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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Review: Rolling Thunder

Once upon a time, John Varley was a serious adult science fiction writer. His novels, such as Steel Beach and The Gaen Trilogy won awards, and were well written, intelligent, and dealt with interesting issues such as the role of computers, gender, and what would happen to humanity if the earth were to become uninhabitable.

I was thus puzzled when his latest novels were all Juvenile Science Fiction (also known as Young Adult Science Fiction --- YASF). But yesterday, John Scalzi explained it to me --- Young Adult fiction outsells adult fiction two to one, so adult science fiction has lost another writer because of the need to pay the mortgage. (Piers Anthony and Roger Zelazny both succumbed to this)

Now I have no problems with YASF if it's high quality. For instance, I'm a big fan of Buffy, and that's nothing if not YASF. I want to see good exploration of themes, intelligent character development, and perhaps, a little bit of science would be nice.

Rolling Thunder (kindle edition) has none of these. The main character, Podkayne, is a bit of a spoiled brat who has everything fall into her lap. She's the grand child of some very important people, and hence gets a plum assignment to Europa for her military as a singer. She then gets involved in a major disaster on Europa where some mysterious monolith type objects decide to take off from the planetoid. The resultant disaster means that she has to use bubble technology to put herself into stasis. She is rescued 10 years later, and one of her songs has made her rich and famous, and then the story then becomes that of her encounter with Jubal (who appeared in the prior "thunder" books), her marriage, and her celebrity life.

The book doesn't even have a useful resolution --- we never find out what the Europan creatures are, and we don't find out where the final spaceship (the namesake of the book) ends up and what happens to the remnants of Earth's population. Varley clearly expects us to buy the sequel and is definitely milking this for all that it's worth. Not recommended. If you want to help put Varley's kids through college, just write him a check directly and save yourself some valuable time.


md said...

John Varley holds a special place in my heart because his earlier works, Ophiuchi Hotline and the Gaean Trilogy, made a huge impact on me. Some of the best SF I've ever read.

I didn't think much of The Golden Globe or Mammoth. I'm sad that his writing no longer appeals to me, but I wish him all the best. Having written those initial great works is enough for me, so hey! back at ya Mr Varley. I'll buy the newest copies of the Gaean Trilogy just to keep him in Hawaiian shirts.

Matt Austern said...

The main character is really named Podkayne? And to top it off there's a character in it named Jubal? I haven't read the book, but surely those names mean that the book can't be understood except as Heinlein commentary.

Piaw Na said...

Yes and yes. It's a Heinlein pastiche. But it's not as good as say, Saturn's Children.