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BOOK REVIEW:

Hella

David Gerrold is speculative fiction royalty. His career spans six decades, over which he has won the Hugo and the Nebula awards. He has written more than 50 novels, worked on numerous television series and created cultural touchstones like tribbles (from Star Trek) and the Sleestak (from The Land of the Lost). His latest novel is an adventure in every sense of the word.

Hella is Earth-like, but it is NOT Earth. Hella is 9% larger than Earth, but its iron/nickel core is smaller, resulting in only 91% of Earth’s gravity. The atmosphere is more oxygen rich than Earth’s. The combination of lower gravity and increased oxygen has resulted in everything on Hella growing larger, MUCH larger! Add to this the extreme weather, blistering summers and storm ravaged winters, and the result is that living on Hella is a challenge--a never ending, relentless challenge.

The colony has been on Hella for almost 40 years, in Hella years. Each Hella year is approximately 2.67 Earth years. All Hella days are longer too. There are over 7,000 residents living in the colony, and they are comprised of people born on Earth, born on Hella, and those born during the trip from earth to Hella.

Kyle was born during one of the transits from Earth to Hella. He is 5 Hella years old (just shy of 13 ½ Earth years) and he lives with his mother, one of the colony’s scientists, and with Jamie, Kyle’s older brother and best friend. Kyle has a syndrome, and to assist him with its effects, he has an implant that allows him access to the colony’s network. It provides him with instant access to all of the colony’s records and information. It also helps him manage his emotional responses. Kyle is our window into life on Hella, as he navigates not only challenges faced by only those who choose to live on an alien world, but also those that face every person as they make the transition from childhood to becoming an adult.

In this novel David Gerrold takes readers on an exploration of discovery, both external and internal. He creates a fantastic world, filled with longer days, extraordinary landscapes and dinosaur like creatures. Imagine if the films of Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and Peter Jackson, among others, were translated into a world where the fantastic creatures presented were scientifically accurate and their existence made sense in their ecology. Through the character of Kyle, who is fascinated by, and is a stickler for, minute details, Gerrold is able to describe how these creatures inhabit their world and the efforts made by the human invaders to co-exist on a planet that isn’t theirs. Gerrold’s world-building is impressive as he creates something that is both wondrous and believable.

Equally extraordinary is the colony on Hella. With a calendar filled with months named after scientists, geographic landmarks named descriptively (There is a moratorium on naming locations after individuals until several generations have passed to ensure those individuals deserve the honor.), and demographics that are varied, fluid and inclusive, living as part of Hella’s colony seems like the perfect reward for those willing to take on the challenge of living on the planet. However, Gerrold also includes examples of some of humanity’s shortcomings, which seem to exist in spite of the progress humanity seems to be making off-world to create a better society.

Through Kyle’s analytical and, primarily unemotional gaze, Gerrold is able to make commentary on a wide range of contemporary topics, including politics, wealth inequalities, the ways that privilege manifests and is culturally transmitted generationally, and the fluidity of gender and sexuality if it is free from our cultural constructs.

The result is a novel that is exciting, infuriating, adventurous, wondrous and romantic. It shows us the absolute depths of the myopia to which we can sink, and the type of person that most aspire to be.  Gerrold is working on a sequel. Here’s hoping the wait will not be long for the next novel!

Read the interview with the author here.

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