Sep. 4th, 2006 03:44 pm
threemonkeys: (Waxlion)
Many years ago I watched a documentary piece about the gospels and in particular when they were written. Part of the analysis was that anything written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem must reflect the cultural trauma of that event. At the time I didn't buy it. My thinking was that if you were writing about an earlier time, how would that traumatic event show up in your writing - it hadn't happened yet as far as the subject of the writing was concerned. But I totally get it now. In the 5 years since 11/Sep/01 it seems that all American writing shows to some extent the impact of the two towers and the aftermath. Well maybe not all, but enough to really notice it.

Red Lightning is John Varley's sequel to Red Thunder. The earlier work was a fun little Heinlein pastiche about a bunch of kids who use an invention of their friend to stage a rescue mission on Mars. Without being up to the standards of earlier work, it was still an enjoyable little piece but certainly not deep. If if had any social comment it was about the lack of funding for science and space research in the America of today. But in the new book, the social change of the last 5 years has hit home in a big way.

Red Lightning is set about 20 years after the first book. This time the kids of the first kids are in action rescuing their grandmother from a tsunami aftermath before aiding their inventor friend to escape from his captors and finally freeing Mars from invaders. Featuring large in the story is a fascist American government and its black helmeted homeland security stormtroopers. A government slow to come to the aid of its people when disaster strikes. A government which clamps down on news and communication to control what people see and hear. A government which holds people without trial and tortures them. A government which invades other nations to get what it wants. Well you get the idea - September 11, Iraq invasion, war on terror, hurricane Katrina relief - it is all rolled in there at one level or another.

At heart this book is still a bunch of teenagers running a caper. The story is about as well done as in the first novel - perhaps a bit better. But then you add in all the social commentary. I have to hand it to Varley - he does integrate it into the story very well without being too heavy handed. Squint a bit and you can lose the commentary side of it and just read it as an adventure story with really nasty (but still obviously human) bad guys. Creating different social environments was Varley's great strength during his heyday and he uses those skills to good effect here to create a scary future. For all that it isn't the wildly inventive writing that gave us the eight worlds stories, Persistence of Vision, the Gaean books and many other great stories. It is a more conventional piece of writing but a pretty good one. One that will make you think - even if it just makes you nod and give a big sigh.


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