Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul says "The Conscience of the Constitution posits a role for the Fourteenth Amendment in protecting natural rights from abuse at both the federal and state level. It is a great defense of individual liberty."
John Varley’s latest novel, Dark Lightning, is a marvelous conclusion to his four-part “Thunder and Lightning” series: exciting, inventive, and written with that incredibly smooth prose style that draws your eye through 50 or 100 pages before you even think of what time it is. Although the Thunder and Lightning series isn’t my favorite of his work—it’s aimed at a younger audience, and lacks some of the depth and darkness that flavors his best books—Dark Lightning is probably the best in the series, and marks a satisfying return to the realm where Varley is always at his best: the distant future.
Longtime readers of this blog know Varley’s my favorite writer. He exploded onto the scene in the late 1970s with a series of short stories (the best are collected in The John Varley Reader and other anthologies) and then the astonishing Gaea trilogy, Titan, Wizard, and Demon, which remain his greatest achievement. When he went to Hollywood to develop Millennium into the disappointing film of that name, he disappeared from publishing for quite a while, only to reappear in 1992 with the mind-boggling Steel Beach. He followed that up with The Golden Globe, and the standalone novels, Mammoth and, most recently, Slow Apocalypse. In the meantime, he began the Thunder and Lightning series, inspired by Robert Heinlein’s young adult novels, which center around the family of Travis and Jubal Broussard, the latter of whom invents a device that enables man at last to reach the distant stars.
Dark Lightning is set in the next century, and is told from the perspective of Jubal’s twin daughters, Polly and Cassie, who alternate as first-person narrators from chapter to chapter. Varley has always preferred strong female leads, and Cassie and Polly are distinct, believable, and sympathetic personalities who grow into Varley’s trademark hardheaded resourcefulness—an improvement over the bland characterization of Slow Apocalypse. They live in the starship Rolling Thunder, introduced in the previous novel, which is made from a hollowed-out asteroid which rotates to simulate gravity. Rolling Thunder is seeking out a new world for humanity to colonize, now that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by the alien invasion documented in the last book.
This furnishes Varley with another opportunity to create an entire world—something he’s awfully good at. His wild imagination and astonishing gift for realism are on display in a series of vivid passages, including one particularly dramatic chase. But for all its fast pacing, Varley also slows down to give us real people and real concerns, in just the right amounts, and gives us just enough violence (and very little sex) so that Dark Lightning will appeal strongly to the young adult audience without boring older readers. Relatively speaking it’s only an overture to the symphony that is the Gaea trilogy, or the concerto of the metal series, but it lives up to Varley’s very best work. Above all, there’s that apparent effortlessness—the deft touch with detail and pacing that sweeps the reader along so swiftly that you must force yourself to pause and reflect on how much work it takes to write a novel so that looks like it was no work at all. Honestly, he writes like Gene Kelly danced—like there ain’t nothin’ to it.
Still, I prefer the stronger liquor. Shortly after Steel Beach—his best single novel—appeared, he announced that he would shortly publish Golden Globe, and then finish the series with Irontown Blues. It’s now been twenty years, and the latter still awaits development. Here’s hoping that with the conclusion of Thunder and Lightning, he’ll be able to return his attention to that project.
This is my personal blog. The opinions expressed here are my own, and in no way represent those of the staff, management, or clients of the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Cato Institute, or the McGeorge School of Law.