Punk's Reviews > Red Thunder

Red Thunder by John Varley
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's review
Apr 11, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction, spaceships
Read from April 08 to 10, 2011

SF. Four twenty-year-olds befriend and reform former astronaut and current drunk Travis Broussard, and with the help of his cousin Jubal, a disabled Cajun genius who speaks entirely in dialect, they build a spaceship out of spare parts in a couple of months and launch for Mars simply to get there before the Chinese do.

Despite the modern conveniences, this book reads like it was written in the 1940s, not the 2000s. The women seem independent, but are mostly just around to support and nurture the men and, when appropriate, to act dumb so that the men can explain things to them. All of the women in this book are either related to, dating, or divorced from, one of the male characters. Because that's how it is in the real world, right?

The jingoism comes in several sizes, ranging from small and ridiculous (America is superior to China because our astronauts land their ships themselves instead of using computer programs.), to utterly obnoxious ("May they all choke on their moo shoo pork."). It's no accident that the cover of this looks like a Tom Clancy novel.

Then there's the science, which is mostly explained through a series of half-hearted hand waves. Jubal invents a frictionless, weightless object that also doubles as source of free, clean, renewable energy that can actually consume trash! Don't worry about how it works. It's MAGIC. And it lets them get to Mars in, like, three days, which makes it more like a road trip than space travel.

The characters come in a bunch of colors: black, white, brown, mixed race, but that's the only progressive thing about this book. One of the girls gets scared before an EVA and actually says she's "not sure [she wants] to be a feminist." Because, apparently, feminism is situational; I wasn't aware of that.

Two stars. The increasingly ridiculous plot, lackluster characterization, and reluctance to include any actual science eventually turned my willing suspension of disbelief into more of a grudging allowance. Everything comes too easy to this group, and the few problems they encounter can always be solved with money. The space rescue part was exciting, but I just didn't buy what this book was selling.
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Reading Progress

04/09/2011 page 32
8.0% "The main character of this is half-Cuban and his best friend is black. And there's already 200% more women in it than the last SF book I read. Varley > Zahn."
04/09/2011 page 123
30.0% "I was promised a spaceship to Mars and instead I get a developmentally disabled Cajun genius who speaks entirely in dialect. I didn't sign up for that." 4 comments
04/10/2011 page 174
42.0% "At this point my willing suspension of disbelief is more like a grudging allowance -- how is anything in this book happening?"
04/10/2011 page 348
85.0% "These idiots raced off to Mars just to beat the Chinese and didn't plan a single scientific experiment to do while there. So now they're just tooling around the surface in their monster truck."
04/10/2011 page 364
89.0% ""For once in my life, I'm not sure I want to be a feminist," Kelly whispered. "Manny, I'm real scared." -- and I'm real sorry I'm still reading this." 2 comments

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