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Red Lightning by John Varley

[This is a book review of Red Lightning by John Varley, first published in 2006.]

It's twenty-some years after the events of Red Thunder, and the tourist industry on Mars has taken off. Manny and Kelly are running a hotel on Mars with their teenage children, daughter Elizabeth and son Ray, and this time, Ray is telling the first person story. Although it has many of the same characters, focuses on young people, and is set in the same universe, Red Lightning is a much different work than Red Thunder. In fact, it's almost like two novels slapped together. And unfortunately, it's not one of Varley's strongest works.

In part one, the Garcia-Stricklands return to Earth in search of family in Florida after something hits the Atlantic ocean with such force that many coastlines are flooded. Disaster relief is inadequate and martial law is declared in the United States and other parts of the world. This section feels like (and is) a fictional exploration of societal and governmental fallout a la September 11, the Indonesian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina but worse, the disintegration that the United States could suffer from a disaster so extreme that recovery might not be possible, and the political and social structure that could emerge from such a catastrophic event.

Part two is a lot more interesting, although it can be summed up as "Mars is a Harsh Mistress." At the beginning of the story, the "Martians" see themselves as Earth people living in an outpost. Events arising from the Big Wave disaster and the disappearance of the most important man on earth makes the Martians start seeing themselves as a separate nation. And of course, Ray Garcia-Strickland is right in the middle of it.

Although this novel is definitely a good read (I think everything Varley writes is at the very least a good read) it's not a favorite of mine. The disaster section is realistic and upsetting, but it lacks focus. The second section is a lot more enjoyable and might have worked a bit better if it had been the center of the novel. And the squeezer technology still rings false for me. It seems so unrealistic and impossible. Since it's the foundation of the technology at the center of this series, that's a problem.

The "Thunder and Lightning" series is definitely set in a different science fiction universe than the "Eight Worlds" books. But the disaster on Earth and resulting fallout have a similar feel, that Earth has a shelf-life and it's approaching. And that the rest of the solar system and the stars is where our future lies.
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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