I’ve got these three books, a trilogy, on my bookshelf. I read the first one before I knew it was a trilogy at all and picked up the other two later when I spotted them at a used book store, but it’s taken a few more years to get around reading even the second in the Gaen Trilogy by John Varley. The first one Titan describes a rotating satellite circling Saturn that is so large that it supports a wide range of life and eco-systems all created by the satellite itself which, as far as the inhabitants are concerned is a god.
The second, Wizard, fills in a great deal of back story about that diety and slowly reveals more her (its?) motivation and details the lives of the creatures she’s created.
I guess I have to read the third one (Demon) now. I didn’t love Titan but I’d already read Steel Beach by Varley and it was good enough that I gave it a pass. The Gaen Trilogy does well something that many science fiction and fantasy aspire to do. I call it the Tolkien-quality. What Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings was create a complete world. There’s a complete and consistent back-story to all of the complex relationships of characters and races in the Tolkien’s books that makes for a rich, and even if foreign, very complete world. Ursula Le Guin is another author who can create such complete universes. Varley has done so as well, and for that, it seems, his trilogy is much loved.
Where Titan was an interesting invitation into this intricate new world, I still found Varley’s detailed descriptions of the mating behavior of the Titanides, complete with complext tables of arrows and Titanide genetics to be at best, a distraction. Wizard was fine, and I didn’t mind reading it so much, but I felt like I was listening to bad jazz. A friend of mine once explained that the real genius of improvisation is that the musician knows so much about music and his instrument that when he chooses to play an unexpected, even off-key note, it still fits. It’s onlyu from complete mastery, that just noodling around really becomes jazz. Music is often made from a very clever repetition long enough to create a memory and then breaking it off, just when we think we already know the next note, to create interest.
Unfortunately, Varley suffers from the problem of inexperienced jazz musicians noodling noisily at your local Guitar Center and writers of many a television sci-fi series. If you break all the rules, nobody knows what they should have expected in the first place. I can hear the Varley fans screaming at me already. Hear me out first. The problem with Gaea, a goddess, is that she can, and does, do anything she wants. She creates creatures at her whim and watches how other creatures interract with them. If there are no rules for her, or the Gaen universe to abide by, then, where’s the fun in the unexpected riff to come from? Why are we given so much detail, if none of it really matters and all the rules can change at any second?
Varley is a victim of his own cleverness. He is so capable of creating rich characters and creatures that he does so without limit or restrain. His fingers are nimble, but without restrain, his jazz comes off as mere noodling.
Varley’s created this fascinating universe where characters must live under the whims of a capricious goddess and we readers are left as confused as they are as to what will happen next, let alone why. And all that would be fine, if, actions eventually were shown to be worth our while. Why did we have to learn all those details about Titanide reproduction? What value did it have in the story? How are Robin and Chris actually important at the end of the day? I know, I know, all will be explained in Demon but I don’t think it’s very considerate of the reader to divide one book into two and make him buy the second half separately.