While Hella’s set up partakes in a long history of science fiction writing about colonies on new planets, the setting, characters, and the society detailed give an imaginative new take on this story. One of the most refreshing aspects of Hella’s world is how the fluidity of gender and sexuality is casually incorporated into the setting of the novel. Characters are raised in queer polyamorous spaces and have easy access to safe sex-changing procedures which they may take advantage of several times throughout their lives. It is amazing to see novels that don’t cast the same rigid and destructive gender binaries into an imagined future ... The writing of Hella is incredibly detailed. In keeping with Kyle’s obsessive personality and unlimited access to information through the noise, there are often long detours into the minutia of Hella’s ecology as well as the colonies society, technology, and infrastructure. These details have moments of beauty, especially in descriptions of Hella’s scenery, but can also drag. I often found myself skipping the seemingly endless paragraphs about the colonist’s trucks and the frequent mechanical problems they experienced ... The most frustrating aspect of these descriptions was that they distracted from what I considered the much more interesting political maneuvering happening beneath the surface, outside of Kyle’s singular focus. Hella felt like a queerer, lighter, and more dinosaur-filled version of Kim Stanly Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and the rise of Counselor Layton was a timely reflection of the current moment and our own autocrats. Luckily, the pace of the novel picks up about halfway through, and as Kyle’s character grows so does his sphere of focus as a narrator ... Ultimately, the strength of the characters and world drive through any lulls in the plot, making Hella a fun and thought-provoking summer read. With an ultimately optimistic view of human nature, this book might be the perfect salve to those struggling with the sadness of the current political moment.
Gerrold has created a vibrant world with a creative exploration of colonization and alien ecology that also smoothly touches on polyamory, gender confirmation, and queer relationships. Hella does what science fiction does best: it uses classic sf tropes to ask important questions about contemporary society. It is also an entertaining tale of adolescence, exploration, colonization, and choosing personal desires over the collective good.
Kyle needs to deal with dinosaurs but also navigate the power struggles of the colonists, who deviously pack committees and dominate meetings. This element of the story raises Hella above the level of a Young Adult adventure story. In everyday life we don’t cope with dinosaurs, but we do cope with bureaucrats and finaglers. Mr. Gerrold makes it plain that there’s as much drama and danger in office politics as there is in dealing with wild beasts. It’s just that in a survival scenario, the stakes are higher, and losers find they’re collected much more promptly.