Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Saturn and Varley and Movies

I was reading an article based on a link I followed from Facebook about a large cylindrical object pictured near Saturn's Rings.  Turns out this bit of weird space news comes up from time to time and people tend to forget things so it seems like this news comes out of nowhere but it doesn't.  A fellow wrote a conspiracy book about this phenomena back in 1996 called The Ring-Makers of Saturn.  I really haven't looked into this topic enough to get a sense of what is actually going on here, if this is people arguing over image artifacts on a camera lens or if there are oblong ice moonlets in that part of the ring due to explained/unexplained processes, or even if these objects are moving or stationary relative to the rings.  I do get the impression that it's not new news however.  Yes, people tend to think that everything they read on the web is new and I wonder how much of that is because we're simply skimming the cream off the top of the Internet and calling it knowledge these days.  Back when people wrote books, things had a little more place in time maybe.  This isn't about how bad the Internet is however, more just commenting on how lazy we can be.

The story did remind me of John Varley's books about a large world ship orbiting near Saturn called Gaea.  The series was called the Gaea Trilogy, or The Titanide, and consisted of three books, Titan, Wizard and Demon.  He wrote the first book in the series in 1979 and I wonder if there was a co-responding news items in astronomical journals in the 60's or 70's about long cylindrical objects in Saturn's rings that might have triggered the idea for him.  As for the books, I really enjoyed them when I first read them and I still enjoy them now when I revisit the series.  The first book has quite a different tone than the second and third.  The first is much more in the physical exploration vein, while the second and third are much more interested in social issues. I think that the series got better when it started exploring societies (large and small) instead of the Gaean landscape, but I like both themes really.  The characters were very good, I'm not sure I want to read more Titan stories because worlds can grow too large to sustain stories, but I do miss hearing about the characters actually, just like you'd miss hearing news about good friends.  I feel much closer to the characters from the Gaea series than I do about the characters in Varley's other books, despite some of those stories and worlds (and even characters) being better realized.  If you like a good Science Fiction book you should check out some of his other stuff as well, especially his short story collections, and Steel Beach which is a huge callback to the The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and a real evolution of that theme.

Thinking about John Varley got me to do two things, the first was to see if there was anything interesting he has worked on that I hadn't heard of.  I grew up reading authors like Burroughs, Niven, Robert Heinlein and Issac Asimov and I got their books from second hand books stores, and most of what I read was printed some years before I was born.  I am not used to my authors being on the Internet and I forget to look them up.  This is good and bad because when I do hear about a new book or series, it's usually in the book stores and I don't have to wait while it gets written, but it also means I often tend to misplace authors as well.  I popped John Varley into Amazon and saw indeed he's written some stuff in the last ten years I missed out on.  I didn't think I wanted to read his 'Lightning/Thunder' books just now but I dropped his book Mammoth on my wish list for later. It looks like something I could get into.

Anyway the second thing I did was to look him up on the Internet and I found he has a website.  The John Varley website is a bit of a mess visually but it has a bunch of stuff on it and really it's the content that counts.  I've only spent a few minutes on the site so far but he has the usual new book info, a bio, the bibliography and some interesting essays on there.  The big thing I noticed is that he's reviewed a frigging pile o' movies.  I think that's great and I will be eager to see what he thought of movies I've watched.  That's something I never considered before I saw it but hey, it would be good to compare notes on something like movies with a writer you have enjoyed.  I wonder what an Issac Asimov movie review blog would be like.

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