- Mass Market Paperback: 411 pages
- Publisher: Ace Books; Reprint edition (April 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0441011624
- ISBN-13: 978-0441011629
- Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 2.8 x 17.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Red Thunder Mass Market Paperback – Apr 2004
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Fans who feared John Varley was evolving into another Robert A. Heinlein imitator may have mixed reactions to Red Thunder. Debuting in 1974, Varley became the freshest, most exciting and most important new science-fiction author of the 1970s. He dominated the decade with numerous stories and two novels, set mostly in his Eight Worlds future history. By 1984 he had won three Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards. Yet his output dwindled through the 1980s and in the 1990s he released only two novels, Steel Beach and The Golden Globe, a pair of Eight Worlds books that received tepid responses.
Part of SF's turn-of-the-century trend towards "Mars novels," but not part of Varley's Eight Worlds series, Red Thunder reads a lot like a Heinlein juvenile novel--if Heinlein were alive and writing juveniles in 2003. Varley's paying tribute to the master's juveniles, especially Rocket Ship Galileo and Red Planet (and also, more subtly, to the ending of Alfred Bester's novel The Stars My Destination). Though Varley is working with decades-old tropes and is not in his full wildly-imaginative 1970s mode, Red Thunder is an enjoyable SF novel that should win back many disgruntled fans and gain him a new generation of admirers. --Cynthia Ward, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Just how do you build a spaceship in your back yard (or even a rented warehouse)? As a starting point, it greatly helps if you have a power plant that can deliver effectively unlimited power, the invention of Jubal, Travis Broussard’s highly eccentric cousin. Travis, as an alcoholic cashiered astronaut, provides both some of the necessary capital and the experience level to make such a project a possible reality. For labor, four ‘kids’ (they’re 20+ years old) who are motivated and highly intelligent, who already have some skill sets that are quite relevant to the task are quite willing to learn more. Building the ship occupies a good two thirds of the book, and some of the details of how it’s done in a hurry-up, make it work (while really testing for safety) fashion make for fascinating reading. The actual flight of the Red Thunder, while still interesting, is not quite so fascinating, and the space rescue that the crew performs on an American attempt to reach Mars smacks a little bit of melodrama, but it had me turning pages till two in the morning.
The power plant device, the ‘Squeezer’, is highly improbable, and violates quite a few principles of physics (as known today), but it is the basic element that both allows the space ship to become a reality, and due to its inherent power, drives the reasoning behind building the ship as a private enterprise, as such power, in the wrong hands, could become a nightmare.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story is simple and outrageous -- 4 diverse twenty-year-olds stumble across a drunkard ex-astronaut, who just happens to have an eccentric genius cousin, who just happens to have invented the perfect space drive (an energy-producing device seemingly of infinite efficiency). For a number of reasons, it seems like a good plan for them to surreptitiously build a spaceship and go to Mars, hoping to beat the competing Chinese and American missions already on the way.
Of course, it's never that simple, and several varieties of black hats and paranoia impede their attempt, things go wrong, people need rescuing, but all is right, and more than right, in the end.
If you're looking for deep meaning or angst, look elsewhere. If you want a book to ENJOY they way you did when you were reading "Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" or "Double Star", go buy this book.
A fine book for hopeful people of all ages.
Unlike his other novels, which are set in exotic locales, such as Saturn's rings or Luna's underground disneylands, that have an attraction all their own, Varley has chosen to set RT largely in Florida's redneck country. It is as if he is intentionally breaking form with his other locales. Although, on the surface, it may seem mundane this book gives nothing away to his other, more ostentatious, efforts, such as his Gaea trilogy, or the baroque Eight Worlds stories. It just doesn't seem to matter what the subject, Varley is able to engage the reader sublimely. Despite my ambivalence to the plot, I found myself, in the midst of reading, marveling at how enthralled I was by a novel that did not contain what I have come to regard as essential Varley elements. RT showcases his knack for characterization without any distractions. For this reason RT may be his most accomplished performance, demonstrating that his typical shock and awe techniques are just so much window dressing disguising the fact that he is a supreme storyteller.
The characters are so expertly drawn that the reader finds himself becoming pulled into the story regardless of the initial appeal of the story line. One finds himself empathizing with the characters and then, by association, becoming involved in the sequence of events simply because the characters care about what is happening. Told in first person narrative, from the perspective of Manny Garcia, the reader first becomes attached to the protagonist through just a few key scenes that anyone with a childhood fondness for the power and the glory of manned space flight will immediately succumb. Manny is a likable guy that underachievers everywhere will relate to. Once that has been accomplished it is inevitable that his close friends will become your friends, and then their passion for the project becomes infectious, and you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly rooting for the cast of characters, working with them on the project, and wishing you could be a part of the adventure yourself. It is really quite an event; to watch disconnectedly as you are transformed from a skeptic to a fan in the course of a few written pages. I try to be mindful of this as I recommend this book to others, avoiding plot synopses in favor of an emphasis upon the characterization and wit.
Then, of course, there is Varley's trademark humor; another way that Varley pulls you in, makes you a part of the story. You know how, in life, you are drawn to the people that can make you laugh through the hard times. When life gives you lemons you make lemon-aid, or in Varley terms, when life's problems cause you to pilot a space shuttle a little too drunk and shoot a hole in your windshield with your illegal colt 45 to suck out the fire in the cockpit so you can crash-land into a herd of water buffalo in the African outback, you make it into a water buffalo barbecue and force NASA to pin a medal on your chest (35.3). He manages to coax a smile even in the most somber occasions; like when Manny is forced to plaster over bullet holes in one of his family's motel rooms so that the guests wouldn't be alarmed and their half-star Michelin rating would not be endangered (44.-4). Or when Dak's estranged mother capitalizes on his new found fame by announcing to the press that, "She was praying for Dak's safety and appearing nightly at the Riviera Room in Charleston South Carolina (317.-1)." This kind of wit is rare and fulfills the desire of many to be able to take life's struggles in stride. His characters don't take themselves too seriously, but they do make the best of things, and make you want to be there, to become part of their cordial intimacy. His characters may have problems, but they have a rousing good time in the midst of them, and they have each other to keep them company. Varley is supremely optimistic, and it is contagious.
RT is a simple story expertly told. Were it not for the finely crafted characters one might be tempted to label this as a juvenile novel. Not that it is childish or immature; rather, it is so good that aspiring writers would be well advised to read it. It is not a complex tale, so readers of varying skill can profit from the reading. The plot is reminiscent of one of Heinlein's juveniles: The protagonist is a youth just out of adolescence, who stumbles upon the invention of the century. He and his friends capitalize on this invention and embark on the adventure of a lifetime. But it is there that the comparison of RT with other juvenile novels makes its departure; for though its protagonists are young and brash, RT is always in control, masterfully enveloping the reader with prose whose simplicity and clarity belies its impact upon the reader. It does have a childlike quality that one remembers fondly from reading books in youth. Like Huckleberry Finn it is accessible to children of all ages, but far too good to leave to the kids. Read it to get a taste of Varley's quality, but brace yourself, his other works, although every bit as good, are not nearly so tame.
I read and enjoyed the 'Titan' series years and years ago, but... what happened since then - autopilot? But here he is again, the master in top form. Red Thunder is everything a novel should be - funny, moving, tense, and ultimately, fufilling.
The science is not 'hard science', but that merely improves an already outstanding story, in my opinion. Long-winded and scientifically rigorous science would have only slowed down this fast-paced story. Brilliant characterization - it's been a good long while since a cast of characters has come alive so well for me.
The ending is stirring and cynical all at the same time, and I closed the book with a satisfied grin on my face - the best compliment I can pay to any author, I think.
Here's hoping Varley decides to write a sequel - long live the crew of the Red Thunder!