Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Hella by David Gerrold

Published: June 16, 2020 by DAW

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Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you DAW and NetGalley!***

I went into this book with a mixture of expectations and unfortunately it didn’t really meet any of them. On the one hand, I would have been happy if this was a B-movie style Creature Feature. But it wasn’t. And on the other hand it comes to me from David Gerrold. I have not read Gerrold before but I know him from being the writer of the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek and writing The Man who Folded Himself. A highly acclaimed writer in the sci-fi landscape and so I would have been happy with a wonderful sci-fi adventure from a practiced hand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that either.

The world was built in a convincing way, even if the descriptions were not that great. I liked hearing about the trees that weren’t really trees, and the creatures so large that they have their own small ecosystem. The settlers on this planet seem to have a structure similar to that of the show Stargate. Half military, half scientific exploration. You have the head of the expedition who is called Captain and there is largely a military like structure to a lot of the colonists activities. And they are there for the express purpose of conducting scientific exploration of their new home to figure out how to exist there with minimal impact on the natural environment. Why then are we naming things “bug-things” or “bat-things.” Our narrator, Kyle, is highly scientifically minded and he tells us that all of these things have scientific names…..so why are we calling them stupid things? They even have a giant salt flat that is called, no joke, “Oh my God!” because that’s all anyone could think of saying when they discovered it. It was really lame and annoying. I mean, they named the planet Hella because everything is “hella big”. Eye roll.

Kyle was a great character. He has some kind of “syndrome” that they never actually name but many have speculated is supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was volatile and aggressive as a young child and so got a chip implanted in his brain to help him suppress his emotions. I loved how Kyle transitioned and changed throughout this book. He starts as a boy who feels that he doesn’t fit in and the only person he can talk to is his brother, Jaime. He relies on Jaime for just about everything. Throughout the events of the book Kyle decides to explore his emotions and build himself a more expansive support system. It was really great character development.

The author also introduced us to some really intriguing concepts in this society that I really wanted to learn more about, the government structure of the colony and the evolution of how society understands sexuality and gender. The government seemed to be a ruling committee that is guided by their Charters in making decisions for the good of the whole colony. I wanted to know what the ramifications would be when one of the committee decided to put themselves over the needs of the colony. Unfortunately we never really spend much time on that.

This is also a society that can change gender at will. Kyle’s brother, Jaime, was born a girl and decided to change. Kyle was also born a girl and decided to change because Jaime did. Later Kyle and his boyfriend have a discussion about whether the boyfriend would prefer Kyle to be a girl and he’d change back. It seemed that most people had changed genders at least once and technology has evolved to a point that the change can fully make you the other gender. Kyle’s mom was a girl, switched to be a boy for awhile, then went back to being a girl so she could experience pregnancy and childbirth. But it just seemed so casual. People are changing out of curiosity, just because, pressure from romantic interests, etc. But we never actually met someone who wanted to change their gender because they wanted to be their authentic self. It was more like choosing a new hair color. I wanted to see some depth to that discussion, but that never comes either.

This book was also way too long. At 448 pages I didn’t expect to be bored. But literally nothing happens for about 260 of those pages. The last half is very action packed. But literally NOTHING happens before then. Nothing. So overall, the whole thing left me feeling underwhelmed.

2 thoughts on “Review: Hella by David Gerrold

  1. Had to go check: yes, the author is male.

    Pregnancy and childbirth are the most life-altering and potentially disastrous thing you can do to your body if you are a woman. I love my three kids, would never go back on having borne them. But the thought that an author thinks someone would change to be a woman to ‘experience’ the whole shebang (eh, good word) is ludicrous.

    Even as an experiment. I would have been delighted to have them grow in a transparent egg (have written very short SF about it). Thanks for the advance warning.

    1. Pregnancy and childbirth are miraculous things, but certainly not a desirable thing just to say you’ve done it. All it took was my husband watching me birth our child and he just looked at me shellshocked and said “I have no earthly idea how you did that” and when I said I would have another child he was equally shocked.

      It’s not really a tourist activity. The whole thing was handled so casually that I didn’t really know what he was trying to say. Which is problematic.

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