Varley's new one, Red Thunder

Nice book, really takes you back to the old days of sci-fi, with believable characters, an old-fashioned space race, and a single deus ex machina. It really could have been more detailed, since the machina has a lot more implications than are dealt with in the book.

1-second review: Fun read.


edited because good old <> doesn’t work.

Well, it’s OK, I guess. Now for a much-longer-than-1-second review:

IMO, it was clearly inferior to most other Varley books. It did have its fun moments, but there are a lot of negatives to talk about:

The whole thing was wildly implausible, even granting the bubble thing as a premise, (it breaks so many physical laws it would take an entire textbook to list them all; you’d think a hard SF author like Varley could come up with something a bit more reasonable as the basis for a garage space drive.)

The spunky kids were just not even close to being realistic human beings. Even as Heinleinesque Varley kids, they were not very reasonable characters. I found them to be kind of annoying, too, and not very easy to root for. The bizarre Cajun family was too bizarre to be reasonable in this kind of book which makes at least a superficial attempt to come off as realistic. Maybe they would be OK in a Tom Robbins novel, but not here. Digging Cajun family engineers out of the backwoods because they were needed to help build the spaceship was a lame trick 3/4 of the way into the book.

The “fly to mars to save my wife” gimmick was a very clumsy auctorial move, really. I suppose it was necessary in order to motivate the spaceship development effort, since any rational person would otherwise come up with a much better way to exploit the bubbles’ potential. It was also sad that the motivation had to come out of whatshisname-the-genius’s butt. I find it totally impossible to believe that after all their recent problems, NASA would use an untested engine on a Mars mission, even racing with the Chinese. The ChiCom good-buy/bad-guy bit was not only totally unnecessary (it seemed like lame padding to keep the action in space a bit longer) but it was also wildly implausible to me.

Whathisname-the-astronaut’s disgrace was just inconceivable. Any shuttle pilot who saved a shuttle (not to mention a senator) would maybe have been carefully and gently retired if he was a drunk but not cashiered with a mysteriously covered up DD. Anyone who did somehow manage to get into that position would now be a VP-in-charge-of-golf at Lockheed-Martin or someplace like that. Anhow, no drunks need apply to the modern space program; that idea was an insult to the incredible sacrifices astronauts have to make to get into the program these days.

How could Varley write a book that comes out in 2002/2003 that does not make note of the latest shuttle disaster? I am astonished that the editor at least didn’t require it to be mentioned, even if the book had been held back for a few years, since Varley discusses the first disaster in detail.

How could Varley possibly imagine that shuttle-replacements could be flying in any reasonable time period? Doesn’t he know the program he cited in the book (sorry I forgot its name) was canceled and abandoned? I’d be surprised if there were shuttle-replacements by 2020 myself, and if you told me we had no replacements by 2030 I’d believe you. I admit he doesn’t give any particular year for the book to take place, but it still seems to be a major lapse that betrays some kind of serious lack of knowledge of recent space program history. (I will concede, however, that the characterization of most of our space program to date as a series of races with other countries does ring very true.)

The after-the-adventure denouement was jsut plain insipid.

Anyhow, I’d recommend virtually any other Varley novel to date over this book. Steel Beach would be a much better example of his writing, IMO.

Does it have any hot lesbo sex like the Gaean Triogy featured? And don’t forget the hot lesbo incest sex between the weirdo twins! Well, implied hot lesbo incest sex, but I’m tellin’ you, it was there…


Yikes, Miramon. Soothe thyselfe.

Fun Read != War and Peace. It’s good old disbelief-suspension SF. No quantum theory, no emotionless AI constructs, just a boy and his spaceship. You, sir, have lost your childlike enthusiasm.


Well, yes, I did lose my childlike enthusiasm… some time ago. And I was in a grumpy mood when I wrote that too.

But the book wasn’t really a fun read for me, and I still think it’s pretty much the worst of Varley’s novels. The Titan series was a lot more fun, hot lesbo sex and all.

At the moment I’m just finishing a collection of John Morissey’s Kedrigern stories, so it’s not like I don’t enjoy light-hearted stories. I just think that Red Thunder was too dumb to be fun.

I agree, it IS his weakest novel to date. I was comparing it to the QED slogs through most of the modern scifi, I guess I was just charmed by its simplicity, rather than put off by it. Good points, all.


That’s too bad. I finally got around to reading the Golden Globe and really enjoyed it. It also made up for some of the shortcomings of Steel Beach…

Really? I thought Steel Beach was better than Golden Globe. They were both pretty good, though, but somehow I cared less about GG as a book. A matter of taste, I guess.

It occurs to me that almost all Varley books have major flaws of one kind or another. By this I mean that in some respect there is something seriously wrong with the book that stands out. For example in Steel Beach, the second half of the book, after the lunar butterfly is discovered, seems weak and illogical to me. Of course any book has some area in which it is weakest or strongest, but Varley books seem to me to exaggerate this somehow. In general I enjoy his books, but I’m always left wondering why he did this or that (to me) dumb thing.

I swear it felt like I was reading an author’s desperate attempt to write a screenplay friendly novel. There’s nothing wrong with that, it was a fun, light read and I dont regret buying it, but it felt more like a Michael Crition Novel then John Varley.

That sums it up nicely.