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The Sky So Big and Black

Review by Mark L. Olson

The Sky So Big and Black

by John Barnes

Tor, 2002, $24.95, 315 pp

This is in many ways a sequel to Candle, taking place at about the same time on Mars which is free of One True, the meme which won the Meme Wars by mentally enslaving every person on Earth. One True’s reach never went beyond Earth, however, and the colonists on Mars want to keep it that way – especially since so many of them are descended from people who fled Earth to avoid being taken over by One True.

Teri Murray is a teenage girl who travels with her prospector father looking for underground water and CO2 deposits to tap to aid in the terraforming of Mars. This free life is ending as the deposits are mostly now found and corporations are taking over what’s left of the business.

Everyone on Mars is continually menaced by One True which tries to get its meme into people on Mars in hopes of taking over there like on Earth. The Martian government is vigilant and takes On True infections very seriously – it’s in effect a plague of contagious brainwashing. Their only defense is memory erasure of the period since the infection, and sometimes much more.

To aid the victims to put themselves back together, they let the victims record a narrative of the events which will be erased before erasure happens and have psychiatrists who are specialized in working with them. The entire book is a series of interlaced and embedded recordings by Teri and by her psychiatrist (getting memed is a real hazard for the psychiatrists).

Doubtless the book is a tour-de-force, but I found it more of the bleak Barnes that I don’t care for.

This is a very good book, but not one I’ll read again.