Born: August 9, 1947
Arguably the most under-read science fiction writer of all time
5 Things I Love About John Varley’s Writing
#5 He’s funny
SF has many wonderful qualities, but frankly, it’s a wee bit lacking humour. Not so with Varley. He has funny characters (Valentine from “The Golden Globe” is my fav), funny places (all of Gaea), and funny science advancements. (Who can keep from laughing at the opening sentence in “Steel Beach”?)
#4 He’s dark
Take a look at just about any of his short stories. Not every sci fi book has to be about mankind’s valiant struggle against the obstacles of the future. “Press Enter” still scares me and is especially disturbing given that the man is a science fiction writer. Other examples include the sexually abused Brenda Starr, unsolved crimes in “The Barbie Murders”, love sold out in “Blue Champagne”. It’s a fresh if sometimes morose take on the futue and how little time and science changes the human condition.
#3 His characters are painfully real
Single handedly Varley has trashed the long history of the SF heroic figure – and good riddance in my opinion. His bad guys are usually likable and sympathetic, his good guys are often pathetic and desperate, basically like so many people we actually know in real life.
And the women… I defy anyone to find me an author, in any genre, who writes women as well as Varley. Hell, with sex changes in his books, a good percentage of his characters start in one sex and end in another and through each change you can tell. It’s subtle, but it’s there. That is true understanding of the sexual differences and similarities.
#2 He just plan writes really well
Dialog, description, plotting, and themes, he is a wordsmith of the highest order. Good luck finding an awkward sentence.
#1 (drumroll) He writes science fiction
It seems like modern writers have backed off from the science. Maybe it’s that with internet, smart phones, microwaves, and ISS we are already living in the future and figuring out where it all may lead is a huge challenge. Writers seem to be relying rather heavily on the somewhat hackneyed ideas of inter-stellar travel, AI, and non-human species.
Varley does use these but he also explores bio-medical advances, engineering feats, the psychology and politics of a space society, and a host of other themes. He asks some pretty huge “what if” questions in every piece of writing, and in the end, that’s what makes SF what it is, the courage to ask questions to which we don’t know the answers.
Lisa K. Dec. 13, 2012