Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Rolling Thunder

I'm starting to pile up a stack of books again.  First for today is Red Thunder by John Varley.

This is the third in the series that started with Red Thunder and continued with Red Lightning.  The main character is new, but the world carries over from the earlier books and may not be very clear.  From the way this one ended, it looks like the end, but he might either follow a hook that he hinted at and then left lying, or else follow along after major transitions.

There are cosmic events in this book, but most of the pages are devoted to the trials and tribulations of being a touring celebrity and pop star -- as far as I'm concerned a whole lot of pages with very little content.  Aside from that, we have another disaster, where we spend some time dwelling on how much disasters suck, though not as much as we did in Red Lightning, and it leads up to an ending that's pretty depressing.  There's also a consistency error with the series MacGuffin that made me feel like the writer is cheating and just doing whatever he feels like with his magic technology.

Page by page it's readable, but overall pretty disappointing.  Not recommended unless you really liked the earlier books in the series.  5 out of 10.


We introduce the story with our heroine Podkayne (that's actually one of her several middle names but it's what she goes by) is serving her compulsory enlistment in the Martian navy in the Martian consulate in Western North America.  (After the Big Wave in Red Lightning the United States collapsed; Western North America is California and various like-minded places.)  She's a vocalist of considerable talent, and since she's part of the family that founded Mars and provided the main characters in the previous books, her uncle the general manages to get her a chance to audition in the Martian Navy's version of the USO.  She forms a band and they become a big success in the Navy.  She gets a posting on Europa, which is interesting because there's some stuff there that appears to be alive, except that it's so alien they can't even decide that for sure.  They emit ELF radio signals which change notes once every Europan day.  Translating it to audible sound, she experiments with them and comes up with a piece of music that seems to work.  Then she gets her big break, a chance to visit the weird Europan mountains up close.  This is highly dangerous because stuff (like space vehicles) breaks down for no apparent reason.  She's issued a personal black bubble generator, a KYAG (Kiss Your Ass Goodbye), to rescue herself in the event of disaster.  This is the big continuity error, because supposedly Jubal has to personally be involved in making bubble generators, but everybody in the Martian Navy has one.  Anyway, just as she goes to visit, Grumpy (the most active of the mountains) explodes.  Their bus is wrecked.  The asshole talkshow host Cosmo (who seems to be sort of based on Geraldo, only taken much farther into assholedom) steals her KYAG (even though he can't use it because they're keyed to the person's thumbprint -- but he's too much of an asshole to have paid enough attention to remember that, just like he's too much of an asshole to have paid enough attention to the regulation that he must be carrying his own at all times).  So Poddy gets to see everybody else either activate their KYAGs or die, and then just as she's about to die herself, she realizes Cosmo took hers and manages to set it off.

When she wakes up it's 10 years later and nobody will tell her what's happened -- the experts think it's better to bring people up to speed slowly.  But when her mentor goes to sleep and she opens the window, she sees stuff that make it clear that Something Is Wrong and demands the story in one chunk.  First big development: she's the biggest celebrity in the entire solar system; the piece of music she composed from the Europan singing is the basis of everything that's happened in music since then.  The recordings her band had made before that were all huge successes because she was in them, and she's richer than God.  Second big development: Grumpy didn't just explode, he launched himself.  And a couple of years later he ran into the earth.  Varley further compounds his lack of clue about the physics of rocks hitting the earth.  (In the previous book, the Big Wave was caused by an asteroid hitting the earth at .999999c, which should have completely turned the earth into plasma and sterilized the rest of the solar system.  But Grumpy was set to be worse than the Big Wave until it decided to slow down before it hit.  Anyway, another big tidal wave, this one in the Pacific, followed by a few of the other Europan mountains that followed Grumpy, and to add to that the rocks seem to be deliberately manipulating what remains of Earth's climate unfavorably.  Earth is pretty much toast.  The rest of the solar system does what it can but earth has a thousand times the population.  Uncle Travis takes Podkayne to his secret base at the Martian south pole, where he pulls Jubal out of stasis.  Jubal and Podkayne discover two things.  First, there is some kind of mystical connection that happens while you're in the stopper, even though time is supposed to stop; this connects Jubal and Poddy somehow, makes them aware of all the other humans who are in stoppers, and seems to connect them in some way with the rocks.  Second, they discover that they're in love.  Travis invites the whole family on a secret cruise on the Second Amendment, where first Jubal and Poddy get married, and then Travis reveals the colony ship he's been building in secret.  Jubal, Poddy, and most of the family give up on the mess in the solar system, deciding that the rocks are just too big to fight, and join the colony, without apparently worrying any more about just how more fucked the rest of humanity will be without Jubal's unique ability to create bubble machines.
Tags: book review, john varley, sf
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