Monday, 18 January 2016

Demon / John Varley

4 out of 5 stars
The satellite-sized alien Gaea has gone completely insane. She has transformed her love of old movies into monstrous realities. She is Marilyn Monroe. She is King Kong. And now she must be destroyed.

It strikes me, as I finish up Demon, that John Varley’s trilogy is in many ways a mirror-image of Arthur Clarke’s 2001, a Space Odyssey. While both stories begin with humans exploring alien technology in the outer solar system, Clarke’s is all about the computers, space travel, and alien technology, while Varley’s is all about human relationships. Clarke’s aliens are aloof and cold, leaving behind technology just in case humans manage to develop into something interesting; Varley’s Gaea is intensely interested in humans—luring them to her world, sometimes with very convoluted methods, and using their films to express her insanity in this final volume of the trilogy.

About mid-book, Conal (a man from Earth with all of the prejudices associated) and Nova (a woman from a lesbian society on a human made satellite) have an argument/discussion which I think articulates Varley’s view of things rather well. Conal came from a society in which males were privileged and Nova came from one which demonizes men. They are thrown into a situation where they will have to co-operate and they must work out their differences and an interesting discussion on in-groups and out-groups ensues. Conal realizes that Nova’s choice of wardrobe (or lack thereof) is really none of his business (and shouldn’t affect how he relates to her) and Nova realizes that you don’t have to be a lesbian female to be a worthy companion. I re-read this particular section 2-3 times, just because I enjoyed it so much—it fit so well into the action, without feeling overly preachy (at least to me).

Needless to say, this whole series passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, very refreshing in a works from the 1970s and 1980s. The whole Gaean world, with its odd plants and animals, is interesting and fun to explore and has its own internal logic that made perfect sense to me as I read it, despite its oddity.

Book 205 of my science fiction & fantasy reading project.


  1. Hi Wanda

    I think Varley has a winner here. Excellent female characters who become stronger over time, an interesting ecosystem relying on engineered animals/machines and an emphasis on the changing relationship between characters over time. I also think Gaea's obsession with popular culture in interesting, this obsession in our own society has only become stronger since the series was published. Your mention of Clarke was also interesting. This series related to the category now called BDO Big Dumb Object which Clarke used in Rama as well, although Gaea is not Dumb in any sense. I also felt the quest, an overdone trope in SF, was really well handled, one of the most interesting I can remember. and as we find out the the other books Gaea is all about worlds with worlds.

    Happy Reading

    1. I thought Gaea's obsession with film was very appropriate considering how many popular culture easter eggs were hidden in the first 2 books.

      I was left wondering where Gaea had originally come from, as she was just the latest incarnation of the goddess? I like a dangling string like that, although I know it drives other people crazy!