Steel Beach by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a delightful surprise! Varley is one hell of an idea-prolific SF author who never rests on any old plotline but continually stretches his wings over new shores.
So far, I've read five of his novels and I'm frankly rather blown away each time by each in turn. Why? Because he's more interested in telling great character stories with depth and emotional importance than he is about amazing worldbuilding.
Huh. So what? A lot of modern SF does that all the time.
Ah, but a lot of modern SF doesn't go hog wild with amazing worldbuilding and tech and implications the same way as these older SF novels do.
So wait, what? Is this a novel of ideas or a great story about suicidal characters living in a utopia on the Moon after being ejected from the Earth after an alien invasion there? Or is this a story about a schizophrenic AI gone crazy from loneliness and who decided to experiment heartily on the post need-based humanity for the fuck of it? Or is this a delightfully deep and clever and thoughtful sexual identity SF that explores a lot of the pitfalls of being able to swap sexes for yourself almost on demand?
All of the above. Plus there's wonderful media quips, journalism commentary, wild west nostalgia, and an amazingly funny romp with Heinleinesque libertarians who have their own movement on Luna and who embody the heart of RAH's writings without precisely going into the truly weird shit. :)
Varley goes in his own direction there and it's never preachy and it's genuinely thoughtful. Am I charmed? You bet I am. But then, I loved seeing all the homages to RAH and the way Varley bounces off them in strange and wonderful ways.
One thing that should be remembered: RAH died right around the time Varley would have been writing this. Varley is too good a writer and thinker to pull off a straight homage to the Grandmaster. He wrote a great novel all by itself that is equal to anything Samuel Delaney ever wrote and did it with a great hard SF bent, but tipping his hat to the old master was quite delightful and heartwarming. :)
That being said, I loved this novel! I laughed many times and that's impressive when we're in the heart of depression, ennui, and suicidal thoughts. :)
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