Paul Baker's Reviews > Titan

Titan by John Varley
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Mar 14, 11

bookshelves: science-fiction
Read from March 07 to 11, 2011

Spoiler Alert!

Titan, by John Varley, is an amazing science fiction book, the first one in the Gaea Trilogy, and it deserves a place among the 100 best science fiction books of all time.

John Varley has had my attention ever since I ran into The Persistence of Vision many years ago. In that collection of short stories, I was awestruck with his creativity and unique approach to science fiction. Each story was challenging, innovative and showed new ways of thinking about old problems.

Although Titan isn’t so much a cutting-edge work as some of his more whimsical short stories, it definitely has moments when you have to slam the book closed, stand up, and walk around in a circle laughing. It is part science fiction, part comedy, part fantasy and part homage to great and not-so-great science fiction of the past.

The book is set in the not-too-distant future of the next few hundred years. It tells the story of the Deep Space Vehicle Ringmaster and her crew while on a mission to Saturn.

The captain is a woman named Cirocco “Rocky” Jones (an homage to the old serial “Rocky Jones”) who was born in a wandering family that travelled the globe at the beck and call of the corporations who actually run Earth. Brought up by her mother, Jones always wanted to be an adventurer and ended up becoming an astronaut so that she could – hopefully – see things no one had seen before.

Her navigator is Gaby Plauget, a small woman who has been fascinated with space since childhood and really cares for nothing else. Other crewmembers include a doctor, engineer and pilot (males) and two cloned sisters. Sex is a rather open prospect on a deep space vessel, both hetero and homo and Rocky and Gaby have slept with all of the men. The Polo sisters, the clones, are Lesbian.

Upon approaching Saturn, they discover a rather large space object that they at first think is a rogue moon, but when they get closer, the object appears to have been built by intelligence. They scrap their mission in order to investigate this phenomena. In form, the object is like a huge ring with spokes attaching to a hub, but literally hundreds of kilometers in circumference and doing one full rotation per day as it makes its way around Saturn.

Before they can figure out an approach to the object, they are grabbed and the Ringmaster is pulled toward the object, smashing apart in the process. The crew is absorbed into the soil, kept alive, but with intense sensory deprivation, for months before they are finally coughed up from the ground onto the surface of the ring. The great hub rotates hundreds of kilometers above them. Rocky finds Gaby and eventually the others. The wheel is full of bizarre life forms, such as an intelligent blimp-like creature that floats through the skies and a species of Centaurs called the Titanides, (half-human, half-equine), intelligent, musical and obviously created to look like humans from the torso upwards. The crew begins to name features of the lands around them using Greek mythology, especially derived from the Titan myths. Ultimately, they decide to call the “planet” or “object” Gaea.

Rocky decides that she must travel to the hub to discover if there are any builders alive or if there is a radio so she can contact Earth. The novel becomes picaresque as Gaby travels with her on a torturous journey up the strands of cable that hold Gaea together, discovering along the way that the object is actually a living creature, both goddess and planet at once.

I won’t divulge what happens when they reach the hub – it must be savored by the reader when they actually reach that point. Let’s just say that it is one of those moments when you must slam the book closed, stand up, and walk around in a circle laughing.

But I do give the warning that this book is for mature readers only. It contains a lot of descriptive sexual relationships, including a detailed description of the Titanides’ sexual construction and the many ways that they may enjoy sex.

I highly recommend this novel to those with open minds and who appreciate creative and whimsical writing. If you’ve ever wanted to jump into something that will surprise and amaze you with its creativity, this is a book you will want to look into. And it’s hard to put down once you get started.
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