Friday, 1 January 2016

Review: The Persistence of Vision

The Persistence of Vision The Persistence of Vision by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though the ebook version is somewhat marred by uncorrected errors in the scanning and digitising process, this collection of Varley stories from the 1970s effectively showcases the author's considerable writing skill and imagination. Most of the stories are set in the same milieu, first seen in his novel The Ophiuchi Hotline, in which aliens have depopulated Earth and humans only survive elsewhere in the solar system. This seems to be primarily an excuse to exclude Earth from the setting and keep everything on the Moon and other planets; in most of the stories, neither Earth nor the past apocalyptic event are even referred to.

The exception is the title novella, which I'd read before (I forget where; it was a long time ago). It's set in a rapidly unravelling USA, but again, the unravelling is largely an excuse to get the main character away from the cities and land him up at a commune in Taos, New Mexico, one founded by people who were born deaf and blind because of the 1964 rubella epidemic.

Fair warning: SF in the 1970s tended to be a bit obsessed with sex; I thought of this obsession as "Heinleinesque" until I considered it more carefully, and realised that Robert Silverberg and Theodore Sturgeon were just the same. Varley is another example, and we have a couple of stories in this collection where the main characters end up having sex with their own clones, and several in which sex partners either are, or look like, what we would consider minors. From today's perspective, this comes off as simultaneously creepy and naive, rather than progressive.

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