Demon by John Varley (1984) 464 p.

Wrapping up John Varley’s lacklustre Gaea trilogy is Demon, a novel which brings to a close the events set in motion in Titan and Wizard. Cirocco Jones is now an open enemy to Gaea, the godlike, planet-sized being in orbit around Saturn, and is part fugitive and part resistance leader in a struggle to destroy her. (Cirocco seems awfully confident that killing the mind of Gaea will not also destroy the body, upon which she and many other species depend upon for survival.)

As of Demon, Earth is now in the grip of a nuclear war, with Gaea sending many rescue ships to ferry survivors to her. This means that the survival of humanity is now essentially in the hands of the few million people on Gaea, which ups the stakes in the battle. I still couldn’t bring myself to care much, and was largely reading this book out of obligation.

Varley, as I’ve said before, became a great writer in his later years, but there are far too many stumbles in his early books. His characters are simultaneously logical and emotional, which doesn’t sound wrong, but anyone who’s ever read a nerdy 1970s or 1980s sci-fi paperback will know exactly what I mean. He has a weird obsession with alien sex. He also has an enduring passion for classic cinema, which works in, say, The Golden Globe, because the narrator is an actor and student of cinema – but which is represented in the Gaea trilogy by Gaea herself (a millenia-old being the size of planet, remember) being a movie buff who uses her godlike powers to recreate classic scenes and creatures. The whole thing has a wacky feeling to it. And in terms of Cirocco’s grand struggle against this godlike creature, anything which doesn’t make sense is handwaved away or ignored. Gaea’s body is the very terrain upon which Cirocco walks – if the NSA can tap my mobile, why can’t Gaea tell where Cirocco is at any given point?

But one of the biggest problems with the Gaea trilogy, overall, is that it’s simply boring. Varley has created a gigantic ringworld ruled over by an alien god who’s been listening to the very first radio waves mankind sent out, has watched every movie we ever made, and has a penchant for biologically engineering whatever she wants from the collective human imagination in order to amuse herself. Yet what do we see in the trilogy? Two major alien species (basically centaurs and bat people), a few others which can be generally summed up by what they resemble (“blimps,” “submarines”), a bunch of human refugees, and some empty landscapes. Dragons are mentioned – we never see one. Gaea has created a King Kong – adventures relating to him are mentioned off-screen and we then only see him after he’s dead. In the desert is the great sandworm from Dune – which is so long that at one point the characters walk over its body, seeing neither tail nor head. Varley has all these opportunities, and more, to make interesting things happen on this world of limitless possibility, but instead we get the main characters sitting around talking about their feelings for half the book.

The Gaea trilogy is not good. Read Steel Beach, and absolutely read The Golden Globe, but do not read Titan or its sequels.

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