The Gaean Trilogy by John Varley

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 Titan (1979)
Wizard (1980)
Demon (1984)
 

The Gaean Trilogy is my all time favorite science ficiton series. I know, there is some truly outstanding competition, but John Varley’s just keeps me coming back.

In this series we are introduced to Gaea, a Stanford torus, 1300 km wide who is God to her diverse inhabitants. She is capable of designing and creating life, raining fire down upon her lands, and even resurrection. And she’s going insane.

There are a lot of reasons for my decades long love.

The Whimsy Factor

John Varley understands humour better than the vast majority of science fiction writers. And rather than a lot of tongue in cheek or “bon mot” kinds of jokes (think Hitchhiker’s Guide) he creates an often hilarious environment without ever dropping the hard science fiction elements. He does this with the craziness of Gaea herself.

She’s an old movie buff to the nth degree with the resources to make flesh all the best (and worst) creatures of the silver screen – from giant worms and a chimp version of King Kong to a 50 foot living and breathing Marilyn Monroe. The reader is constantly faced with ludicrous ideas rarely seen in science fiction.

Characters You Want to Know

More than in any of his other books and series, Varley creates an ensemble. Through the first two books we are introduced to a variety of individuals and in Demon we get to see them in action as a team.

What’s more, you want to be a part of that team. I often find myself wondering how I would reacte to each character. Would I like them? Would they like me? How would I fit into the dynamic? This is normally how I reacte to well written fantasy, but in science fiction it’s quite rare for me.

The World Factor

The best of all science fiction creates a world. It may not be a physical place as in Gaea, but master sf writers enfold us in new environments with new technology, new creatures, new ways of thinking. John Varley just takes it to an extreme level with the Gaean Trilogy.

We actually get a chance to enter Gaea, explore it’s diverse lands, meet it’s peoples and lose ourselves completely. Reading the trilogy is like taking a vacation. You can forget life as you know it and discover life as Varley knows it.

All of these factors come together to create an opus that is immenently readable. It’s not heavy, nor particularly philosophical, but it is fun. It doesn’t lead to another five, ten, or more books, it’s just the three, beautifully created and tidily ended. The way trilogies used to be.

Lisa K. Jan 13, 2013


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