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Book review: Wizard

This is a review of Wizard, the second book of John Varley's Gaean trilogy. Although I'm not including spoilers, the fact that this is the second book of a trilogy means that if you haven't read the first book, I'm going to spoil some of it for you.

The story begins 75 years after the events in Titan. Cirocco Jones (the titular Wizard) and Gaby Plauget are both struggling with their own immortality as well as with the three million year old being called Gaea, who is pretty much insane and spends most of her time watching movies in the hub with her sycophants while continuing to do anything she wants with her giant wheel of a world that orbits Saturn.

(For ease of reference, I'm going to refer to the god herself as Gaea, and her world, which is also confusingly referred to as Gaea, as the Wheel.)

Earth has opened up diplomatic relations with Gaea, and tourism within the Wheel is booming. Immigration is another matter, though. Applicants are constantly seeking an audience with Gaea to beg her for favors, or more accurately, miracles. Wizard follows the adventures of two of these applicants, Robin the Nine-Fingered and Chris'fer Minor, who both come to Gaea to plead for cures to the extremely rare and untreatable diseases each suffers from. Gaea tells them, as she tells everyone who approaches her, that she might cure them if they become heroes. Robin and Chris join Cirocco and Gaby on a journey around the twelve sections of the Wheel, not knowing that Cirocco and Gaby have a secret mission of their own to carry out. The four humans are accompanied by four Titanides, the centaur-like natives of the Wheel, who function as companions, servants, mounts, draft animals, and dare I say it? cannon fodder.

One of my problems with this book is that I don't like the two new characters. Robin the Nine-Fingered grew up in a female-only artificial space station at one of Earth's LaGrange points called the Coven, and her youth and constant anger as well as her ignorance of males makes her a one-note straw feminist. This is particularly disappointing considering how many strong female characters there are in Varley's novels, and how wonderfully he usually explores gender issues.

Chris, who is from San Francisco and suffers from what seems to be blackouts and a multiple personality disorder, is a relatively laid back guy who becomes emotionally involved with one of the Titanides. Which is a good place for me to segue.

The Titanides should be charming. They communicate in a singing language and have taken on English nicknames related to musical instruments and terms: Psaltery, Hornpipe, Valiha, Hautbois. They're like huge, horsey, helpful people with an inclination toward peace, decorative arts and productivity that make them better beings than humans. I'm not sure why they don't work for me, but they don't, and way too much of this book is spent on them.

The ultimate victims of Gaea and her malicious sense of humor, Gaea has given the Titanides a weird and unfortunate method of reproduction that Varley obviously enjoys writing about, but I find somewhat boring. I also find a lot of the strange beings living in the wheel that Gaea has created to be simply too far down the fantasy trail to invest in, like trees that can be turned into perfectly uniform planks to build either structures or rafts, living airplanes with bombs in them, and an actual living version of King Kong.

How do you deal with an insane god? That's the central dilemma Cirocco and Gaby must address. Unfortunately, the trip around the Wheel is stalled in an unsatisfying way, and the novel ends with a cliffhanger. More in my review of book three,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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