One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more and I’m slowly making good on my promise. Early January, I picked up John Varley’s Titan starring the ballsy heroine Cirocco Jones and by mid January I was done. I wrapped up Wizard by the end of the month while on vacation in Portugal and finished the last book, Demon, just last night.
John Varley’s Gaean Trilogy is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. The author doesn’t take himself too seriously nor does he delve too deep into the science behind his science fiction. Varley is all about the human drama, characterization and the telling of an unhinged story that makes you go, “hmm.”
I chose to read Varley after stumbling on some kindle boards where users were complaining that there was too much sex in his stories. I happen to like sex in my fiction, so I picked up the books. Shallow right?
The first book, published in 1979, tells the story of what happens to the crew of Ringmaster, a scientific vessel in orbit around Saturn. Manned by Cirocco Jones and a motley crew of six, the Ringmaster is ensnared by the tendrils of an alien object on the outer rings of Saturn. The crew is put into stasis and when they awaken, they do so in an alien world. The Stanford-torus habitat they find themselves in suffers from bizarre weather patterns and is populated by fantastic creatures and intelligent lifeforms. The story follows Cirocco Jones and her crew as they struggle to make contact with the supreme being who rules the wheel–a frumpy goddess named Gaia who loves Hollywood blockbusters.
Gaia’s love of the silver screen and the constant references to movies got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be cool if Hollywood made Titan the movie? The answer to this question came directly on the heels of the thought. Titan the movie would never be made.
Varley’s fiction is sexual and controversial, fit for the Hollywood of the 1970’s that saw the rise of erotic sci-fi films such as A Clockwork Orange, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Barbarella, The Wicker Man and others. The sanitized, PG-13 obsessed Hollywood of today would never tackle Titan just on the nudity alone! Then there are the big issues such rape and coping with rape, lesbianism, feminism, bisexuality, forced pregnancy, the list goes on.
The wheel is inhabited by Titanides, a race of colorful, centaur-like beings who speak through music and have three sets of sex organs. All of them have breasts, rear vaginas and penises, as well as a frontal sex organ which determines their true gender. Both males and females can bear children and give birth to them either through the fore or rear vagina. From there it gets more and more fascinating and, let’s just say, complicated.
Titanides don’t wear clothes and for a long time neither do the human protagonists. Cirocco and crew are so fantastically changed during their stasis in Gaia’s womb, that earthly inhibitions such as modesty seem almost frivolous. I tried, for a moment, to imagine how Hollywood would handle a pseudo-sexual relationship between a man and a 2 kilometer long blimp and threw the towel in. Such delights were made exclusively for fiction!
The Gaean Trilogy is a science fiction tall-tale that vacillates between despair and comedy while remaining wildly inventive. Varley does a fantastic job creating an evocative world that will keep you turning pages. If you enjoy strong female characters, thought-provoking concepts and unusual adventures, you will love these books as much as I did.