Demon - John Varley SPOILER WARNING: As I’m combining the reviews of all the books in The Gaean Trilogy in this entry for Demon, there may be spoilers ahead (though I’ll keep them to a minimum). With that in mind, I’ll get my solid recommendation to read these books out of the way. The story and characters are interesting; Gaea is a fascinating concept, and definitely a place I’d love to visit; and the Titanides are one of the coolest alien races ever invented.

I first read Titan when I was a teen-ager. I can remember the hardcover library copy I checked out multiple times, and I can remember the illustrations that accompanied the text. Some of them were naked women! (Or centauroids, which was just as good to a newly pubescent adolescent. Fortunately, the paperback edition that I now own – printed in the days when PBs sold for $2.50 – preserves the illustrations.*) Having reread the trilogy and being a better reader, I find myself reversing my original ratings (4-3-4 to 3-4-3) for – like the original Star Wars trilogy – the middle book is the better one. In fact, I was strongly reminded of Star Wars: Titan is like “A New Hope” in that we have a straightforward quest tale. The crew of DSV Ringmaster must journey from Gaea’s rim to her hub and discover a way home (there are elements of “The Wizard of Oz” here, too, which Varley explicitly exploits). In Wizard, we get a more nuanced view of the world. The characters’ motivations are less clear and the lines between right and wrong blurrier, and – as in “The Empire Strikes Back” – our actors are more fully realized and interesting. In Demon, the story is brought to a dramatic end but at the expense of the closeness we felt to the continuing characters from the first two books and any new ones. And though they were never Ewoks, the Titanides in Demon lose some of their charm because their capabilities become too good to believe. (If Lucas had substituted Titanides for Ewoks in “Revenge of the Jedi,” it would have been a far better film – Titanides whipping Stormtrooper ass being more believable than ambulatory advertisements for plush toys. And Titanide Jedi would have been AWESOME!) The other downside for some to the final volume is that we get far more exposition about Varley’s thoughts on politics and philosophy, especially the chapters dealing with the taming of Bellinzona (sort of Heinlein-lite: A lot of emphasis on individual liberty & responsibility and the negatives of government and the pitfalls of having power but more nuanced than Heinlein and his clones usually are). I have a fair amount of sympathy (if not total agreement) with Varley so it didn’t distract or annoy me as it might other readers.

Despite its flaws, The Gaean Trilogy remains a favorite for two reasons. The first, as I’ve alluded to above, are the Titanides:

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You can learn all about Titanide sex in the comment thread on my Titan page. I think they represent everything Varley sees as worthwhile in humans with just the right tweaks to make them better (what we should be like). That wish-fulfillment aspect is taken to an extreme in Demon, as I mentioned, and it weakens the story but I like them, and riding with (note, not on) a Titanide is in the top ten of my fantasy “bucket list.”

The second – and chief – reason I love these books is Cirocco Jones, erstwhile captain of Ringmaster (Titan), erstwhile Wizard of Gaea (Wizard), and finally the Fury who brings her down (Demon):

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She ranks up there with my favorite SF characters like Signy Mallory (Downbelow Station), Pyanfar Chanur (The Pride of Chanur), Jean-Luc Picard, Spock, Tavore & Trull Sengar (Malazan Book of the Fallen), etc.

The common thread is that they’re all smart, compassionate people who struggle to do what’s right in the face of individual and institutional evil whatever the personal cost.

* The illustrations aren't that salacious. PG-13 at most.