Wizard by John Varley (1980) 354 p.

I bought this ages ago after buying (but not yet reading) the first book in the Gaea trilogy, Titan. I came across it in a second-hand bookstore and figured I may as well pick it up because it was a safe bet that I’d probably like Titan. I wish I hadn’t, because I was wrong, and my completist OCD means I have to read Demon as well now.

Wizard picks up about a hundred years after the events of Titan, in which a NASA expedition discovers an intelligent, godlike alien the size of a planet and the shape of a torus habitat in orbit around Saturn, with lots of other alien species living on it. At the end of that novel the former captain, Cirocco, was granted immortality in exchange for acting as Gaea’s “Wizard” – a sort of agent or ambassador. It was apparent that some of Gaea’s autonomous sub-brains were rebelling against her, but I still didn’t find it particularly clear as to what the Wizard does or why Gaea needed one.

Gaea is now inhabited by a number of humans as well, who have come to settle and explore and – in the case of a few pilgrims – implore Gaea to cure what ails them. Two new characters in this vein are introduced (one of whom is an insufferable straw feminist) and most of the book details a voyage around Gaea’s circumference with these two, Cirocco, Gaby, and a bunch of the stupid centaur aliens. (The other members of the NASA crew, who are presumably still alive and still on Gaea, are never once mentioned.)

Now, I know it was the 1970s, but Varley spent far too much time dreaming up alien sexual characteristics, and far too much of this novel details inter-species sex. I cannot imagine how deeply uncomfortable it would be to sit at a public reading in which Varley read, out loud, dialogue between characters concerning how sex works with regards to the centaur aliens with two separate sets of genitals – which, when it comes to the specifics of four-way parentage and different conception methods, was not only bizarre but very, very boring.

Varley is a good author. The Golden Globe is one of my favourite novels of all time. But the Gaea trilogy simply isn’t good, and not just for people who aren’t interested in human-alien sex. It rambles, it often gets bogged down in spatial descriptions, and the central crux of the novels – the conflict between Gaea and her sub-regions – is underdeveloped, because it never feels like much of a threat or a concern. I’ll still read Demon, but I don’t expect to enjoy it, and I don’t recommend this trilogy even for fans of Varley’s other work.

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