Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review: Titan, by John Varley

Hoo boy.

Well, OK. So I have no idea how I came to be recommended to read this book. I thought it was from a blog that I regularly read, but I checked it and there's no sign of this. But someone said it was like a 'landmark' sci fi classic on par with Contact or 2001 or something, (both of which I read and neither of which I liked, so who knows even then what I was thinking) and I was interested enough to put it on my Amazon wish list for like 2 years.

Finally I found it at my local library. Not on audio CD, unfortunately, which meant I had to read it the old fashioned way. I found it...well...

OK so there's a ship called the something or other (it's been about 4 days since I finished it and the details are already gone). It's going to Neptune or Saturn or something to study one of its moons, Titan. Within about 3 pages the author establishes that the entire crew is romantically involved with each other, and that two Japanese sisters are in an incest relationship and that 'civilization has evolved to accept this.' I probably should have stopped there, but when the ship got attacked by a giant tentacle space monster that eats everyone for a year and then poops them up through the ground into a giant spaceship world thing with grass and air and sky and strange creatures, I was roped back.

Just when I thought I was out...

Anyhoo, half the crew is missing and the remaining people who survived, the ship ate 'all their hair' and 'all their clothes' and turned them all into lesbians.

I'd like to take a moment to pause here and note that per the book's dust jacket, Tom Clancy calls John Varley 'the best writer in America.' 

Meanwhile, on the ship planet thing, which they name...something like Gaea or something. Yeah, that sounds right. ...meanwhile on that, they meet some giant blimp aliens who fly around, and they meet some other weird aliens, and everyone's apparently naked and hairless. 

Many hundreds of pages pass. Some of the crew can talk to the aliens. Others wonder why they're all lesbians now apparently. They eventually meet some centaurs, who the author takes extra care to describe in full anatomical detail. He's really concerned that you will forget about what biological traits differentiate men and women in this universe of stupid.

Blah blah blah they do some other stuff and it gets even weirder, if that's even possible. They get to the end and it's actually somewhat satisfying, even though the previous billion pages were extremely bizarre and boring and nothing happened. 

If they ever make this into a movie it will cost about $750 billion dollars, will be rated X, and about 3 people will want to see it. So obviously Hollywood will probably try.

So why did I keep on reading? The weirdness factor and the fact that the author of the book that would get turned into my all-time favorite movie (Red October) seemed to think that this author was as good as it got in America definitely played a factor. But now I realize that Tom Clancy recently passed away and this quote was likely received via quack psychic post-mortem for a special December 2013 reprint of Titan, and was badly garbled in translation. I assume what he meant to say was, "John Varley has some very strange issues he needs to work out, and his books are great if you are a pervert and/or insane."

That said...two thumbs up. 

Just kidding. 

No thumbs up, and an index finger sideways, pointing you in the direction you should run when someone asks you if you'd be interested in reading Titan. I mean, it wasn't poorly written, I guess. To say something nice about it. It was capably written and, uh, imaginative, I guess. But seriously, if this is what is takes to be considered America's best author, then literally everyone on the planet should be able to write classic sci fi. This was straight-up Gentlemen Broncos-level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Gaean Trilogy is classic sci-fi on a epic scale. Titan is probably the least accessible of the three but I think your analysis of what many (Tom Clancy's opinion aside)consider to be a fantastic read to be off the mark. What you find to be boring, descriptive details of anatomical aspects of the alien life forms are essential to Varley setting the stage for a three novel adventure that really should be developed for the big screen.