Wizard by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There a lot to love in the second Gaia book.
I was honestly expecting a straight carryover from the first novel with its surprising end and lead, making the next title, Wizard, something much more than I might have expected, but I was surprised. Decades have passed in an eyeblink and Titan has turned herself into the goose that lays the golden eggs, opening up exploration and exploitation to her artificial moon.
Of course, with this fantastic alien landscape, there's the Titanides, the 29 times over ambisexual centaurs who like to do it every which way they can, even with humans, and killer blimps and vast and amazing adventurous locations full of glory and beauty. None of it is really quite easy to exploit. Nor do many people have the desire. After all, Titan herself is a god or near enough, technologically, so as to be the utter master of her domain... except for the twelve distributed ancient AI intelligences that make up her bulk. :)
Our captain is old but still looking young by this point, and since she's the Wizard and it's traditional to sing the Yellow Brick Road when they go on expeditions and status updates with all these distributed intelligences that are gods in their own rights, we're thrown into intrigue and a possible rebellion. :)
If you think all of this is pretty simple, think again. The novel is rife with questions of sexuality and cultural weirdness and lesbianism and even eye-rolling wackiness of a misinterpretation of rape that could only come out of a secluded orbital community of Wiccan lesbians who shun all men but import sperm to keep their numbers, drag one of their members out of the community, and put her into Gaia. Let sparks fly.
Is this novel nothing but sex? It feels like it. It's not horrible tho. It's weird. Vastly weird. The centaur aliens are nuts about it, and I'm just thankful there's a cheat sheet in the book that breaks down all the coupling combinations. And I thought that hind-sex and frontal sex was confusing enough when there was a profusion of multiple sexual organs.
From the standpoint of imagination and weirdness and worldbuilding and oddities, this book is brilliant and beautiful. Even the questions regarding sex and perception were sometimes clever and insightful even when it sometimes became enraging.
The fact is, for all its faults, this novel is fascinating and dense with goodies and is full of great ideas. My personal meh about the underlying story may be just me. Everything surrounding it is gorgeous.
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