes to Starship Troopers and Podkayne of Mars. Many of us felt the Heinlein novels had bigger ideas and better-developed characters. Some in our group said that they enjoyed the world and the technology of this book quite a bit, but wished the author had populated his story with more interesting characters than this group of shallow teenagers. A couple of people felt the writing was less polished than they expected of a writer with Barnes’s experience, and they wondered if he had written the book in a rush since it was “only” a paperback original.

While we came to no agreement about The Duke of Uranium, we had a fun meeting. Afterward, we had a nice dinner at Mongolian Grille.

— A. T. Campbell, III