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Gunpowder - Joe Hill ”Beyond Jake, the ground was blown into sandy hillocks and dunes, a crescent of rolling beach, stretching down toward what should‘ve been a sea. Of course there was no sea, and never had been. Instead there were only miles of hardpan, yawning away toward the faraway scarp of the crater rim.”

The planet is officially called R2, but the boys call it Gunpowder. They are there to turn this desolate planet into a breadbasket. They are psyformers. Their existence, though met with hard resistance from religious groups nurtured by fear, is considered the crowning achievement of mankind. There are thirty of them, all with emerging gifts except one, Charley.

”None of the boys knew what she was looking at when she pointed an ultraviolet into their eyes...that there were informational codes projected there that could only be read under diffuse UV. These codes changed from time-to-time, there were thousands of them, and it was necessary to consult a vast diagnostic program to make sense of them. But Charley’s optical displays were always the same, and required no interpretation. It was VOID now and it had been VOID since he was eighteen months old.”

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Elaine is their caretaker, a woman that has raised them, named them, and surprisingly did not go bat shit crazy trapped on a planet with thirty boys for fourteen years. They call her mom.

Jake is the most gifted, the one the boys emulate. Instead of building a core of the most promising boys around him he has chosen Charley and a sullen boy named Nils to be his friends. This creates strife born out of jealousy, an upheaval in the natural order of things, but it keeps the social dynamic from evolving out of the control of Elaine. If Jake had brought the most powerful of his brothers together she would have lost control even though the boys love her.

”But the dunes--the dunes. That morning they had been only mounds of bare sand, shifting every time the wind sighed. Now they bristled with clumps of high grass, tall dark stalks that hissed and seethed, sounding for all the world like whispering voices. The sound made Elaine think of a classroom of boys, her boys, and how sometimes, when they were taking a test, she would walk out into the hall, but then pause to listen, and the room behind her would fill up with a feverish whispering just like this. Jake had made grass grow where grass could not grow, could never grow. In the acre of sand before her, the world was no longer as it should be, as it had always been, but as Jake wanted it. Reality was a manuscript, recorded in rocks, gasses, DNA. Jake had just rewritten a few lines.

War breaks out between the people who created the boys and a disgruntled group of transplanted colonists. The creators decide they need to boys for something other than terraforming. They want them to start psyforming weapons. I was wondering why all of the psyformers are boys, but then when the woman arrives to take over their studies and has a “nice arse” I can see how distracting having young women around would be to a group of fourteen year old boys. It would be hard to keep them focused on creating with hormones swimming through the air.

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Joseph Hillstrom King

Joe Hill had me hooked from the beginning and still has me hooked. There are three projected books in the Gunpowder series. This one was published in 2008 so he has obviously been distracted by other projects. If you have not read Joe Hill he is certainly someone to watch. He is a chip off the old block and has a chance to leave as deep a mark on publishing as his father. This book was published by a small publisher out of England called PS Publishing. The print run was 500 of which I have #56. The book is long sold out and copies available on the second hand market are fetching $195 to $255. Another testament to how collector’s are looking at Joe Hill’s future. Hopefully after the other editions are published, a collected version will be made available to the general public. It is a story arc that should be read by more people.