The John Varley Reader (2004)

Being a retrospective of John Varley’s short work, this omnibus collects a big chunk of all his short stories, many of them are part of the Eight Worlds background, where mankind has lost Earth to a powerful alien race and is living on eight utopian colonies in the solar system. Most of these stories from the Eight Worlds happen on the moon, the first colony.

Many of these stories deal with the theme of gender change or one of the other technological marvels of this future and how these effect humans. These are “Picnic on Nearside”, “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank”, “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance”, “The Phantom of Kansas”, “Beatnik Bayou” and “Options”, all of them excellent. Another background for stories Varley used repeatedly is the moon of Anna-Louise Bach, who works for the police to solve crimes, mostly murder. These are “The Barbie Murders”, “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo” and “The Bellman”. Especially the first of the three is interesting, where Bach has to find a killer in a sect, where people modify themselves to look alike and try to think as if they were all the same.

But even his stand alone stories have power, his best is probably “The Persistence of Vision”, about a colony of blind, deaf and silent people who succeed at creating a way of life suited for their special needs. “In the Hall of the Martian Kings” is about a Mars expedition who can’t go home anymore, but who may don’t need in the end. “Air Raid” is probably one of the best time travel ideas I’ve read in a story, also it depicts a rather grim future. “PRESS ENTER []” is one of the most depressive stories by Varley, a good SF horror story. “Just Another Perfect Day” is about a man whose memory is erased every time he goes to sleep, and about strange aliens.

All in all, this is a very impressive collection, and I envy everyone who can read it for the first time.