Rolling Thunder by John Varley

[This is a book review of Rolling Thunder by John Varley, first published in 2008. Rolling Thunder is the third book of Varley's 'Thunder and Lightning' series.]

This installment is my favorite of the series. (So far, anyway -- a fourth book is planned.) Rolling Thunder is about the experiences of Patricia Kelly Elizabeth Podkayne Strickland-Garcia-Redmond, who goes by Podkayne. In keeping with the generational nature of the series, Podkayne is Ray's daughter and Manny and Kelly's granddaughter, and she tells the story in first person. As you might expect, since Podkayne of Mars is a novel by Robert A. Heinlein, there are many Heinleinian references, especially in the final chapters.

As it opens, Podkayne is a Lieutenant JG in the Navy of Martian Republic. The people of Mars have control over the squeezer technology, and only the Martians control space flight. The situation on Earth has continued to disintegrate because of the fallout from the Big Wave compounded with the results of climate change. Podkayne, an aspiring singer, is assigned to the Navy of the Martian Republic's equivalent of the USO and ends up on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, where a lot of the action takes place.

We seem to expect that when we encounter alien life, we'll be able to talk with it, reason with it, shake its hand, or blow it to bits. But what if it is so truly alien that none of this is possible? There are crystalline mountains on Europa, and they grow, and something is inside them. Anyone getting too close to the mountains dies in strange ways, and even machinery stops working. What happens on the moons of Jupiter and specifically on Europa is the sort of science fiction I love, and the sort of thing John Varley does really well.

The other significant action in this installment revolves around a second invention by Jubal Broussard, the "black bubble" that was introduced in Red Lightning. Anything going into a black bubble, including a human being, is eternally suspended at the moment it entered. When the bubble is opened, whatever is in it emerges in the exact same condition. There are endless possibilities for this technology, and Varley explores any number of them. I can't go into more detail without spoiling this novel for you, but it's actually rather fascinating.

Podkayne has some intense experiences and eventually finds love in a most Heinleinian fashion. The last few chapters of the book go in a direction that seems inevitable when it's over, even though I wasn't expecting it.

I am very much looking forward to the fourth book in the series.
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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