Monday, February 6, 2012

John Varley and the Slow Apocalypse

John Varley is my all-time favorite author. Back in high school I was a voracious reader of Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels, though at the time I had stuck mainly to the ABCs of Sci-Fi (Asimov, Bradbury and Clark) and was happily plowing through the fantasy of Tolkien, Eddings,  the occasional Brooks (I liked the Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold books, but I've never been able to get through any Shanara) and was just discovering Terry Pratchett.  My favorite spot was a second hand shop called Book Heaven that had a huge selection of speculative fiction and it even had a pretty good comic/magazine selection. It was a regular Saturday ritual to walk down to the shop and spend a good chunk of the meager paycheck I collected working as a stuffing bags and lugging cards around at the local IGA.

In second hand shops, I tend to throw books that looked interesting into a pile and stop when I'd hit my budget. Thinking this was a Fantasy novel, it looked interesting and I tossed it onto the pile. Besides, the inside cover had centaur boobies!  It probably wasn't until a few days later that I actually cracked it open and started reading…

And at fifty pages in, I had NO idea what was going on, but I was hooked. The 'edgy' characters (Lesbians! An Immortal Alcoholic! Crazy People!), situations (Sex?) and the totally original setting grabbed me like nothing ever had up to that point and I muddled through the book as best I could and immediately went hunting for more  books by this Mr. Varley. I eventually discovered (this was the days before the internet, though I did dial in to the occasional BBS) that Wizard is the second in a science fiction trilogy about a group of astronauts that, while on a mission to Saturn, accidentally discover a "Titan", a hollow moon-sized alien that is capable of creating a livable environment on its inner surface. The Titan calls herself, Gaea.  

I actually read the third book, 'Demon' next before finally getting my hands on a copy of the first book, 'Titan'. My advice, start with Titan, it will help you figure out Gaea's native races and interior geography much more than the following books.

I then found that Mr. Varley had written other books and I immediately went out to fine the "Eight Worlds" science fiction setting where humanity has been evicted from earth by aliens from Jupiter who might be trying to save the whales, or possibly use Earth's oceans as a breeding pool.  Humanity then has to make do scraping out an existence on the remaining planets of the solar system. The collection of novels and short stories cover the entire range of human history from soon after the eviction to their expansion into a larger galaxy.

[Novels include  "The Golden Globe", "Steel Beach", "The Ophiuchi Hotline" plus the short story collections of "The Barbie Murders" (also published as "Picnic on Nearside") ," The Persistence of Vision", and "Blue Champagne". ]

He has other books, including the clone story 'Mammoth', the time travel 'Millennium' (which was made into an hilariously AWEFUL movie) and a trilogy (Red Thunder, Red Lightning and Rolling Thunder) about a family on Earth just before the eviction by the Jupiter aliens, which I didn't like as much, but have still read twice.

John Varley recently announced his new forthcoming novel, 'Slow Apocalypse' and I am eagerly looking forward to awarding it a place on my John Varley shelf!

The announcement has made me want to dive back into the Gaea/Eight World books (never mind the fact that my to-read pile now threatens to collapse my nightstand – this is an unexpected danger of having a wife who works in a bookstore) and I might be inclinded to do more of a gamer's eye this time.


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