Varley Vade mecum

Ready Reference for John Varley Fans

Contents of this review page

(1) Eight Worlds Essay.

Note: The "Phantom Diagram" could not be included within the body of the essay due to format conflicts. It can be found on the Varley Vade mecum home page.

(2) Red Thunder review.

(3) Time Travel John Varley Style; Millennium, The Gate and Air Raid.

(4) Review of The John Varley Reader.

(1) Eight-Worlds Essay

John Varley's Eight Worlds

 

Contents:

 

1. Towards a Definition

   1.1 More of the Same, but Different

   1.2 How Does Varley Define the Eight Worlds?

   1.3 Fictional Purity / Reality vs. Literary Criticism

   1.4 The Eight Worlds, a Definition

      1.4.1 A Compendium of Supposed Contradictions

2. Revisionist Future History

   2.1 The Hotline, Conspicuous by its Absence

      2.1.1The Eight Worlds Connection Table

   2.2 "The Phantom of Kansas" / Lynch-Pin of the Eight Worlds

      2.2.1 The Phantom Diagram

3. Making the Case

   3.1 An Overture to Bach

   3.2 "Scoreboard" Connection

4. Structure

   4.1 The Ophiuchi Hotline

      4.1.1 Varley's Suite of Technologies

   4.2 Shock Treatment

      4.2.1 Changing

   4.3 The Metal Trilogy

      4.3.1 Steel Beach

      4.3.2 The Golden Globe

   4.4 The Eight Worlds Timeline and Varley's Suite of Technologies

   4.5 Chronology Notes

 

 

1. Towards a Definition

   1.1 More of the Same, but Different

 

John Varley likes to play in his own backyard. Most of his fiction is set in one of two futures the Eight Worlds or the Gaea series. To date, he has devoted three novels and twenty-one short-stories to the Eight-Worlds series, depending on how you count them (see below). He set three other novels inside the living world Gaea. Apart from that, his work not tied to either of these series comprises two novels and seventeen stories. His writing career was jump-started with the Eight-Worlds story "Picnic on Nearside," and it is back to the Eight-Worlds that he most frequently returns in his published fiction. He dazzled the Sci-Fi world in the mid 1970's with a phalanx of Eight-Worlds short stories that permeated nearly every best-of-the-year-collection and awards ballot. The first sort story was published in 1974 and the last in 1980. I was privileged to witness this Varley phenomenon as it unfolded and still eagerly await each new Eight-Worlds story knowing the inspiration it draws upon.

 

A future history, or any other grouping of fiction stories, gives each story a frame of reference, and the more extensive the background is for the series, the grander each individual piece becomes. Like a piano in an orchestra; by itself it can be beautiful, but as part of a concerto it is truly grand; so too is a story in a series, where each piece is elevated according to the loftiness attained by the assemblage.

 

I propose to define John Varley's Eight Worlds series, based solely on internal textual evidence, and to list the stories to be included based on logical criteria, each with a justification for inclusion on the list.

 

 

   1.2 How Does Varley Define the Eight Worlds?

 

First it might be useful to investigate the author's opinion of just what constitutes an Eight Worlds story. How does Varley himself define the Eight Worlds? In an article of Science Fiction future histories for the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) Bulletin (Fall 1979, Volume 14, Number 3) titled "1955" he became aware that trying to conform to a rigid timeline for his future history, as did Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov, was to restrictive, and by the time he had gotten around to actually making such a chart, it was too late; his published stories could no longer be classified using such a strict framework. And besides, the fans didn't seem to care. It was then he realized that:

 

The stories were enjoyable even though the future framework was not as tight as it might have been. I felt a lot more freedom when I realized I need not develop ulcers over the bane of the future historians: making the 129th story jibe perfectly with the first.

 

Again, in the author's note to Steel Beach (Ace / Putnam. 1992), Varley laments the unintentional inconsistencies built into the Eight Worlds. It seems that he had every intention of writing his future history following the example of Heinlein, complete with a chart graphing the stories' places in the grand scheme. Varley found that it was creatively stifling to try to work within the rigid constraints that a true future history would have imposed upon him. The author’s note to Steel Beach offers great insight to Varley’s mindset on the subject, and is here repeated in its entirety:

 

When in the course of a writer's career it becomes necessary to break with an established science fiction tradition, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to the decision.

This story appears to be part of a future history of mine, often called the Eight Worlds. It does share background, characters, and technology with earlier stories of mine, which is part of the future history tradition. What it doesn't share is a chronology. The reason for this is simple: the thought of going back, rereading all those old stories, and putting them in coherent order filled me with ennui. It got so bad I thought I might as well give up on this story.

Then I thought, what the heck?

Consider this a disclaimer, then. Steel Beach is not really part of the Eight Worlds future history. Or the Eight Worlds is not really a future history, since that implies an orderly progression of events. Take your pick. But please don't write and tell me that the null-suits had to have been around much earlier in the series, because you said so in such-and-such a story. There are probably a lot of mistakes like that in Steel Beach. So what?

Somebody once said consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds (I think it was the editor of the National Enquirer). It's a sentiment I'm sure Hildy would endorse.

—John Varley

December 1, 1991

 

I think Varley wrote Steel Beach as part of a redefined Eight Worlds, in whose framework, unbeknownst to even himself, he had been writing ever since he completed the novel The Ophiuchi Hotline in 1977. From Varley's above statement, it is clear that in his initial conception for Steel Beach, he envisioned the novel as part of the Eight Worlds series. But only after the realization that a chronology for the series would be difficult to construct, this in the year 1991, seventeen years after he began the series, did he hit upon the idea that maybe the Eight Worlds had a structure different than the typical future history; where the stories are connected logically according to a chronology and clearly sequential plot developments. Had he thought about it he may have seen more of a similarity between the Eight Worlds and the thematically, but not chronologically, connected "Meta-novel" of Philip K. Dick, than to the future history of Robert Heinlein he may have thought he was emulating. Philip K. Dick's "Metanovel" comprises ten novels written over a period of over twenty-five years, and like Varley, Dick did not realize that their true connection until he had completed the last, Valis.

 

"VALIS is the cipher book – code book – to the whole ten volume metanovel & will someday be read as such." (Philip K. Dick from THE EXEGESIS, 1981)

 

 

Philip K. Dick's Metanovel:

Eye in the Sky (1956)

Time out of Joint (1959)

The Man in the High Castle (1962)

The Game Players of Titan (1963)

Martian Time Slip (1964)

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)

UBIK (1969)

A Maze of Death (1970)

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)

Valis (1981)

 

 

In one of the story introductions from his new short story collection The John Varley Reader he makes the following statement:

 

First I decided to begin about two hundred years after the invasion. The invasion itself I had set in the far distant future. Say... oh, around 2005. The moon, Luna, was the center of civilization, so many stories would be set there. ...

 

So his intention was to begin his series 200 years after the alien invasion, and to base several of the stories on Luna. Indeed, the first story, "Picnic on Nearside," incorporates both of these elements. It is set on the moon a few hundred years after the invasion. But if the Anna-Louise Bach stories are not included in the Eight Worlds, there are only four more stories set on Luna; "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank," "The Phantom of Kansas," "Options," and "Beatnik Bayou." The Anna-Louise Bach stories would add five more stories to the Lunar venue.

 

Again referring to the "1955" article we learn that:

 

I was telling the stories of a lot of different people who happened to live in the same fictitious world, and their lives need not advance the larger story.

 

His conceptual vision for the Eight Worlds included the element of showcasing characters who occupied insignificant roles in the grand scheme of things, but that would provide a background for the reader to fill out the complexity and diversity that is the human experience in any era. The criteria for the inclusion of a story in the Eight Worlds, does not require it to be in the main sequence. Good examples of this are the stories involving the Symbs or the Hole Hunters. The Symbs are an aberration even in the Eight Worlds, very few people take the extreme life-changing path of joining with a Symb that would have them share their mind with another, but this is a valid manifestation of life for some people in the series, and one that Varley devotes four stories: "Equinoctial," "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance," The Ophiuchi Hotline, and "Amputee." Same for the Hole Hunters, these future prospectors live a life of isolation at the edge of explored space, and only the hardy hermitic few experience this life, but they, the hole hunters, figure prominently in three stories: "Lollipop and the Tar Baby," "The Funhouse Effect," and The Ophiuchi Hotline.

 

Another insight into the author's concept of the Eight Worlds from The John Varley Reader  (pp120-121) in the introduction to "The Barbie Murders," concerns the character Anna Louise Bach:

 

She is not actually a part of the Eight Worlds stories. Some critics have assumed she is, and I suppose she might somehow fit in between today and the alien invasion, in a time when we have established large cities on the moon, but before the time, two hundred years or so from today, when the bulk of the Eight Worlds stories take place. But I never thought of her that way.

 

And later in The John Varley Reader (p410) in the introduction to "Options," which the internal story chronology locates at the 100th anniversary of the alien invasion, Varley states:

 

I was always deliberately vague about dates in the Eight Worlds stories.

 

This was, presumably, to avoid having to keep close track of dates in later stories. This was wise, but as will be shown, he was not quite as vague concerning dates as maybe he thought he was, several Eight Worlds stories include dates.

 

 

   1.3 Fictional Purity / Reality vs. Literary Criticism

 

Now we need to discuss the disparity between what an author may have intended, and the reality that the words on paper declare. For want of a better term I call this concept "Fictional Purity." Briefly, Fictional Purity must ignore the author's intent or even his opinion as to what one of his stories is saying. An author has no more authority in speaking about his own stories than do his critics, or fans. If the author chooses to enter the arena of ideas occupied by the critic concerning his own fiction, then he must rely on the fictional text itself for support for his theories, not his intentions in writing them, as must the critic.

 

The text of the story must be allowed to proclaim its own reality. Here's an example: suppose someone writes a novel and declares, after publication, that it is "A fascinating look into the realm of inspiration for great musical composition. This book is an invaluable tool for aspiring composers needing an understanding as to what makes Mozart great." Now, while these statements would not be out of place for a critic to make about a novel, it is pretentious for the author to proclaim what virtues his book might have for another person. The text of the novel may or may not be fascinating to the reader, and might not be considered invaluable. Let's say that the novel is a story of three frogs in a pond using their croaking voices to try to lure mates. The story may not even have anything to do with music, as in the frog analogy, even though the author might have thought it obvious that the croaking frogs would represent great classical music to the reader, and for the author to declare that it does represent music is either proved or disproved by the text itself, and not by the author's statements about his work. The author as literary critic must be able to defend his critique based on the text, the words he actually wrote, and not on the words he intended to write; or even thought he wrote.

 

To John Varley's great credit he has stated that he dislikes introductions to his fiction, preferring the stories to speak for themselves. He has also mentioned that his Eight Worlds future history defies the rigid classification that a chronological timeline or chart might impose. I will use this as license to define the Eight Worlds a little differently than would the author, and will even try to construct a timeline and use charts to do so.

 

Now it could be argued that Varley is correct when he states that The Anna-Louise Bach stories are not part of the Eight Worlds. My supposition is that the stories' own internal evidence declares otherwise. More on this later. But first, we must determine the criteria for inclusion in the series.

 

 

   1.4 The Eight Worlds, a Definition

 

The Eight Worlds future history series includes any story written by John Herbert Varley set in a universe where (1) incomprehensible god-like aliens have invaded the earth, exiling humans to the moon and the other eight planets in the solar system, and utilize any of Varley's suite of technologies; Memory Recording, Cloning, Sex-Changing, Symbs or Null-Suits,, or (2) any story set in the same universe as any of the other Eight Worlds stories..

 

Notice that this definition does not include mention of the Hotline, though the novel titled The Ophiuchi Hotline is to be included; more on this oddity, and the suite of technologies, soon.

 

The Eight Worlds is the core of Varley's Science Fiction. It, more than any of his other notable work, defines him as a writer. It may seem odd then, that I find it necessary to disagree with the writer over which stories to include in the series. But I must, for I think the series is enriched by several stories, and being an Eight Worlds reader, enjoy the individual stories much more when each is considered to be a small episode of a greater whole.

 

This definition insures that all the stories we have come to know and love as parts of the Eight Worlds, are actually counted among the Eight Worlds, despite any supposed contradictions the story may have. Such supposed contradictions, are now seen merely as Eight Worlds episodes from parallel universes. This allows stories like "Options" (Collection: Blue Champagne, p155.-1.), a story about sex-changing set just 100 years after the alien invasion, to coexist along side with "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" (Collection: Picnic on Nearside, p225.-5.), where it is stated, "Even after the invasion we were a highly advanced civilization for hundreds of years before changing." It seems that even though Varley thought he was intentionally vague concerning dates, the few he does include do not agree. Another example is Steel Beach where the origin of Null Suits is attributed to the Heinleiners, the Hotline is never even hinted at; and the story "The Black Hole Passes" lists the Null Field as one of the inventions sent to us via the Hotline. If these supposed contradictions were to be allowed to exclude stories from the Eight Worlds series, there would be few stories that could qualify. It is therefore desirable to group them together, as we instinctively do, but to loosen our logical and chronological constraints.

 

 

      1.4.1 A Compendium of Supposed Contradictions

 

Sex changing

"Lollipop and the Tar Baby"

(Collection: Picnic on Nearside, p225.-5.), where it is stated, "Even after the invasion we were a highly advanced civilization for hundreds of years before changing."

"Options

            Sex changing at the invasion centennial. (Collection: Blue Champagne, p155.-1)

Picnic on Nearside

            (Collection: The Barbie Murders, p241.-6. date given as, Occupation Earth, O.E. 214)

 

What is the Population of Luna?

"The Phantom of Kansas"

Alludes to the population of the moon to have been 300 million at the time of the invasion (Berkley paperback., The Persistence of Vision p13.-1. The population had to be reduced by 99.93%, and resulted in a population of 210,000. So: .07% is to 100% as 210,000 is to 300,000,000 people originally on the moon.)

"Overdrawn at the Memory Bank"

(Collection: The Persistence of Vision, Berkley paperback. P209.-1) "When there were only three thousand people alive on the moon after the Occupation it was easy for us to sterilize everything."

The Ophiuchi Hotline, which states that only a few thousand humans were on Luna at the time.

            (Berkley paperback, p127.-2) "A few thousand on Luna after the invasion."

 

Origin of technology

"The Black Hole Passes." The Ophiuchi Hotline is the source of:

            Symbs

            Null Field

Steel Beach (221.-1. Humans developed memory recordings.)

            Hotline never mentioned.

 

Fox's first Change.

"Picnic on Nearside" (243.1) She was bubble-headed like that for three lunes after her Change. Well, so was I after my first.

 

(259.-4) "I was born female, you know, but only lasted two hours in that sex because Carnival wanted a boy." [So Fox's first change happened when she was two hours old. Her memories of being bubble-headed are truly from the second Change.]

 

Lilo's appearance, The Ophiuchi Hotline

Flat nose (p10.3)

Pointed nose (p131.7)

(46.-1) Mari(2) fixes Lilo's legs, why not her nose?

 

 

2. Revisionist Future History

   2.1 The Hotline, Conspicuous by its Absence

 

From the start of the Eight Worlds in 1974, with "Picnic on Nearside," until the capstone novel The Ophiuchi Hotline, three years later in 1977, it was implied that the culture changing technologies, or disruptive technologies in contemporary lingo, had come from the Hotline. This is in fact one of the main elements of the novel The Ophiuchi Hotline; other intelligent species cast out of their home world by the alien invaders have been feeding humanity technology, through the Hotline, to help us adapt in the hostile artificial environments we will be forever relegated to. The reader may find it surprising that the Hotline itself is only named in three of the twenty-five Eight Worlds stories, "The Black Hole Passes," "Equinoctial," and the Novel The Ophiuchi Hotline.

 

Based on the setting of Varley's newer Eight-Worlds novels (comprising what he has, in one interview, called his "Metal Trilogy"), Steel Beach and The Golden Globe (with Irontown Blues next), it appears that Varley is recasting the Eight-Worlds mold to eliminate the Hotline altogether. Neither of these novels refer to the Hotline even indirectly; in fact, technologies, such as Memory Recording and Null-suits, that the earlier story "The Black Hole Passes" attributes to the Hotline, are said to be either human developments, or inventions of The Central Computer (itself a human development). It seems that Varley's original vision for the Eight-Worlds was too alienating even for him; preferring instead to delve deeper into the familiar and more hospitable nursery of the Solar system. Since all the Eight Worlds stories are neatly connected through technology, setting, or common characters, I prefer to view these stories as belonging to each other as parts of two, or more, parallel universes.

 

Note too, that since Varley wrote the novel The Ophiuchi Hotline in 1977 he has not returned to write any stories set in the Eight Worlds where the Hotline does exist. So it seems that the evidence rests in favor of the revisionist view of Varley's future history, one where Varley himself, whether deliberately or not, has adopted a different version of the future in which to populate his stories; a view where the Hotline has no place. Perhaps he prefers to see mankind as more inventive in shaping its own future rather than being manipulated by an infusion of technology from the Ophiuchites; a pitiful race if there ever was one, a race needing our culture to give themselves back the Joie de vivre lost in so many generations of interstellar exile running from the invaders. Regardless of the origin of the technology in either scenario, Varley's extrapolation of the impact these technologies would have on human society would be the same, and it is this extrapolation that is more important. Perhaps he now envisions a more optimistic view of mankind's eventual end: Instead of becoming wandering Gypsies like the rest of the third-class races of the galaxy, maybe Varley now sees man as survivors, thriving in the artificial worlds not wanted by the Invaders that they are relegated to. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the newer Eight Worlds stories are the best he has written, and therefore the conclusion I come to is that Varley has abandoned the Hotline for the cooler climes of Steel Beach. This new vision has certainly revitalized the series. It is only this new foresight that gave the inspiration that resulted in his best work to date, namely Steel Beach and The Golden Globe. One can hardly imagine that they would have been as fine if they were set in the Hotline universe. No these stories truly carry the torch for the series. I see them as the pinnacle of Varley's cannon.

 

      2.1.1The Eight Worlds Connection Table

 

When thinking through such complexities as the Eight Worlds series it is useful to employ visual aids, hence the following table. In is I have attempted to lay out my justification for including each of the Eight Worlds stories. I consider "The Phantom of Kansas" to be the heart, or the lynch pin, of the Eight Worlds, so all the stories are justified according to their proximity to "The Phantom of Kansas."  Connecting these stories in this fashion is a bit like the game "The Five Degrees of Kevin Bacon," where any actor can be linked to Kevin Bacon using the cast list from no more than five movies. I have also included mention of their qualification for inclusion based on my Eight Worlds definition as given above.

 

Stories are listed in the order of publication.

Note the empty spaces in the left-hand column.

 

The Eight Worlds Connection Table

Hotline Mentioned

Hotline Not Mentioned

Eight Worlds > Connection

 

Picnic on Nearside (1974)

Sex changing  > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Scoreboard (1974)

Corporate War > Blue Champagne. > Steel Beach  > The Phantom of Kansas

The Black hole Passes (1975)

 

Hole hunting, Null field, Symbs > The Ophiuchi Hotline > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Retrograde Summer (1975)

Coning, Changing > The Phantom of Kansas

 

In the Bowl (1975)

Null suits > Retrograde Summer > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1976)

Memory recording > The Phantom of Kansas

 

The Funhouse Effect (1976)

Hole hunters, Null suit > Retrograde Summer > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Bagatelle (1976)

Anna-Louise Bach > Blue Champagne > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

The Phantom of Kansas (1976)

Memory recording, Cloning, Sex Change

 

Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance  (1976)

Symb > The Ophiuchi Hotline > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Goodbye Robinson Crusoe (1977)

Cloning  > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Lollipop and the Tar Baby (1977)

Cloning, Hole hunting  > The Phantom of Kansas

 

The Barbie Murders (1978)

Anna-Louise Bach, Barbie colony > Blue Champagne > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Amputee (197x)

Symb > The Ophiuchi Hotline > The Phantom of Kansas

Equinoctial (1977)

 

Symb > The Ophiuchi Hotline > The Phantom of Kansas

THE OPHIUCHI HOTLINE (1977)

 

Cloning, Memory Recording, Sex-Change, Symb, Null Suits  > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Options (1979)

Sex-Change > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Beatnik Bayou (1980)

Cloning, memory recording > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Blue Champagne (1982)

Anna-Louise Bach, Megan Galloway > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo (1985)

Anna-Louise Bach, Megan Galloway > Blue Champagne > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

Her Girl Friday (1992)

Hildy Johnson > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

STEEL BEACH (1992)

Memory recording, Cloning, Sex Change, Null Field  > The Phantom of Kansas

 

THE GOLDEN GLOBE (1998)

Memory recording, Cloning, Sex Change. Hildy Johnson > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

The Bellman (2003, written in the 1970s)

Anna-Louise Bach > Megan Galloway > Blue Champagne > Steel Beach > The Phantom of Kansas

 

 

   2.2 "The Phantom of Kansas" / Lynch-Pin of the Eight Worlds

 

 

"The Phantom of Kansas" is the central story of the Eight Worlds. It nimbly incorporates the fundamental themes of Memory Recording and Cloning, the two technologies that, when combined, impart the practitioner with a sort of immortality. The protagonist Fox undergoes the pain, not of physical death, even though she is repeatedly murdered, but of mental anguish due to losing her memories of the personal experiences that occurred in the gap in time since her last Memory Recording and each of her murders. Fox enjoys a standard of living that she earned by creating works of art, but she has no memory of these accomplishments since she had not even thought of these works at the time of her last Memory Recording. And to add to the irony, it is jealousy over those art works that incite her killer, who is a clone of Fox. This story demonstrates what a Pandora's Box these technologies would unleash, but it does not read like a cautionary tale. It is upbeat throughout and so typical of Varley at his best, almost whimsical at the end when Fox and his serial-killer-clone become lovers and fly off to Pluto as the CC, winking at the anti-cloning laws, lets them go. "The Phantom of Kansas" has a strong thematic link with the novel Steel Beach, for it is here that the Central Computer, the CC, demonstrates its personality, that we first experienced in "Picnic on Nearside.". Later, in "Beatnik Bayou," the CC shows even more signs of a developing personality, and its reluctant role as judge jury and executioner of the human race that are so important to Steel Beach.

 

I consider this the lynch-pin of the series, because if you pull it out you disconnect the Bach and Hildy branch from the Hotline branch and now have two very similar, but not linked, series of stories. Also, there are several stories, I like to call mainline stories, that do not naturally fall into either the The Ophiuchi Hotline or Steel Beach branches, but that do naturally link to "The Phantom of Kansas."

 

Now, in order to help clarify the matter, we will need look at a more graphical representation of the way I see the Eight Worlds stories and their connections. The drawing below is a sort of molecular diagram that illustrates the links of the atoms (stories) to each other with chemical bonds (common story elements). Note that "The Phantom of Kansas" occupies the center of the diagram to illustrate my notion that it is the lynch-pin of the series, having strong links to the mainline stories (shown below in purple) featuring Memory Recording, Cloning, and Sex-Changing, and links to the stories that require the Hotline (shown in green), as well as links to the Steel Beach arm (in blue) that do not contain the Hotline but do share common technology and characters, notably Anna-Louise Bach.

 

 

      2.2.1 The Phantom Diagram

 

Key:

Bach = the character Anna-Louise Bach

Cathay = the character Cathay

C = Cloning technology

Fox = the character Fox Carnival Joule

Hildy = the character Hildy Johnson

Hotline = the Ophiuchi Hotline

MR = Memory Recording technology

NF = Null Field = Null Suits technology

SC = Changing = Sex-Changing technology

Symb = Symbionic spacesuit technology


 

 

The Phantom Diagram

 

(See the Home page of the Varley Vade mecum for this diagram)

 

 

Compare this chart with The Eight Worlds Connections Table (above) to begin to understand the grouping. The Phantom Diagram is in fact a graphic representation of that table. All the linking sections containing similar entries, such as "Cloning Changing," are considered to be equidistant, so by that measure: Goodbye Robinson Crusoe" and "Picnic on Nearside" could both be directly linked to "The Phantom of Kansas." I could well have added dotted lines to indicate all possible connections between the stories, but chose instead to take a cleaner approach and include only the strongest links. The above assemblage does not indicate any chronological relationship the stories may have to one another. You will find that below in The Eight Worlds Timeline and Technologies Table.

 

 

3. Making the Case

   3.1 An Overture to Bach

 

Statement: The Anna-Louise Bach stories should be included in the Eight Worlds series.

 

There are many references to the Bach stories in the novel Steel Beach. Failure to link the Anna-Louise Bach stories with Steel Beach, and thereby the rest of the Eight Worlds, is to deny one of the sacred elements of any future history: the continuing character. And such a major character as Megan Galloway is surely a link that, in my opinion, cannot be ignored. I don't doubt that Varley conceived of these as separate series, but it is clear that his vision for both was so similar that he unintentionally crossed the line, and blurred the distinctions that might have kept them apart.

 

Varley's vision of Luna's future is nearly identical for the Anna-Louise Bach and Eight Worlds stories. (1) Bach lives in New Dresden, a German colony. Both share many German sounding street names, such as, Leystrasse (Steel Beach pb; 240.4, 95.1, 152.3). (2) People live underground in domed environments. The Eight Worlds calls these disneylands, (3) Steel Beach has Hadleyplatz (page 153.2, 200.-1), the Bach stories have the Mozartplatz ("Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo" page 115.-1). (4) Anna-Louise has one story set in the Barbie Colony ("The Barbie Murders"), this colony is referenced in Steel Beach on page 380.2. (5) And to repeat myself, the character Megan Galloway, made famous in the story "Blue Champagne," is listed in Steel Beach in a list of Flack Gigastars (pb pages 236.-1, 240.4). (6) "Blue Champagne" itself is mentioned in Steel Beach on page 7.-3. These connections are more than adequate justification to associate the Anna-Louise Bach stories under the umbrella of the Eight Worlds. The Bach stories are set apart from the rest because the alien invasion has not occurred, Luna still has traffic with Earth. Megan Galloway mentions that she was deflowered in 2073 ("Blue Champagne," p57.-3) and The Ophiuchi Hotline states (p60.3) that the alien invasion happened in 2050. These Anna-Louise Bach stories should be classified as Parallel Universe Eight Worlds stories, and not Pre-Invasion Eight Worlds stories. Another anomaly is that the Bach stories do not utilize any of Varley's suite of five technologies.

 

 

   3.2 "Scoreboard" Connection

 

Now that I have established what I like to think of as a connection between the Eight Worlds and the Anna-Louise Bach stories I would like to include one more connection; that of the early story "Scoreboard." Like Rollerball, the background political environment of Varley's Anna-Louise Bach stories is dominated by multi-national corporations:

 

Blue Champagne

United North America (25.4)

Ryancorp (31.-7)

Corporation States (45.1)

Political corporate congloms (56.-1)

Earth has suffered an atomic war. Most research money went to studying radiation disease. (70.4)

Corporate war (71.4)

Corporate run schools (76.7)

The institutions wholly devoted to money swallowed up all political philosophies. (76.-5)

Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo

Corporate war (96.4)

 

The story "Scoreboard" tells of a corporate battle for the asteroid Ceres. This then would be the earliest of the Eight Worlds tales reaching back very near to the present. Since, as I have stated, expanding the series to include as many stories as possible elevates the entire lot, I vote to include "Scoreboard" also. Why not? It fits without any trouble, and gives us an episode of the corporate wars that were briefly passed over in "Blue Champagne," and "Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo."

 

 

4. Structure

   4.1 The Ophiuchi Hotline

 

The Ophiuchi Hotline is the end of Varley's Eight-Worlds series. This novel exploits the possibilities of the two complementary technologies, Memory Recording and Cloning. Both are necessary to achieve a form of non-linear consciousness that is instrumental to the development of his pseudo-immortality theme. Varley likes to explore the implications on society of dramatic technological changes. Varley asks the question, "What if we could record a personality and play it into a clone"? Would the new clone be different from an original that had lived through the same experiences?

 

Varley assumes The Ophiuchi Hotline reader to be well versed in the alterations foisted upon humanity by exotic technology. The Varley reader will have already been exposed to these concepts in earlier Eight-Worlds stories. In fact it is essential that readers of the Eight-Worlds become accustomed to the societal changes brought on by just a handful of key technologies. To the uninitiated, the novels of the series will not have the intended impact because the reader will be dwelling on the technological trappings that so pervade them, and will miss the nuances of insight he has to offer on the human condition.

 

 

      4.1.1 Varley's Suite of Technologies

 

Throughout the series the focus is clearly on five "disruptive" technologies. This Suite of Technologies are among the defining characteristics of the Eight Worlds. The first three technologies, Memory Recording, Cloning, and Sex-Changing (or simply Changing), work together in complementary fashion to alter the very fabric of society. Separately these technologies are tried and true science-fiction elements, yet Varley's implementation of them transcends any other appearance they may have had elsewhere. As used by Varley in combination they are fresh and thought provoking as if he were the inventor of them all. His usage must be considered definitive.

 

These five technologies, along with the idea that mankind has been exiled from Earth by alien Invaders, are distinctive features of the Eight-Worlds. But these stories are so much more than mere hard-science extrapolation of technology. Varley has conceived of such a rich setting that often these fall into the background, overshadowed by the individual concerns of the characters. It is as if Varley has spent so much quality time exploring the Eight-Worlds himself that he can transcend the differences to our world and expose us to the human stories that arise there, rather than just scratch the surface of the technologies themselves. Strangely this gives his stories a familiar realism, populated though they are by people that change sex as flippantly, and easily, as we change hairstyles. Varley's people are still people we can relate to despite their immersion in exotic technology. And this is Varley's appeal, that he can incorporate many traditional science-fiction trappings and still manage to draw our focus to the human angle. His vision of the future becomes a celebration of humanity rather than what could have become a melancholy account of our vagabond race cast adrift from our home planet. Varley's people thrive in exile, adopting the unwanted planted as their home.

 

The Ophiuchi Hotline was written as the capstone of the Eight-Worlds series. And no matter how you tally the stories included in that series, it is the end. Published in 1977, just three years after the first Eight-Worlds story (Picnic on Nearside) The Ophiuchi Hotline wraps the series up in an abrupt fashion. Clearly Varley had conceived the end of the series from the beginning, and as enjoyable as The Ophiuchi Hotline is, once the end is reached it is somehow less than satisfying, but rather leaves the reader wanting to return to explore more of the golden age of mankind on all the planets of the Solar system apart from Earth. In The Ophiuchi Hotline man abandons his namesake Eight Worlds for parts unknown.

 

In The Ophiuchi Hotline we are finally exposed firsthand, to the invasion of Earth and are given some idea of the catastrophic impact on human society. We learn of population thinning lotteries that were imposed to ration limited resources in the years following the Occupation of Earth. The purpose of the Ophiuchites is revealed (they want our culture), and we are cautioned that the next inevitable step in human exile is banishment from the entire Solar system not just Earth.

 

In most Eight-Worlds stories neither the Invaders nor the Hotline play a significant role. Varley instead devotes his energies to exploring the implications of being cast off the home-world or the impact on the human psyche of hotline technologies such as cloning and memory recording. The daily lives of the citizens of the Eight-Worlds is consumed with mundane concerns and not with the incomprehensible motives of the invaders or the inscrutable purposes of the Hotline in dispensing technical information to us. The average citizen has left behind Earth and moved on to the new life that has been forced upon humanity without giving these underlying causes much thought. The Eight Worlds is an optimistic place, a golden age of opportunity where working is optional, and people are free to pursue their avocations. The novel The Ophiuchi Hotline differs, from the rest of the series in its serious tone, for its plot is closely tied to both the invasion of Earth and with the Hotline. Of the short-stories, only Picnic on Nearside carries the dread of the Invaders as a theme. The Ophiuchi Hotline is driven by the Free-Earther Boss Tweed and his monomaniacal obsession to win back the home planet from the alien invaders. Lilo, in all her incarnations, is buffeted about by Tweed's machinations to get back at the Invaders. Lilo is more characteristic of the other Eight Worlds protagonists in that she is pursuing her career as a geneticist, not for money, but because this is what she enjoys doing. In other circumstances she might have had a fulfilling life full of love and happiness, but in this novel adventure is thrust upon her. Unfortunately she will not be allowed to triumph because her time is up. The Invaders are about to expel mankind from the Solar system.

 

In this novel the Hotline is a major plot element. At the novel's end the Ophiuchites quickly expose us to the grand scheme of the universe, wherein humanity is classified in the third caste of races, relegated to wandering the void in search of a safe harbor. Varley tries to give it an upbeat ending with Lilo heading for the stars and seemingly endless possibilities. But the reader is left with a sense of loss of those halcyon days where we plied the backwaters of the Solar system eking out an existence far from the scrutiny of the Invaders. As odd as that life was, it has acquired a sentimental value that no subsequent future can possibly equal. Perhaps Varley too feels the same, for he returns time and again to populate the Eight-Worlds with new stories and characters. He has yet to give any account of events after the final exile, after The Ophiuchi Hotline, and I don't think he will either, for he has forsaken the Hotline altogether, preferring to revisit the era where mankind roamed the solar system. The Eight-Worlds is something special, calling back both the reader and the writer to wiggle our toes on the steel beaches of mankind’s artificial homelands.

 

 

   4.2 Shock Treatment

 

Varley's Eight-Worlds is at the same time one of the most shocking and outlandish future histories and one of the most engaging and endearing. He is aptly able to combine his fondness for setting conventions on their head with an empathy for his miscreant characters. It may be this that is most shocking about his work. One can approach Varley with an aversion to deviant sexual practices and yet be able to relate to Varley's gender bending characters without batting an eye; for within Varley's realm all is inevitable and sensible. Sex-Changing begins to pale when compared to the personal and societal impacts of Memory Recording and Cloning. What begins as an intellectual exercise in societal extrapolation of the pervasive influence of technology always ends up, in a Varley story, as a character development tale. The reader finds himself hanging on for the ride, thrilled to be able to play in Varley's backyard, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. An Eight Worlds story is surely one of life's guilty pleasures.

 

One may get the idea that Varley is promoting his liberal and feminist ideas with these stories, but if so note the technological gymnastics he must employ to accomplish such an agenda. This hardly makes a case for similar alterations in our society. Radical influences have been imposed to force the Eight Worlds into the Brave New World that it is and nothing short of that will be effective in transforming our world.

 

Even the society of the Eight Worlds considers Cloning to be so dangerous that it must be tightly regulated, but so useful that it cannot be abandoned entirely. The prospect of prolonging our consciousness is so enticing that the risks are an accepted evil. We can identify with this conflict because we are even now are engaged in the public debate over Cloning. We can thank Varley for providing us with some of the best reasons to avoid tampering with this technology. He also gets the credit for some of the most memorable and thought provoking stories on the subject. The Ophiuchi Hotline stands as one of the truly great Cloning novels, with the protagonist Lilo carrying the story in three different incarnations simultaneously.

 

      4.2.1 Changing

 

The short story "Options" is a pivotal story in the Eight-Worlds that depicts the fundamental societal impact of sex-changing. Curiously, this story was written (1979) after many of the other sex-changing stories in the series. "Picnic on Nearside" (1974), "Retrograde Summer" (1975), "Goodbye Robinson Crusoe" (1977), "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" (1977), "The Phantom of Kansas" (1976), and of course The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977). It seems as if Varley felt the need to establish the link between our gender-based society and his unisex Eight Worlds.

This story is the one of the keys to the Eight Worlds. Had Varley not been able to pull the reader into believing the viability of his sex-changing society, the impact of the rest of the saga would have been muffled, but Varley pulls it off marvelously, making the series into a, (dare I say it), profound sociological study. Regardless of your moral opinion on the subject, you the reader are magically able to relate to sex-changing character Cleo. Varley's logic is sound: if technology is able to offer genuine and quick sex change, the repercussions on marital roles would be seismic. The impact upon the marriage of Cleo and Jules is staggering; and somehow, even though Jules represents today's mores, we come to view him as a fuddy-duddy. We have been seduced by the story to side with Cleo. This is Varley at his best; demonstrating his ability to make you see through the eyes of someone radically different and foreign to yourself.

Many of our roles in society are based on gender. Of course we accept our roles as part of God's grand design. He set things up the way He did for reasons only God can understand. Men are physically larger and stronger providing much of the brawn. Only women can bear and suckle children. But in Varley's Eight Worlds, there is no supreme moral being, and so speculating what form society would take in such a situation as Varley depicts, one of easy sex-change, logically follows Varley's.

How much of your personality is determined by genetics, and how much by the environment? In Options Varley takes a stand on the nature vs. nurture debate, coming down firmly on the side of the nurture fence. And his story allows the reader to participate in the nurture experiment in a way no person today can; due to the imperfection of modern sex change procedures. Varley, through the vehicle of Science Fiction, is able to deliver to us absolutely genuine sex change, complete with fertility and sexual orientation. I find it fascinating to note that Varley's characters may experiment with homosexuality (which is always portrayed as a perversion), but the great majority realize that regardless of their current gender they find greater fulfillment in members of the opposite sex. Varley sagely returns to explore the sexual side of mankind knowing it is a subject we can all relate to, and that no one really understands.

Writing from a Christian perspective I find Varley's treatment of changing to be particularly intriguing; not because it delves into forbidden lusts, but because it provides a perspective on humans living out their lives in the eternal state. Varley has unwittingly hit upon the ultimate fate for those in heaven. For us their will be no more male and female roles (Galatians 3:28), we will not be given in marriage (Mark 12:25) but will be like the angels in heaven. Angels, as far as we know, are individual contributors, and do not form partnerships such as marriage. Thus Options, and the other related Eight Worlds stories, offer a glimpse of what humanity might be like divorced from the gender roles that are necessary in this world.

 

So after The Ophiuchi Hotline was done Varley recognized that he had not dealt with the issues that would inevitably stem from such a pervasive capability as quick and easy sex Changing. The message here is that while it may easy to undergo the procedure, the repercussions on a personal level will be difficult and disruptive. That insight is what was needed for the Eight Worlds and just what Options added. When reading the EW series now it is natural that Options be among the first stories to read (its internal chronology places it at 100OE), but early fans to the series didn't get to it until after having digested the capstone novel The Ophiuchi Hotline.

 

 

   4.3 The Metal Trilogy

      4.3.1 Steel Beach

 

It was with Steel Beach that Varley reached the pinnacle. In this finely crafted novel he reaches a synthesis of the bright spots from the Eight Worlds and focuses them poignantly to sear us with thoughts of our mortality and how that relates to the motives behind suicide, all the while keeping us entertained and laughing; for this a very funny novel. This novel amazingly transcends the already fascinating themes from the Eight Worlds, and deftly elevates his suite of technologies to become the foundation of a substantial and towering work.

 

Thematically Steel Beach carries the concepts of the story The Phantom of Kansas to new levels of richness. Where "The Phantom of Kansas" gives us a foray into Memory Recording and Cloning and how the stream of human consciousness is paradoxically both truncated (by the death of the original Fox) and preserved (by the Clones of Fox) in a fast paced and ingeniously plotted story, Steel Beach uses this background suite of technologies, and the reader's intimate familiarity with their ramifications, to much more thoroughly engage the reader in the character of Hildy Johnson so that we may have some emotional attachment when she begins to battle a death-wish buried deep within her.

 

In both the earlier "The Phantom of Kansas" and Steel Beach The Central Computer (The CC) plays a pivotal role, but it is only in Steel Beach that it endears itself to the reader. As the ubiquitous overseer of the mundane functions of society such as law enforcement, and in the role as the secret personal companion of every living person The CC reaches the point where it has to make decisions it was never programmed for. As judge, jury and executioner it has had to come up with its own code of conduct and rules of operation that allow it to deal with issues that affect the lives of the people it was designed to serve. We first see this in "The Phantom of Kansas" when The CC lets Fox and her serial-murderer-clone-lover Phantom get away with murder. Of course the case is complicated by the fact that the murderer and victim share the same genetic code and memories; not to mention that they have since fallen in love and no longer wish to file charges. In this short form The CC serves as little more than a plot device. The turmoil going on within its circuits is not dealt with. But in the longer Steel Beach The CC takes on a persona as real as any human character, torn by conflicts of interest to the point of suicidal tendencies. Most fascinating is that The CC recognizes these tendencies and sets about to uncover their cause and hopefully a cure. Physician heal thyself. It comes up with an experiment where it tests destructive personalities by reviving people that have killed themselves, even though this is contrary to its programmed guidelines. The survival, not of just the main character Hildy is at stake, but the survival of humanity itself. This book is an unexpected treat. Of course we as Varley fans have come to expect a fun read, full of shocking twists and ingenious technology. The surprise is that Varley could give us all that and make us think desperate thoughts about our mortality without losing any of the humor. This is a book not to be missed, but don't think that it can be fully appreciated without first having the other earlier Eight Worlds stories under the belt. Varley will assume that the reader knows the milieu full well, and has a grasp of the way society has been altered by technology before commencing into the expanded themes of Steel Beach.

 

 

      4.3.2 The Golden Globe

 

Steel Beach is followed, both sequentially and thematically, by The Golden Globe. Set in the same environment The Golden Globe takes us deep into the character of Sparky Valentine, a repertory actor in search of himself in the off-Broadway theater of the lesser planets. Here Varley effectively utilizes the flashback to both reveal the influences that form Sparky's life and to conceal the cause to his problems, which are ironically very closely related. Again Varley proves his fondness to the Eight Worlds realm of human resourcefulness by showing us a heretofore undisclosed segments of society. We see the seedy underworld side of the Eight Worlds and also the elite leisure class. And again the Hotline has no place, only human ingenuity and optimism albeit tempered with depression and frustration. But the overpowering sense of oppression and desperation over the Invaders is again absent. Mankind has graduated from such things and learned to cope with the new realities. Mankind thrives in this optimistic Eight Worlds future. It has turned out to be a land of opportunity and adventure. People do not need to look back to the time on Earth as the golden age of man, but see the present age as man's finest hour.

 

 

   4.4 The Eight Worlds Timeline and Varley's Suite of Technologies

 

Now that the stories to be included in the series have been determined, to my satisfaction at least, I will attempt to assign them a place in the chronological sequence. Note the number of stories that contain actual dates, or actual numbers referring to years (highlighted by red text), despite Varley's feeling that he managed to avoid dates most of the time. I mention this again only to support my proposition that the series took on a life of its own apart form Varley's original conception. That's not a bad thing, just a thing. Long live the Eight Worlds!

 

 

The Eight Worlds Timeline and Technologies

STORY

Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

Symb

Null Suit or Null Field

DATE

Scoreboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Champagne

 

 

 

 

 

>2073

Cadet Bach

Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo

 

 

 

 

 

>2083

Corporal Bach

The Bellman

 

 

 

 

 

>2093

Lieutenant Bach

The Barbie Murders

 

 

 

 

 

2095

Lieutenant Bach

Bagatelle

 

 

 

 

 

3000

Police Chief

ALIEN INVASION

2050

Options

 

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

 

100 O.E. Invasion Centennial

Picnic on Nearside

 

 

Sex-Changing

 

 

214 O.E.

Fox 12 years old

(pb, p236.2)

The Black Hole Passes

 

 

 

Symb

Hotline Spin-off

Null Field Hotline Spin-off

Space suits: pre-Null-Suits

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Memory Recording

Cloning

 

 

 

Direct Interface is new (In Steel Beach D.I. is used by the CC)

Goodbye Robinson Crusoe

Memory Recording

Cloning

 

 

 

<200 O.E.

Biological library on Luna is 200 years old.

Set in Pacifica

Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance

 

 

 

Symb

 

200+ O.E.

Steel Beach

Memory Recording

 

The CC invented Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

Null Suit

 

Heinleiners invented the Null Suit

302 O.E. Fox 60 years old in 262 O.E.

Kansas under construction

Fox not yet a weather designer

Her Girl Friday

 

 

Sex-Changing

 

 

 

The Golden Globe

Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

 

>SB

The Phantom of Kansas

Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

 

342 O.E.

Pacific listed.

 

Retrograde Summer

 

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

Null Suit

 

Amputee

 

 

 

Symb

 

 

The Funhouse Effect

 

Cloning

 

 

Null Suit

300 O.E.

Lollipop and the Tar Baby

 

Cloning

 

 

 

300++ O.E.

Beatnik Bayou

Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

 

 

Cathay

TOH-17=554

Equinoctial

 

 

 

Symb

 

Parameter and Solstice together 7 years

TOH-7=564

In the Bowl

 

 

 

 

Null Suit

Fashionable leg hair

The Ophiuchi Hotline

Memory Recording

Cloning

Sex-Changing

Symb

Null Suit

571 O.E.

 

 

   4.5 Chronology Notes

 

 

"Blue Champagne;" Megan Galloway deflowered in 2073 (pb, p57.-3). Since The Ophiuchi Hotline places the Invasion in the year 2050 this 2073 date is another point of evidence for placing the Anna-Louise Bach stories in an alternate universe where the Alien Invasion occurs at a later date.

Anna-Louise is a Police Cadet

"Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo;" Ten years after Blue Champagne, 2083 (pb, p87.-4)

Anna-Louise is a Police Corporal (pb, p81.-5)

"The Barbie Murders;" Anna-Louise has spent ten years in the squad room, so the date is at least 2093 (pb, p53.3)

Anna-Louise is a Police Lieutenant (pb, p52.-1)

"The Bellman;"

Anna-Louise is a Police Lieutenant

"Bagatelle;"

Anna-Louise is the Municipal Police Chief (pb, p1.-1)

Central Computer mentioned

Cloning of body parts (leg)

"Options;" Invasion Centennial (pb, p 155.-1) 100 O.E. (Occupation Earth)

"Picnic on Nearside;" O.E. 214 (pb, p 241.-6)

"Goodby Robinson Crusoe;" O.E. 200 (pb, p 185.4) The biological Library, of earth life, on Luna is 200 years old.

"Overdrawn at the Memory Bank;"

Cloning, Memory Recording

"Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance;" Symbs dominated the art for over a century (pb, p 198.3)

"Equinoctial;" Symb debate for centuries (pb, p 95.-3)     

"The Funhouse Effect;" 300 year occupation (pb, p 50.3), date xx45 (pb, p 39.9)

"Lollipop and the Tar Baby;" for 300 years people had been living just about forever (pb, p 229.6)

The Ophiuchi Hotline; the invasion was 2050 old style.( pb, p 60.3)

            TOH; 571 O.E. (pb, p 111.5, 118.4)

"The Phantom of Kansas;" O.E. 342 (pb, p 4.6)

            (pb, p 21.3) List of other disneylands, including Pacific.

Steel Beach;

(1) Fox is a character in the novel. In "The Phantom of Kansas" Fox mentions that she has been an environmentalist for thirty years. Since "The Phantom of Kansas" occurs in the year 342 (Pb, p4.6) this would place Steel Beach prior to that time, because in Steel Beach Fox is still working as an engineer for the disneylands and has not yet moved to weather designing. 342 - 30 = 312.

(2) The Kansas disneyland is still under construction (1st, p150.1). This places Steel Beach prior to "The Phantom of Kansas."

(3) In "Picnic on Nearside" (214 O.E.) Fox is 12 years old (pb, p236.2). So Fox was born in the year 202 O.E.

(3.1) Steel Beach; Lovers for 10 years. Fox 60 years old, Hildy 55 years old. (1st, 149.2). So Fox was Hildy's lover in the year 262 O.E.

(3.2) Steel Beach; Fox and Hildy lovers 40 years ago (1st, 148.5). Add 40 years to the year 262 O.E. and the resultant date for Steel Beach turns out to be 302 O.E.

            (4) Barbie Colony mentioned (p. 380.2)

            (5) Megan Galloway mentioned as a Flack Gigastar (p. 234.-3)

 

 

Doug Eigsti 03/09/2005 Rev 2.2

(2) RED THUNDER a review

John Varley's RED THUNDER

Red Thunder

In some ways what may be the most atypical Varley novel may be the most typical Sci-Fi story he has produced. Varley stories are famous for being set in radically foreign future settings, and populated by misanthropic characters navigating through exotic scenarios. His strength is that he is able to connect with his reader through his character’s very human reactions in and around the events he runs them through, bizarre as they may be. RT however is set in the near future. Its characters are normal people put into unusual but not incomprehensible situations.

Set in the very near future (I place it no more than 25 years hence.) RT is marketed as mainline Sci-Fi.. A superficial accounting of the story will give you just that impression, but RT is far from ordinary.

The plot synopsis of RT does not seem immediately compelling. Reading the dust-jacket failed to pique my interest. In fact this may deter some Varley fans from delving into it. Its not that the dust-jacket blurb is inaccurate. In fact it does a passable job of depicting what happens. Its just wrong. It fails to give the reader any insight into whether he might enjoy the book because it misses the key elements of the book’s appeal, which do not include the plot or the science. My own attempt at a brief summary of the plot would be just as inadequate, and for the same reason. I mean, “A pair of 20 year old geeks that failed their college entrance exams and their girlfriends join forces with a drunken ex-astronaut and his idiot savant inventor cousin to build a homemade Mars rocket,” is not the type of synopsis one expects from a Varley plot. I would not have cracked the spine had not the name John Varley been on the cover. But because it was a Varley book I sought out the book immediately, and was not disappointed; for it is this very fact that the plot does not thrill that makes you appreciate how masterful Varley is at telling a story. Unlike his other novels, which are set in exotic locales, such as Saturn’s rings or Luna’s disneylands, that have an attraction all their own, Varley has chosen to set RT in Florida’s redneck country. It is as if he is intentionally breaking form with his other locales. Although, on the surface, it may seem mundane this book gives nothing away to his other, more ostentatious, efforts, such as his Gaea trilogy, or the baroque Eight Worlds stories. It just doesn’t seem to matter what the subject matter, Varley is able to engage the reader sublimely. Despite my ambivalence to the plot, I found myself, in the midst of reading, marveling at how enthralled I was by a novel that did not contain what I have come to regard as essential Varley elements. RT showcases his knack for characterization without any distractions. For this reason RT may be his most accomplished performance, demonstrating that his typical shock and awe techniques are just so much window dressing disguising the fact that he is a supreme storyteller.

The characters are so expertly drawn that the reader finds himself becoming pulled into the story regardless of the initial appeal of the story line. One finds himself empathizing with the characters and then, by association, becoming involved in the sequence of events simply because the characters care about what is happening. Told in first person narrative, from the perspective of Manny Garcia, the reader first becomes attached to the protagonist through just a few key scenes that anyone with a childhood fondness for the power and the glory of manned space-flight will immediately succumb. Manny is a likable guy that underachievers everywhere will relate to. Once that has been accomplished it is inevitable that his close friends will become your friends, and then their passion for the project becomes infectious, and you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly rooting for the cast of characters, working with them on the project, and wishing you could be a part of the adventure yourself. It is really quite an event; to watch disconnectedly as you are transformed from a skeptic to a fan in the course of a few written pages. I try to be mindful of this as I recommend this book to others, avoiding plot synopses in favor of an emphasis upon the characterization and wit.

When discussing a book, the question, “What is it about?,” is invariably asked. RT is not about, “A bunch of outcasts going to Mars in a home-made spaceship,” but rather, “Four friends, brought together by a need to belong to something grand, adopt a washed up astronaut and his quirky mad-scientist cousin, and live every school kids dream by designing and crewing a ship to Mars, and end up changing the world.” It is about people. About their foibles and quirks and achieving greatness through the pursuit of your dreams. About friendship and the vicarious pleasure of watching them live out those dreams before your eyes.

Then, of course, there is Varley’s trade-mark humor; another way that Varley pulls you in, makes you a part of the story. You know how, in life, you are drawn to the people that can make you laugh through the hard times. When life gives you lemons you make lemon-aid, or in Varley terms, when life’s problems cause you to pilot a space shuttle a little too drunk and shoot a hole in your windshield with your illegal colt 45 to suck out the fire in the cockpit so you can crash-land into a herd of water buffalo in the African outback, you make it into a water buffalo barbecue and force NASA to pin a medal on your chest (35.3). He manages to coax a smile even in the most somber occasions; like when Manny is forced to plaster over bullet holes in one of his family’s motel rooms so that the guests wouldn’t be alarmed and their half-star Michelin rating would not be endangered (44.-4). Or when Dak’s estranged mother capitalizes on his new found fame by announcing to the press that, “She was praying for Dak’s safety and appearing nightly at the Riviera Room in Charleston South Carolina (317.-1).” This kind of wit is rare and fulfills the desire of many to be able to take life’s struggles in stride. His characters don’t take themselves too seriously, but they do make the best of things, and make you want to be there, to become part of their cordial intimacy. His characters may have problems, but they have a rousing good time in the midst of them, and they have each other to keep them company. Varley is supremely optimistic, and it is contagious.


Logarithmic Ending [The future’s so bright, I gotta’ wear shades.]
Varley has a recognizable pattern for the endings to his independent novels, of which there are now three. The Ophiuchi Hotline ends with the three Lilos headed for the stars and a life of seemingly endless possibilities. Millennium depicts Louise Baltimore and Bill Smith, in love, being catapulted into the far future to become the pioneers of the new race of man. Red Thunder has Manny and Kelly starting a family on Mars with the possibility of migration to the stars in a few years and a bright wide-open future ahead of them. Even Demon, the capstone of the Gaea series, ends on a very optimistic note with Gabby becoming the benevolent god of Gaea. All these endings have man poised on the cusp of a golden age of exploration and hope. This wide open optimism is endemic to Varley’s writing.


RT is a simple story expertly told. Were it not for the finely crafted characters one might be tempted to label this as a juvenile novel. Not that it is childish or immature, rather, it is so good that aspiring writers would be well advised to read it. It is not a complex tale, so readers of varying skill can profit from the reading. The plot is reminiscent of one of Heinlein’s juveniles: The protagonist is a youth just out of adolescence, who stumbles upon the invention of the century. He and his friends capitalize on this invention and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. But it is there that the comparison of RT with other juvenile novels makes its departure; for though its protagonists are young and brash, RT is always in control, masterfully enveloping the reader with prose whose simplicity and clarity belies its impact upon the reader. It does have a childlike quality that one remembers fondly from reading books in youth. Like Huckleberry Finn it is accessible to children of all ages, but far too good to leave to the kids. Read it to get a taste of Varley’s quality, but brace yourself for his other works; they are not nearly so tame.

Doug Eigsti 2003

(3) MILLENNIUM (Plus The Gate and Air Raid)

Time Travel, John Varley Style; A review of Millennium, The Gate and Air Raid.


In MILLENNIUM Varley demonstrates his mastery of the storyteller’s art. Using the well worn time-travel concepts of Science Fiction stories he manages to deliver a cautionary tale about our mismanagement of our planet and our warlike tendencies, in a refreshing and urgent style that keeps your adrenaline pumping, while somehow remaining lighthearted. He tips his hat to many of the Science Fiction stories that pioneered the mind expanding concepts that he builds his tale upon, by naming his chapter titles after them; although some titles are only used because of the cute way the titles fit with the action. (Example: “A Sound of Thunder” is the sound the two airliners make when they crash. “Compound Interest” referring to the mutual interest compounds the potential paradox problems.)

Three notable Science Fiction stories titles are not acknowledged. The concept of rescuing airplane crash victims probably comes from Jack Williamson’s LEGION OF TIME; although Williamson’s story has people being rescued immediately after death and then being revived by future technology. In Fritz Leiber’s THE BIG TIME, alterations in the past cause “Winds of change” that the characters can feel as the timestream is corrected. In Leiber’s novel the timestream is resilient to change and a war prevails by factions vying to make significant alterations that will prevail.

The transformation of Varley’s time travel story “Air Raid” into the novel MILLENNIUM, is curious. I am aware of five incarnations of this story (in presumed chronological order): The 1977 short story “Air Raid,” the novelization THE GATE, the movie treatment “The Gate,” the 1983 novel MILLENNIUM, and the 1989 movie Millennium. It is a rare treat to have so many versions of a single tale. The comparison of these versions may lead us into insights that we might not otherwise have attained. The short story “Air Raid” is presented exclusively from the point-of-view (POV) of the far future snatch team. THE GATE, an early draft of the later novel MILLENNIUM, first presents the events from Bill Smith’s POV, then revisits many of the same scenes from Louise Baltimore’s POV.

It is not until the full novel MILLENNIUM that Varley intersperses scenes from Bill Smith’s and Louise Baltimore’s POV effectively. Reading the Louise Baltimore sections from THE GATE, the reader senses delight at seeing a familiar scene in an entirely new light, but locating all the Louise Baltimore scenes together at the end of the narration, as does THE GATE, dilutes their impact. The interweaving, in MILLENNIUM, of the Louise Baltimore scenes in several points in the narration of earlier sections of the Bill Smith scenes, provides many more instances of “POV delight.” It seems that not until Varley had written the full set of Bill Smith and Louise Baltimore scenes, did he hit upon the most effective way to sequence them. It is the format of interspersing scenes from “The Testimony of Bill Smith” with those of Louise Baltimore that truly makes this an enjoyable pure time-travel tale; for let’s face it, what we love most about time-travel is the sense of disorientation and paradigm shifting that we are forced to undergo while reading the tortured verb tenses forced by time-travel, and the confusion of the various characters as they dart in and out of different moments in time. Varley’s novel provides this pleasurable time-travel disorientation aplenty.

One of John Varley’s most notable characteristics is the underlying sense of optimism in his stories, regardless of the hopelessness of the dilemma he has placed his protagonists. In “Air Raid” there is scant time to develop this optimistic feeling, and even THE GATE draft does not offer any hope to the main players. Perhaps this is one factor that continued to draw Varley back to the tale, he may have needed to inject this optimistic feeling. The limitless possibilities of the actual ending of MILLENIUM apparently did not occur to Varley until he had the complete time-travel crisis thoroughly worked out. The ending may have been unanticipated by Varley while her was writing the central sequence of the book; that of Louise trying to prevent a catastrophic twonky paradox by recovering the lost stunner. For this reason the end comes to the reader as a surprise, and to be honest, it has the feel that it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the story. The struggles Louise Baltimore is put through to try to keep the fabric of her reality from unraveling were completely irrelevant in the light of the Deus ex Machina ending, of sending all the main player to a safe earth, that the BC (Big Computer, aka god) had in the works all along.

This happy ending does, however, advance the theme of predestination that weighs so heavily on Louise Baltimore’s mind throughout the novel. For this reason I have come to like the optimistic ending because it cancels the negative arguments many have about predestination when there is nothing to fear from even the most dismal outlook we may harbor of the future as long as God is working things out for out good.

As is necessary in any time-travel story, Varley appropriately deals with predestination and free-will. He has Louise acknowledge the possibilities of predestination that are inherent in the temporal censorship “windows” that indicate that her future trips are already pre-determined, and excludes trips to any other possible past times simply because those other times have no such windows. At the same time Varley writes Louise’s character to fiercely cling to her personal sense of free-will (112.-2). Into this mix Varley adds the BC and his blatant statement that “Free-will is his most troublesome invention,” requiring him to lie to his creatures. The BC has been lying to everyone for eons, masquerading as a servant of man when in fact he is the god of this world. It is suspect that this “god,” the BC, has only limited knowledge of the future, and limited power, knowing for instance the fates of Bill and Louise in the new world, but unsure if this, his third, attempt to start an earthly kingdom populated by man will succeed. His powers are clearly limited by whatever physical laws restrict time-travel, for he is not able to prevent the twonky paradox, but is able to destroy the Gate in a last ditch effort to save some of his creatures.

How do we categorize MILLENNIUM within the genre of time-travel? I favor the classification of Dr. Paul Nahin in his book TIME MACHINES. Those who have read this book know that Nahin finds events, past and future, to be fixed based on the laws of physics, and scientific time-travel does not leave any provision for the past to be changed. Time travelers can affect the past, that is can influence events that did happen, but cannot change the past, that is cause something that did not occur to happen. Under this system any story that allows for changing the past, or the future, must be classified as fantasy. So MILLENNIUM is a fantasy novel because past events, like people dying in airplane crashes, do not die, and future events, such as Bill Smith’s death by drowning, as seen in the time viewer, are altered. The airline passengers are saved to live in the future. Bill Smith ends up living on the new earth, not dying on the old earth.

=Doug Eigsti= 07/21/2004

Review of THE JOHN VARLEY READER.

The John Varley Reader Review

 

Varley exploded on the Science Fiction scene in 1974 with the first story in this book, "Picnic on Nearside," and quickly became one of the best loved writers of the 1970s because of his stories. His career as a novelist came later, and if he had only managed to produce these eighteen stories, his place in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame would be assured.

 

John Varley fans will have already read the first thirteen stories in this book. The last five have never been seen in a Varley collection before, and if you ask me they alone are worth the price of the book. But what about those disenfranchised readers who have somehow managed to miss the Science Fiction of John Varley? Is this the "best of?" Well, owing to Varley's high overall quality, a "best of" collection would necessarily be a weighty tome indeed. The John Varley  Reader is a good representative sampling of his short fiction. In it you will find nine stories from Varley's signature Eight Worlds series. (Picnic on Nearside, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Gotta Sing - Gotta Dance, The Barbie Murders, The Phantom of Kansas, Beatnik Bayou, Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo, Options, and The Bellman.)

 

The independent stories in this collection are among the best Science Fiction has to offer: "Air Raid" is a time travel shocker that was later expanded into the fantastic, witty, fun novel Millennium, and a lackluster film of the same name. "The Persistence of Vision," "Press Enter [ ]," and "The Pusher," are all multiple award winners. If you haven't yet read them, buy this book just for that reason. They are that good. These stories are also prime reasons why Varley is so highly regarded in the field.

 

The five previously uncollected stories are all essential reading for Varley fans: "Just Another Perfect Day" is a tight exploration of short-term memory loss and how it relates to true love and the incomprehensible motives of alien invaders. It is followed by "Fading Suns and Dying Moons" which carries on the theme of incomprehensible aliens but with a sinister twist. "Good Intentions" is Varley's entry in the sell-your-soul-to-the-devil category. And "The Bellman" is an Eight Worlds story, featuring the character Anna-Louise Bach, written decades ago but that languished in limbo waiting for Harlan Ellison's long awaited collection "The Last Dangerous Visions."

 

In all this is a great introduction to John Varley. For those to whom Varley needs no introduction, there are introductions for each story that contain autobiographical tidbits. These introductions are laced with Varley's characteristic wit and style. "The Persistence of Vision" had a particularly interesting origin, one that cannot be guessed from the story itself. Varley manages to keep his private life out of his stories, still it is curious to know a little of the author's frame of mind at the time of writing. The reader will be interested to know that at the time he wrote "Press Enter [ ]" Varley was a complete computer novice. These and many more details are waiting for you inside. For me, these details are worth the price of the book. I already had all these uncollected stories in seperate publications, but it is nice to have them all in one place with this collection. You will be hard pressed to find a stronger single author collection. If these don't turn you into a Varley fan, then Varley is not for you.

 

This review was posted on Amazon.com. I have made some corrections here.

 

=Doug Eigsti= November, 5th 2004; ed. Dec 28th, 2004

.