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John Varley’s “Thunder” series 
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Post John Varley’s “Thunder” series
I’ve just finished the latest in John Varley’s Thunder series, and didn’t see any reviews of it here, so I thought I’d start things off. While I wouldn’t necessarily put Varley up there with the greatest writers I’ve ever read, I thoroughly enjoyed his three odes to RAH, surely in part due to my own RAH fandom. I have only read one other Varley book, so I’m not sure if any of his others are so obviously influenced by RAH.

Rolling Thunder by John Varley **** (4 out of 5 stars)

Varley’s three Thunder books read like updated Heinlein juveniles, and this is obviously not by chance. I read the first two last fall, Red Thunder (4.5 stars) and Red Lightning (4.5 stars), and this third one is almost as good as those two. My only beef with this one was that it took nearly 150 pages before there was actually any story conflict to engage me. Varley spends all those first 150 pages allowing us to get to know Patricia Kelly Elizabeth Podkayne Strickland-Garcia-Redmond (who goes by Podkayne; you can see where that’s going), which in and of itself is not at all an unpleasurable experience, since she is a wholeheartedly Heinlein-esque character, worthy of her middle name, and in fact worthy of a couple others, I thought: Maybe Maureen and Friday? Podkayne is a plucky 18-year-old amateur singer-songwriter doing her stint of national service in the Mars Navy, who also happens to be related to the characters in the earlier books who first rocketed to Mars. She’s a couple generations removed from them, but they still figure pretty prominently in the story, especially later when Varley sets into the actual meat and potatoes of the plot. And it’s a doozy, although I won’t give it away here. Suffice it to say, the last 150 or so pages are fairly action-packed, more akin to the first two books, and the last 50 or so are positively Heinlein-esque, at least insofar as the outcome.

Varley makes no apologies for his adoration for the Grand Master and especially the early “juveniles” that evidently influenced this series so much. While there are definitely nods to other SF giants peppered throughout this book (I’m assuming Clarke Center is named after Arthur C., and I believe both The Day the Earth Stood Still and The War of the Worlds are cited in passing), Varley goes so far as to deftly weave actual Heinlein book titles into the narrative in uncapitalized form. I counted seven, although there may have been more: Citizen of the Galaxy, Tunnel in the Sky, Farmer in the Sky, Rolling Stone, Between Planets, Time for the Stars, and of course Red Planet. One section in particular made me burst out with laughter, when Podkayne is laid up after nanosurgery and describes where her name came from:

“I finally read that book my parents stole my name from, which was called Podkayne from Mars. What a horrible book! What a mean old man! He spends the whole book getting you to like this sweet little airhead, and then he does terrible things to her. Don’t you hate it when an author does that? I’m not reading any more of his books, I promise you!”


Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:38 pm
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
PS> I’ve long wondered if there was a definitive (or at least comprehensive and hopefully good) list of books, stories, movies, characters, et al, that were heavily influenced by Heinlein and/or his works. I figured it might even be on this forum somewhere where I haven't come across it yet. I’m sure it’s peppered here and there in many threads, but I’m looking for a single list, and I guess I’m suggesting that it’d be a good thread. Not to mention that it’d be useful content to have elsewhere on the Heinlein Nexus site, for those more casual drive-by visitors who aren’t going to slog through the forum posts but who’d be very interested in picking up some other books by writers influenced by Heinlein.

I have a small list of them myself, which I will dig up and post here or another thread. Which is why I’m hoping there’s one already...


Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:44 pm
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
I also found the first two books better than the third, but there are other books that have felt more "Heinleinian" to me - John Scalzi's Old Man's War comes to mind and also the Orphanage books by Buettner. I thought that the heroine in this last Varley was not quite believable, but as Heinlein heroines are frequently accused of that as well, that is not enough in and of itself to explain the difference. Heinlein's heroines come off as more believable (but not terribly prevalent in the real world). At least to me. I think if she had been older it would have rung true a bit more.

In any case I DID buy all three books so what does that say....

Take care,

Audrey


Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:02 pm
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
markbult wrote:
I’ve long wondered if there was a definitive (or at least comprehensive and hopefully good) list of books, stories, movies, characters, et al, that were heavily influenced by Heinlein and/or his works.

The discussion, and amateur listmaking, are staples of Heinlein forums throughout their short history.

Perhaps instead of another offhanded collective summary of works the group mind thinks to be Heinlein-influenced, a more formal - but not too formal - list could be developed and critically annotated as a Nexus-supported project. A "once and for all" list.

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:48 pm
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
James,

Are there any plans for wiki-like interactions on the Heinlein Nexus site? It would make it a lot easier for people to collaboratively compile such a list if there was a forum thread to discuss submissions, and a wiki page where the list could be compiled and annotated, etc. That way everyone helping out wouldn't have to keep waiting for one master list-keeper to edit or copy-and-past the "latest version." I know I, for one, would be a lot more willing and able to work on it that way.

Also, would this topic (the "Heinlein-influenced" topic) be an appropriate new thread for "RAH Discussion" or elsewhere? I yield to your advice here.

–Mark

PS> Audrey thanks for your thoughts on Rolling Thunder. And I would agree that Old Man's War would also be on that "Heinlein-influenced" list.


Tue Jul 07, 2009 10:42 pm
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
markbult wrote:
Are there any plans for wiki-like interactions on the Heinlein Nexus site?

I don't believe the topic had yet come up, but it's a natural. Give us some time to get the basics in place. You might go open a topic on this subject in Nexus Planning to give it proper root.


Wed Jul 08, 2009 7:52 am
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Post Re: John Varley’s “Thunder” series
I really liked the first book in the series, Red Thunder. I really DIDN'T like Red Lightening at all--thought it was too much a disaster book than anything else--I felt like I was reading the literary equivalent to The Poseidon Adventure. Blah.

However, on Audrey's say-so, and because I could get a "Like New" copy for $.75, I just put an order in on half.com. I guess I can risk that on the book.

On the topic of Heinlein-esque novels, I always thought Spider Robinson's The Free Lunch was much more an homage to Heinlein than Variable Star ever came close to.


Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:44 pm
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