Carl Bok is one of the first students from Springworld to visit Earth with a scholarship to Starschool, and he sticks out like a sore thumb because of his immense size. Finally escaping the grueling farm work of his inhospitable home planet, Carl undertakes a series of adventures while visiting sixteen colonized planets, including becoming a professional fighter on Earth, learning how to be a solider on war-torn Hell, and meeting new alien races on the artificial planet Construct.

Brothers Joe (author of Hugo and Nebula award-winner The Forever War) and Jack Haldeman (science fiction writer and biologist) collaborated together to create a series of intergalactic adventures in this coming-of-age tale of an obtuse yet honorable teenage boy. Originally published as separate novellas and later compiled into a novel, There Is No Darkness is particularly disjointed, though I find each section more interesting than the last.

The Earth story primarily follows Carl’s disobedience of school rules to professionally fight for money to pay back his high weight tax upon entering Earth. It’s full of animal wrestling and bloody fighting. Although the school doesn’t expect Carl to pay back his debts, his obsession with earning money in ever-increasing dangerous fighting events comes off as obstinately simple-minded.

Carl’s time on Hell contains some unexpected twists, but it’s hard to imagine any school dropping off their university students to complete a boot camp for soldiers. A very short synopsis of the planet, disguised as curriculum notes, indicates that Hell is the planet where other worlds rent space to fight their wars, which is an intriguing concept that isn’t explored any further.

The artificial planet of Construct is the first section that actually feels like a science fiction book. Carl and his friends explore a world of seemingly infinite artificial worlds designed for all manner of alien species, until one of their friends is lost. Again, there are several good ideas within this section, but the actual story just isn’t one in which I’m particularly interested.

Recommended as an action adventure for pre-teen and teenage boys!

“Somewhere on this beat-up planet there had to be a job—a high-paying job—that called for a man, a boy if you want to get technical about it, who weighed more than four Earthies and stood two and a half meters tall. I swore I would earn back that P16,800, every pesa of it. And get off everybody’s list.”