If there’s a sub-genre that might be called wacky science fiction, then surely John Varley’s novel, Red Thunder, is a prime example. Oh, it’s not zany like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Doctor Who. But as the story’s protagonist and narrator notes, the technology at the center of the tale is “outrageous, goofy beyond belief.” And that is most definitely the case. So, don’t think about reading this book if you’re looking for another of Varley’s trademark hard sci-fi stories. But if you’re open to suspending disbelief a little more than usual, you’re likely to find Red Thunder delightfully entertaining. And it’s sometimes really, really funny.
Red Thunder (Thunder & Lightning #1) by John Varley (2003) 420 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Now, in all fairness, Varley doesn’t tell this story for laughs, at least most of the time. However, this is a tale about four young people who are barely out of their teens. These four young adventurers team up with a disgraced former astronaut who is typically seen wedded to a whisky bottle and his Cajun cousin, a Bible-thumping scientific genius who is widely considered retarded. I told you this was wacky science fiction, remember?
Although the technology at the heart of this tale is improbable beyond the known limits of human science, he treats it in a serious fashion. When the time comes to build a spaceship that will use the fanciful Broussard Drive to propel the Red Thunder to Mars in three-and-a-half days, Varley meticulously describes in an entirely realistic fashion all that the unlikely crew would have to do to make it serviceable. And, this being science fiction (and wacky to boot), you know—you just know—they’ll get there. But that happens long before the end of the story, and there’s lots more fun to follow.
About the author
John Varley (1947-) has been writing science fiction since 1974. He has published more than a dozen novels, which have gained him nominations for most of the major awards in the field. He is best known for the Gaea Trilogy (Titan, Wizard, and Demon). Red Thunder is the first of a series of four novels.
For further reading
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus 100 runners-up);
- Good books about space travel, including both nonfiction and fiction;
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading; and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
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