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The Golden Globe by John Varley (1998) 517 p.
This is my favourite science fiction book by my favourite science fiction author. Set in the same universe as Steel Beach (a modified version of Varley’s “Eight Worlds” universe), The Golden Globe features one of the most memorable narrators in science fiction: Kenneth “Sparky” Valentine, a washed-up child television star who now wanders the Solar System as an itinerant thespian, not to mention conman, thief and general miscreant. Sparky’s wisecracking narratorial voice is easily the most amusing and readable of any I’ve ever come across. He regularly goes off on tangents and anecdotes, often in the employ of worldbuilding, which never fail to entertain and fit in seamlessly with the narrative; something that was often beyond Steel Beach’s Hildy Johnson.
While Steel Beach focused on Luna, Sparky’s story takes him from the ramshackle boondock orbitals beyond Pluto, across the system to Luna; a Grand Tour of Varley’s world, and one with a much tighter plot than the loose, rambling story of Steel Beach. Sparky is bound for Luna to play his dream role of King Lear in an upcoming stage production; in pursuit is a near unkillable member of the Charonese Mafia, pursuing him for one of his many crimes. This is nothing new for Sparky, who has spent his adult life on the run for a much more serious crime – which the blurb gives away, so don’t read it.
Like Steel Beach, The Golden Globe retains a certain cartoony, satirical aspect reminiscent of Terry Pratchett; it feels somehow less mature and serious than other science fiction novels, or indeed than Varley’s early novels. It is, however, much more readable, and I feel that this tone is a deliberate result of the specific zeitgeist of the Eight Worlds: namely, they don’t have one. Their culture is entirely derived from Earth, and they are overcome with obsession about the vibrant history of the world they lost: an artificial ocean on Pluto that recreates famous historical scenes from the Pacific, movie studios on Luna modelled after the famous studios of Hollywood’s golden era, Shakespearian productions, fashions and styles taken from centuries past… while the Invaders are barely referenced in these two books, it’s clear that humanity is still mourning for Earth, and that sooner or later a second confrontation will occur.
I dearly hope this happens in Irontown Blues, the as yet unwritten book which Varley has said will feature a police detective and round out the “Metals Trilogy.” This is the book I long for more than any other. Until then, however, The Golden Globe is the most enjoyable and readable science fiction romp I’ve ever read, and Sparky Valentine one of the greatest characters.