Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Novel: Rolling Thunder by John Varley

John Varley’s new novel, Rolling Thunder (2008, Ace Books), has been released and is now available in bookstores. Following Red Thunder (2003) and Red Lightning (2006), this is his third science fiction novel about Mars. A prolific author who maintains his own website, Varley has won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for his work. Here’s a description of the new novel:

Lieutenant Patricia Kelly Elizabeth Podkayne Strickland-Garcia-Redmond -– otherwise known as Podkayne -– is a third-generation Martian with a planet-sized chip on her shoulder. Her grandfather Manny was one of the first men to set foot on Mars. So Poddy has some equally planet-sized shoes to fill ... That’s why she’s joined the Music, Arts, and Drama Division of the Martian Navy. Though some may say her voice is a weapon in itself, Poddy passed the audition with a little help from some higher-ups. And now she’s going to Europa, one of Jupiter’s many moons, to be an entertainer. But she’s about to learn that underneath the song and dance routines, there can be plenty of danger to go around in the Martian Navy, even if you’ve just signed on to sing ...

As Podkayne reveals in the opening page of Rolling Thunder, Varley has been influenced by several legendary Martian science fiction authors: “Mom and Dad got all whimsical naming me, with the Podkayne business. It was a time of patriotism; everybody was all hot about 'Mars for the Martians!' and trying to be more 'Martian' than their neighbor. In my high-school graduating class alone there were three John Carters, two Dejah Thorises, a girl named Burroughs, one poor fellow saddled with Edgar Rice, and a Bradbury. The name Podkayne came from a novel from last century that I’ve never read. I’ll get around to it one of these days, but I don’t much care for science fiction.”

The “novel from last century” is, of course, Podkayne of Mars: Her Life and Times, a juvenile novel that Robert A. Heinlein penned back in 1963. Heinlein’s influence upon Varley is noted in a review of Rolling Thunder by the blog io9 and in a review by The Denver Post. Varley spoke to the matter in a recent interview with io9 and in a 2004 interview with Science Fiction Weekly.

Interestingly, Podkayne is also the name of a lander spacecraft in Varley's "In the Hall of the Martian Kings" (1977), a novella which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and was nominated for a Hugo Award.

And, if critic Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times is still whether Young Adult science fiction has any value, a first edition of Heinlein’s juvie Podkayne of Mars is selling on AbeBooks for $3,000. The publisher’s original price: $3.50.

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