Volume 16, Number 4, Fall, 1998

The Golden Globe

By John Varley

Ace, 1998: $22.95 ISBN 0-441-00558-6
Reviewed by Lynn Maners

John Varley is a terrific writer and this book further demonstrates that fact. I picked it up from my desktop, as a break from grading midterms, and found myself literally unable to put it down until I’d consumed it. Libertarians and fans of Robert A. Heinlein will greatly enjoy the multiple references to the master, including the main character who bears a certain resemblance to The Great Lorenzo of Double Star.

Set in the same future as Varley’s earlier Steel Beach—a universe in which, due to an alien invasion of Earth, all human culture has become literally extra-terrestrial—The Golden Globe follows the life of K.C. “Sparky” Valentine (hmm, where have we seen that surname before?), itinerant thespian and soon to be man on the run.

The novel is told in a series of flashbacks as an adult Sparky reviews his past as a child superstar, while dealing with the present as the target of an assassin (or is he?). The novel opens on an artificial habitat in the cometary zone with a whirlwind turn in which Sparky plays both female and male parts in Romeo and Juliet (through extensive implanted bio-mods which can literally transform his phenotype). Backstage, during a rapid costume change, the plot begins to move as a private detective seeks Sparky out due to an incident with a politician’s daughter. Unfortunately for Sparky, this has set off a chain of events which will result in his becoming the target of the implacable, unkillable Charonese Mafia (If Pluto becomes an Australia-like open prison, where do they send their incorrigibles? You got it.)

Moving around the various human inhabited parts of the solar system, by various interesting and unconventional means, Sparky uses his talents to always land on his feet, while making his way to Luna to take advantage of an opportunity to play Lear. While on Luna he contacts the Heinleiners, familiar to us from Steel Beach, who have a plan to take humanity extra-solar, thus offering Sparky a possible escape from his pursuers.

Filled with action amid the details of life as it might be lived by a dispersed, but liberated, humanity, this novel does have a dark side. Sparky is the third generation in a family of actors and at first we are taken by their charming roguishness (including running con games for a fast buck “between engagements”). Sparky’s training as an actor has been accomplished solely through his father, whom we see through Sparky’s eyes in a sympathetic way. It is only as the novel progresses that we see that Sparky has been the victim of incredible abuse under the guise of his father’s training and that Sparky’s character is twisted as a result. It is only over the course of the novel that we realize as well how ignorant Sparky is, again due to his father’s monomaniacal pursuit of acting perfection in his son. This is a real testimony to Varley’s strength as a writer as our opinion of his characters are slowly revised throughout the novel, and yet we remain fundamentally sympathetic towards them. In summation, I assure you that in The Golden Globe you will find an excellently crafted novel, in the Heinleinian tradition. Just make sure you set aside the time to read it straight through (or tell your students that you had the flu and haven’t finished grading their tests yet!). I predict that this novel will be a strong contender for the Prometheus Award.

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