Steel Beach by John Varley

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Book Information  
AuthorJohn Varley
TitleSteel Beach
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by GH 
(Nov 13, 2005)

A novel in search of a reason for being.

Varely writes the existential journey of Hildy Johnson, tabloid report and resident of Luna, a society that has grown up on the moon after the Earth was taken away from humanity by alien invaders (who do not figure prominently in the story).
Despite this, Luna is a rich, technological paradise, run by a nearly omniscient Central Computer (CC). The people of Luna live nearly forever, switch genders on a whim, and enjoy a crass commercialistic culture where Hildy's kind of Tabloid Journalism is the only reporting there is, which makes sense since there doesn't seem to be anything that wouldn't fit in the National Enquirer going on, on Luna anyway. It's a shallow, pool for humanity to play in while just killing time. No wonder Hildy is depressed.

Which brings us to the plot. Hildy is trying to kill, him/herself and s/he doesn't know why. Apparently suicide has been a growing trend among Lunarians. The CC (Central Computer) sets Hildy up as a research project to determine what's going on (in the culture Varley builds, the answer should be fairly obvious). The problem becomes even more urgent when the CC, that all Lunarians depend upon for survival, confesses to Hildy that it's been feeling depressed lately too.

But don't worry too much about the plot. For most of the novel it doesn't figure into the story any more than the alien invaders do. Most of the time we follow Hildy around on a disjointed tour of the shallow, narcissistic sights of Luna. Even Hildy gets so tired of the place that s/he retreats into an artificial habitat (I mean an even more artificial habitat) made to resemble Texas in the 1860's. Which may be good for Hildy's nerves but unfortunately, is even less interesting the life on the outside.

Varely occasionally (and I mean very occasionally) comes up with an interesting philosophical rant or a fascinating technological idea but the most frustrating thing about this book is that almost as soon as he hits on something interesting, he drops it again, never to return to it and we're stuck back in the banality of Hildy's life.

I wish I could say something better about the book. It was recommended to me by a guy who usually knows what he's talking about. Maybe I just don't get it. Or maybe I haven't reached the point in my life where reading an account of a 100 plus year old person with teenage angst has become appealing.

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