Space Ramblings

John Varley’s Red Lightning book review

John Varley Red Lightning If you really wanted a rewrite of Robert A. Heinlein’s Between Planets by a guy really pissed off at George W. Bush, Red Lightning is basically your dream come true. If you’re interested in a Science Fiction novel with any realistic take on the future, a view of the wonders of human settlement of the solar system or at least a main character who doesn’t get on your nerves like a parasite on a nervous system, you’re completely out of luck with John Varley’s Red Lightning.

John Varley’s, Red Lightning, a novel whose title has no meaning at all except to link back to John Varley’s Red Thunder, begins by declaring that Mars sucks. This is a good summation of the book. Sucks is supposed to be one of those authentic words that gives the teenage narrator really “teen authenticity” as envisioned by a middle aged writer. The thing is that it is actually possible to produce a readable Science Fiction novel and an even enjoyable one, using a teenage narrator. Heinlein himself did it numerous times. Jerry Pournelle did it with Higher Learning. The difference though is that they were interested in what they were seeing. Red Lightning’s Ray or Ramon Garcia-Strickland is just a surly teenager who’s bored by everything he sees from Earth to Mars and out again. If he’s bored, we’re going to be also.

Top that off with John Varley apparently deciding that George W. Bush rules the future and that society and technology have barely improved since 2005 aside from the occasional spaceship and you get the mediocre mess that is Red Lightning. If you really hate George W. Bush, this is the novel for you. If you want to see the original novel of which this is a poor derivative, reread Robert A. Heinlein’s Between Planets. If you want a great John Varley novel, reread Steel Beach.

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