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Red Thunder
John Varley
Ace Books, 411 pages

Bob Warner
Red Thunder
John Varley
John Varley grew up in Texas but now lives lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and family. He won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for his novella "The Persistence of Vision," and the Hugo for "The Pusher." He has more Hugo and Nebula nominations than anyone but Robert Silverberg.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Golden Globe
SF Site Review: The Golden Globe
John Varley Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

"How do we go about building a space ship on pocket change?" Four kids practically fresh out of high school, an astronaut who has fallen out of grace and into the bottle, and a genius with the social skills of an armadillo are about to find out.

Manny, Dak, Alison and Kelly are driving along on the beach when they run over a man half buried in the sand. Thankfully, the sand protected him, and they take the stone drunk gentlemen, Travis Broussard, home. He's an ex-astronaut, a hero that NASA wants to pretend never existed, and so they are dying to learn more. He's living with his cousin, Jubal, an eccentric genius of the first water. While visiting their house, Manny finds a nifty, silver bubble of incredible strength and lightness. Soon he asks Jubal about it, and finds that Jubal has discovered an incredible power source, one that could change the way we do things for good.

Meanwhile, the space race has foundered. Even though the US is still sending out Ares Seven in the hopes that it will reach Mars, all have accepted that Heavenly Harmony, China's ship, will reach Mars first. Ares Seven is just to maintain US presence, and hopefully gain some claim on the red planet. Unfortunately, Jubal, after looking at the plans, isn't so sure that the Ares Seven will be able to even reach the planet, let alone land. With this knowledge, these six decide they don't have a choice but to try and build their own spaceship, try to get to Mars before China does, and rescue the crew of the Ares Seven. A tough job, but as the flyleaf says, anything is possible. Especially with the cast that John Varley creates for us.

Manny and Dak have had a passion for space flight all their lives. It's what brought them together. Alison and Kelly, too, have the passion for adventure, and a desire to make sure their men stay safe. They're all twenty or below, so not quite high-schoolers, but still desperately young in some ways, even though life has dealt them all hard blows. Alison's father murdered her mother, and she blames alcohol for it, which is why when she meets Travis, pretty much immediately she begins helping him take the first steps on the road to recovery. Manny's father is also long gone, leaving him, his mother and his Aunt to run the shabby Blast Off Motel. Travis, embittered by many of the things that he saw during his time at NASA is determined to try and keep the red planet from becoming a political bargaining chip, while Jubal, who survived an abusive past, is just thrilled with the chance to discover more things. Each character is round, with faults as well as good points. They all have really great personalities, which, combined with Varley's fun sense of humor, create some really cool, really fun moments in Red Thunder.

The humor is part of what makes this book a really pleasant read. It serves to relieve some of the stress, because aside from the humor (which is done lightly), Red Thunder is a tension-filled read, as you watch them build the ship and eventually take off one step ahead of the FBI. It's not just the getting there and saving the crew that we're all worried about. We're also concerned about the ramifications that Jubal's power source will have, and anxious that even if our crew manages to pull off these amazing feats, that no one will be allowed to believe them.

Varley also writes his share of mind-boggling science. The concepts he introduces twisted my mind into a knot, only to be untwisted by the sensible way he explains it. It all makes perfect sense, making the idea that someone with a few stray tanker cars and some luck might -- just might -- be able to achieve space flight.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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