15 May 2007

Romantic science fiction

Many years ago I read a science fiction novel by John Varley, and was impressed enough to remember his name. I think the book was Titan. But I'm not sure. When I looked up the plot summary, it didn't sound like the book I remembered at all.

The reason for looking up Titan was that Nancy brought a John Varley book home from the library. This one was Red Lightning. Like Titan, this book involves the conflicts between residents of two different worlds.

In Red Lightning, the two worlds are earth and earth's fairly independent colony on Mars. The Martian colony and earth's survival are dependent upon the discovery/invention of a nearly-unlimited, non-polluting source of power controlled by a benevolent scientist. (Like most science fiction, this requires major suspension of disbelief.)

The separation between the two "worlds" is complete enough and old enough that culturally the two places are rather different. Rather like England and its American colonies in the late 1700s were different, I suspect (and I suspect that Varley intended that comparison).

So, politically and militarily, the power held by the scientist is too attractive. Many people wanted to run things. The scientist disappears and takes his secrets with him. The scientists' relatives live in Mars' rather idyllic society. The powers that be on earth invade Mars. The "Martians" rescue the scientist, find ways of resisting the earthlings' invasion because the scientist demonstrates that his power source is not only benign, but lethal. And the Martians live happily every after.

It's a romantic fairy tale in many ways. It's a hippie manifesto. (Varley spent some of his teenage years on the streets of Haight and Ashbury.) It's pretty well written and the story is well told. It was just the kind of escapism I needed last week.

If it sounds attractive, check it out. Your library may also have a copy.

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