STEEL BEACH by John Varley


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 Imitative 23rd-century lunar ruling-computer-goes-mad yarn from the author of, most recently, Blue Champagne (1986). Two centuries after plot-device-only aliens invade and occupy Earth, the self-contained colony of Juna is run by the omnipresent Central Computer; its inhabitants enjoy a worry-free, want-free environment of perfect health and longevity. Hildy Johnson is a top reporter for (the equivalent of) a leading tabloid newspaper; what he doesn't know is why he keeps trying to kill himself. The CC prepares a series of artificial memories designed to explore Hildy's problem; but gradually Hildy learns that the CC itself has suicidal impulses (it's been forced to destroy several of its own subsystems). Indeed, the CC's problem may be causing Hildy's! Following a sex change, Hildy discovers that a crashed and apparently abandoned prototype starship actually contains a thriving colony of dissenters; they have made some startling scientific discoveries but fear becoming controlled by the CC, whose actions are growing ever more bizarre and dangerous. Though initially suspicious, ``Heinleiners'' come to trust Hildy, and explain their program (genetic research, interstellar flight, etc.). But then the CC--now insane, with ``good'' and ``evil'' aspects in conflict--attacks, intending to capture or kill Hildy. Hildy escapes, barely, while the CC is put out of action, and the child that Hildy has just given birth to dies. Sort of a Great Heinlein Memorial Novel--tediously so at times--hardworking and with flashes of wit, but weighed down with expository chat, a thin and contrived plot, and poorly defined characters. Once a prodigious talent, Varley has subsided into an overblown, obfuscatory mode that will disappoint all but his most ardent fans.

Pub Date: July 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-399-13759-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Ace/Berkley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992


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