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Goodbye, Robinson Crusoe
John Varley
Subterranean Press, 344 pages

Goodbye, Robinson Crusoe
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.

John Varley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Red Lightning
SF Site Review: Red Thunder
SF Site Review: Red Thunder
SF Site Review: The Golden Globe
SF Site Review: The Golden Globe

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Someone noticed, it seems, that there were a fair number of John Varley stories that were currently unavailable in any collections. Coincidentally, the number of stories uncollected was just the right size to form a collection of their own. The result is Goodbye, Robinson Crusoe, a collection that, while it might not be the best or even the best known stories by him, nevertheless contains several examples of what made John Varley one of the most acclaimed and influential writers of the 70s and beyond.

There is also an enjoyable conceit to Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe that elevates it above a random collection of stories. The first nine stories are arranged as a sort of Grand Tour of the Solar System, starting on Mercury and continuing all the way out to the Oort Cloud. In stories like "Retrograde Summer," "Equinoctial," and the title story, Varley gives us tales of outsiders forced through circumstances to work with insiders, and people struggling to deal with sudden, new responsibilities, whether it's the transition from rebellious child to responsible adult, or the need to deal with a sentient nuclear bomb.

A running feature of Varley's fictional universe was the ability for people to change gender quickly and easily, leading to a society where anyone who hasn't changed sex at least once while growing up is considered a bit odd. The resulting relationship problems can be a bit different, especially when cloning gets involved, but are presented with the same emotional impact as any modern day love affair. Couple that with attention to detail and the descriptive importance of the settings, and you have classic science fiction featuring characters whose lives and loves are thoroughly rooted in who they are and where they live.

The establishment of a solar system-wide civilization is a bit of a hot topic in science fiction these days. James S.A. Corey's Expanse Series is the future civilization on a grand, romantic scale, Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince pushes the boundaries of just where such a civilization could take us, and Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 could end up being the biggest award winner of his career. Reading Good-Bye Robinson Crusoe, the debt of each of these works to John Varley's vision of a solar system filled with people and societies fitting themselves to the conditions they find themselves in is readily apparent. Whether they're orbiting Earth, sculpting Saturn's Rings, or chasing black holes at the edge of the system, John Varley's characters and their stories are an integral part of, and a classic contribution to, science fiction's vision of the possible future.

Copyright © 2013 by Greg L. Johnson

With vacation season coming up, reviewer Greg L Johnson thinks that a Grand Tour of the Solar System could be just the right thing. Greg's reviews have appeared in publications ranging from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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