The Golden Globe by John Varley

[This is not a rundown of the Golden Globes. It's a book review of The Golden Globe by John Varley, first published in 1998.]

The Golden Globe is John Varley's third "Eight Worlds" novel and something of a companion volume to Steel Beach. It takes place in the same general time period – 200 years after the Invaders have exiled the human race from Earth – and it is also a first person story by a centenarian. This time, it's Kenneth Valentine, aka Sparky, former child star and solar system fugitive.

When I think about The Golden Globe, the sequence I always remember is when Kenneth ships himself as cargo from Pluto to Uranus via "deadballing", a drug that drastically slows the metabolism. As Kenneth sleeps and wakes, we get flashbacks of his simultaneously horrible and famous childhood, with a "Mama Rose"-like father who used drowning and suffocation as methods to force little Kenneth to memorize lines. (Much like Marjoe Gortner, who gained considerable fame as a child preacher.)

The adult Kenneth, like many who were abused, is emotionally stuck in childhood because he never had a chance to grow up emotionally. He has even retained his imaginary friend from childhood (Jimmy Stewart's Elwood P. Dowd from Harvey, a wonderful choice). Kenneth sees everything he does in terms of parts that he is playing, both on and off-stage, because he has never been allowed to be himself. Kenneth is an egotistical actor type and isn't that likable at first, but as his true situation is slowly revealed and he resolves issues from his past (sort of like non-therapy therapy), he becomes one of Varley's stronger characters, and I definitely empathize with him.

As I've said before, it's the universe Varley creates that I always enjoy the most. Steel Beach takes place on Luna, but The Golden Globe begins near Pluto and moves through the solar system when Kenneth decides to return to Luna to play King Lear. He is followed by a tenacious Charonese assassin who is very like a human version of the Terminator. My favorite bits are on Oberon II, an immense space station/habitat under construction in the orbit of Uranus (a bit reminiscent of Varley's Gaean trilogy), and an idyll on a space yacht called Halley, where Kenneth's delightful dog Toby falls in love with an extremely large cat. Hildy Johnson, first person narrator of Steel Beach, is also a character in this book. And just as with Steel Beach, we again encounter the Heinleiners, who may be the key to the future of the human race.

Although the book is complete in itself, it feels like there should be more. Hopefully, Varley's upcoming Irontown Blues will be it.
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Purple Duck said...

I am so hopeful that we may yet see more eight worlds stories. I saw Varley described as never having reached the point where his initial promise could have taken him. I don't think its too late though and feel like the disorderly, fame and media driven eight worlds is the key to really saying something important yet.

Billie Doux said...

Purple Duck, Varley does have an Eight Worlds book completed and in pre-publication. It's called Irontown Blues.