When Cirrocco Jones, captain of the spaceship Ringmaster, and her crew are captured by Gaea, a planet-sized creature that orbits around Saturn, they find themselves inside a bizarre world inhabited by centaurs, harpies, and constantly shifting environments.
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
I wish that Amazon’s look-inside feature used the edition of this book that I have. When you flip open my version, the inside of the cover has a brilliant colour picture of a naked woman riding a centaur through a lush alien landscape with a whale-like blimp-creature floating in the sky.
Before you’ve read a single page it lets you know (ho-ho-ho) we’re in for THAT kind of ride.
The story is a classic example of the Big Dumb Object sci-fi trope. Under-prepared explorers encounter a big mysterious object (in this case an alien habitat orbiting Saturn) and are overwhelmed when they try to investigate. So-far so-standard.
Titan then takes a splendidly silly tangent by populating said space station with a war between centaurs and angels (watched over by sentient blimps). Wonderful!
To quote the magical maestro, Mr Miéville: “Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they're not absurd.”
This is a story that treads the borderline between sci-fi and fantasy, pick’n’mixing conventions to suit – all with deadpan seriousness.
I didn’t know that this was the beginning of The Gaea Trilogy – I knew nothing except that it won the Locus SF in ’80 – and based on the inside-cover pic my expectations weren’t exactly stratospheric. But I found myself pleasantly surprised and enjoying it.
None of the human characters left much of an impact on me and the overall explanation is ridiculous verging on absurd, but the overall experience is imaginative, playful a bit sexy and a lot of fun!
I’m somewhat bemused when I read reviews that rate this up amongst the greats – perhaps the trilogy as a whole is more effective than Titan as a standalone? I am tempted to read Wizard and Demon, but there are so many good books out there that they’re pretty low priority at the moment.
I definitely enjoyed the read – but have too many reservations to recommend whole-heartedly. If you spot a copy at a garage/boot sale it's worth a few pennies.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
Titan is a rather surprising and accomplished find among ANY SF collection. There's a lot of imagination and world-building stuffed in these pages. I'd say it's better than Farmer's Riverworld series, but since I hadn't read them all, I can't say for sure.
Here are the really cool bits: Varley literally builds a world with a vast intelligence playing god within it. I was reminded of Bear's Eon at first until I realized that Titan came first and the whole tunnel of alternate dimensions doesn't show in Titan, either. :)
BUT when it comes to sheer adventure and exploration and learning about the modified intelligent creatures within it, Titan wins the contest hands down. I was already hooked by the Saturn expedition even with the whole 70's sex focus (which got old pretty quick), but everything else surrounding it, even the cocaine addiction, did wonders for getting my interest high. Cirocco Jones is a rather interesting female captain. After things go to hell and the strangeness begins, I'm all behind the rest of the novel.
I'm of two minds about the end. One part of me was all nuts over the SF and Fantasy homages. I really got all giddy over the way Varley incorporated everything and the twist at the end were just so delicious that it turned this damn solid worldbuilding hard-SF novel into a popcorn read.
And the very same twist and incorporation of nerdiness kinda threw me for a loop.
I almost wanted more mystery and a much more complicated reveal rather than a gimmie *oh that's cool* crowdpleaser. There was already so much going on. It almost feels cheap.
And yet, I loved it and it makes me yearn for the next book! Oh, the conflict.
Even so, everything about this was pretty jaw-dropping and gorgeous and the whole idea is made all the more delicious because it's fully realized and focused. It has more reveals than Rama, more intelligent life than Eon, and enough nerdy entertainment to fill three books of lesser quality. :)
Comienzo clásico: nave con 7 científicos que va hacia Júpiter y se encuentra con un cuerpo extraño orbitando a Titán, uno de los satélites de Saturno. Se acercan y resulta ser artificial, un toroide de mil trescientos de kilómetros de anchura. ¿Es un vehículo interestelar tipo nave generacional?¿Quién lo ha colocado en órbita?¿Hay vida en su interior?
Vale, eso es lo de siempre (los forofos pensarán en Rama o Mundoanillo. Luego la cosa se anima, poque el worldbuilding del interior de Temis (así lo llaman al comienzo) es animadito. No os cuento nada por eso de los spoilers, pero hay varias “razas” y animales curiosos. Esto y el final es lo mejor de la novela, para mí con diferencia,
La cosa empeora con los personajes principales: nada empáticos, me daba igual lo que les pasara. Pero los secundarios están bastante logrados con cuatro pinceladas.
La trama sorprende cuando mete datos del interior de Temis y aburre a las ovejas en el largo tramo donde describe cierta ascensión.
Y el final muy bueno. Lástima que solo dure un 12% de la novela. Fantasía que incluye paja mental en la resolución de los enigmas pero muy bien traída.
La cosa cierra temas pero queda abierta para el segundo libro de la saga, Hechicera, que curiosamente lo leí en 1993 y me encantó, y eso que este no lo había leído (casi tardo 30 años en leer esta primera parte)
Por último decir que tiene varias escenas de sexo que allá por el 79 que se escribió he leído que fueron escandalosas pero que hoy son más inocentes que Heidi.
Resumen: buen worldbuilding, buen “sense of wonder” (usease, “sentido de la maravilla), pero no mucho más. No llega a las 4 estrellas.
A fantastic book that should not be judged until all three books in the trilogy have been digested. This book lays the foundation for the two to come. This epic trilogy was the first thing I thought of when I saw the previews to the movie Avatar and I was so bummed when I realized that I was not looking at the broad face of a Titanide, but another creature from another story. If this trilogy is ever put on the big screen, I hope they stay true to the tone of the books, dont remove or dumb down aspects that fly in the face of puritanical thinking, and bring fully to life a 50 foot Monroe world-god punt kicking an elephant in a fit of temper. A quote from Demon will give you an idea of what you can look forward to:
"Whoever or whatever you may be," she sang, "you might want to take these departed human souls to your breast. I dont know anything about them except one was very young. The others were, for a time, zombies in the service of Luther, and evil thing, no longer human. No matter what they may have done in life, they must have started out innocent, as do we all, so dont be too hard on them. It is your fault for making them human, which was a dirty trick. If you are out there somewhere, you ought to be ashamed of yourself." She had no expected an answer and did not get one.
Titan, by John Varley, is an amazing science fiction book, the first one in the Gaea Trilogy, and it deserves a place among the 100 best science fiction books of all time.
John Varley has had my attention ever since I ran into The Persistence of Vision many years ago. In that collection of short stories, I was awestruck with his creativity and unique approach to science fiction. Each story was challenging, innovative and showed new ways of thinking about old problems.
Although Titan isn’t so much a cutting-edge work as some of his more whimsical short stories, it definitely has moments when you have to slam the book closed, stand up, and walk around in a circle laughing. It is part science fiction, part comedy, part fantasy and part homage to great and not-so-great science fiction of the past.
The book is set in the not-too-distant future of the next few hundred years. It tells the story of the Deep Space Vehicle Ringmaster and her crew while on a mission to Saturn.
The captain is a woman named Cirocco “Rocky” Jones (an homage to the old serial “Rocky Jones”) who was born in a wandering family that travelled the globe at the beck and call of the corporations who actually run Earth. Brought up by her mother, Jones always wanted to be an adventurer and ended up becoming an astronaut so that she could – hopefully – see things no one had seen before.
Her navigator is Gaby Plauget, a small woman who has been fascinated with space since childhood and really cares for nothing else. Other crewmembers include a doctor, engineer and pilot (males) and two cloned sisters. Sex is a rather open prospect on a deep space vessel, both hetero and homo and Rocky and Gaby have slept with all of the men. The Polo sisters, the clones, are Lesbian.
Upon approaching Saturn, they discover a rather large space object that they at first think is a rogue moon, but when they get closer, the object appears to have been built by intelligence. They scrap their mission in order to investigate this phenomena. In form, the object is like a huge ring with spokes attaching to a hub, but literally hundreds of kilometers in circumference and doing one full rotation per day as it makes its way around Saturn.
Before they can figure out an approach to the object, they are grabbed and the Ringmaster is pulled toward the object, smashing apart in the process. The crew is absorbed into the soil, kept alive, but with intense sensory deprivation, for months before they are finally coughed up from the ground onto the surface of the ring. The great hub rotates hundreds of kilometers above them. Rocky finds Gaby and eventually the others. The wheel is full of bizarre life forms, such as an intelligent blimp-like creature that floats through the skies and a species of Centaurs called the Titanides, (half-human, half-equine), intelligent, musical and obviously created to look like humans from the torso upwards. The crew begins to name features of the lands around them using Greek mythology, especially derived from the Titan myths. Ultimately, they decide to call the “planet” or “object” Gaea.
Rocky decides that she must travel to the hub to discover if there are any builders alive or if there is a radio so she can contact Earth. The novel becomes picaresque as Gaby travels with her on a torturous journey up the strands of cable that hold Gaea together, discovering along the way that the object is actually a living creature, both goddess and planet at once.
I won’t divulge what happens when they reach the hub – it must be savored by the reader when they actually reach that point. Let’s just say that it is one of those moments when you must slam the book closed, stand up, and walk around in a circle laughing.
But I do give the warning that this book is for mature readers only. It contains a lot of descriptive sexual relationships, including a detailed description of the Titanides’ sexual construction and the many ways that they may enjoy sex.
I highly recommend this novel to those with open minds and who appreciate creative and whimsical writing. If you’ve ever wanted to jump into something that will surprise and amaze you with its creativity, this is a book you will want to look into. And it’s hard to put down once you get started.
Check out that crazy dreamy cover by someone named Freff from 1979. I guess I could have read this when it was new, if I weren't still enjoying children's books as a teen, and if my small-town library had it. Well, better late than never... hope it lives up to its reputation.... ----------- The interior illustrations are pretty cool, too. And it's not all that crazy; it's actually pretty accurate. Varley explores a lot of ideas here, about feminism, and free love, and quests, and aliens, and gods.... And the addition of Xena the Warrior Princess (Captain Cirocco Jones) and her sidekick Gaby is an interesting touch. (Were the creators of the tv series inspired by this team of strong women?)
But. Well. It feels like it's a mock-up. Even with the help of a couple of 'maps', I couldn't follow along on the geography. And yet there are so. many. words. describing everything. Sure, Varley needed to know all that stuff, but imo he didn't need to leave all that development in the book. And the characters are under-developed, more iconographic representations of types than real people. The plot itself if basically just a quest. The sex is excessive, but, then, this was published in the late 70s, so, yeah.
All in all it's much like much other SF from its era. Not my favorite era, pretty weak book. Sorry.
Books like this are why sci-fi rides the short bus of literary culture. It has some great ideas and is in a way a tremendous "page turner", but ultimately fails thanks to weak writing and weaker characters. This was the first time in a LONG while I've though "why the hell am I reading this" as I plowed through a book.
For the most part I love all kinds of entertainment (from RPGs to movies) with the detailed underpinnings of top notch world building. I've seen Varley's Gaea books referenced number of times with respect to great works of "world building"- like Dune, Middle Earth, etc., hence my interest. So imagine my suprise when in the end it's revealed that all the creatures in the book just pop into being because the god/creature/spaceship likes greek mythology and war movies. Something with the potential to be truly alien and amazing was instantly rendered... silly.
Could go on and on about the thin characters and weird alien abortion scenes, but I think I've said my peace on the matter.
1.5 stars. An okay story but after reading Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline, this was a big let down. Definitely a product of the 70's and I found the "free love" aspect of the novel a bit tedious. I will say that the concept of Gaia was very interesting and some of the alien characters original. The problem for me was that I found all of the human characters boring.
Nominee: Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980) Nominee: Nebula Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980) Winner: Locus Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980)
1.5 stars. An okay story but after reading Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline, this was a big let down. Definitely a product of the 70's and I found the "free love" aspect of the novel a bit tedious. I will say that the concept of Gaia was very interesting and some of the alien characters original. The problem for me was that I found all of the human characters boring.
Nominee: Hugo Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980) Nominee: Nebula Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980) Winner: Locus Award Best Science Fiction Novel (1980) (less)
I try to avoid writing negative reviews. However this book seems more an attempt by the author to explore his own sexual fantasies than an attempt to tell a SciFi story. Yet that isn't the most ridiculous part of this story. How many pages are devoted to Centaurs' genitalia isn't even the most ridiculous part. No the most ridiculous part is: NO ONE IS EXCITED THAT THEY ENCOUNTERED ALIENS. To each their own. I'll say that Rocky was a cool character, but this book overall was a disappointment.
But for real when was the last time you heard of a story about First Contact where no one was excited about the aliens?
Ok you don't believe me that this is a pervy weird disappointment of a story. Then go ahead and read it and see how you like the climax. This is a silly and creepy book. Glad it's over.
This book was written back in 1979 when the border between fantasy and sci-fi was still rather fluid and it mashes both of these up in a strange way. I was not able to completely immerse myself in this weird Saturn with a conscience named Gaea, and I have to admit being put off by the almost obligatory rape scene. What was it with authors in the 70s and their rape fantasies? Seriously, it was a pointless diversion. I admit that Varley demonstrates an incredible amount of creativity in this world-building, but maybe it was the antiquated writing style that hasn't aged, but this book just did not reach out and grab me like so many other sci-fi books have over the last 18 months.
"A scientific expedition to the planet Saturn in 2025, aboard the ship Ringmaster, discovers a strange satellite in orbit around the planet. Commanding the ship is Cirocco Jones, a tall NASA career woman, aided by astronomer Gaby Plauget, the clone twin physicists April and August Polo, pilot Eugene Springfield, physician Calvin Greene and engineer Bill (whose last name is never given).
As they reach the satellite they realize it is a huge hollow torus habitat. Before they can report this the ship is entangled in cables from the object. The crew is rendered unconscious and later wake up inside the habitat. Initially separated, Cirroco and Gaby find each other and travel together through the world inside the torus to find the rest of the crew."
As I got started on Titan, I had two thoughts: this reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, a Space Odyssey as well as Rendezvous with Rama. A ship from Earth is exploring the outer solar system when they spot something mysterious and as they get closer it is unmistakably an artificial structure. As they get closer and start to describe it, I thought Ringworld (not one of my favourites). But Varley manages to distinguish his story from those, even while I think deliberately invoking the comparisons. He is far and away better at characterization than Clarke or Niven and writes female characters quite well.
I raised an eyebrow when the water seemed to be drinkable and all the berries, animals, etc., seemed to be edible. How likely is that? But necessary for the story, I guess (I had the same reaction to C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet).
One of the male characters, Bill, is a reader of sci-fi and Cirocco Jones, the main character, is a film buff, so many pop culture references are made to earlier (pre-1979) works. They are scattered through the work like so many Easter eggs.
Exploration of a new “world” seems to equal self-exploration for Jones, who discovers that maybe she’s not all that into being the Captain, trying to maintain control/discipline, and generally being responsible for everyone. [I completely understand—I maintain that it’s all I can do to be responsible for myself, I don’t have what it takes to manage employees or to parent children].
Although the book starts as if it is going to be a hard science fiction work, it soon turns into a fantasy and commentary on social issues, primarily the relationship between the sexes and the issues of sexuality which some people today are still struggling with, accepting that each person is individual and that there is a sliding scale from heterosexuality to homosexuality, with each person finding their own spot along that continuum.
This book is GOOD! I love it. I need to read it again!
And so I did. It's still good. This book is full of strong, interesting female characters. Sex. Fascinating aliens.
The Titanides are awesome. I don't think I'd mind being one. They sing a lot and have several genitals which is pretty cool. Their names are chords. There's blimps and angels. Nothing is as you totally expect it to be. It takes a while for it to go from space ship lingo to, whoa. WTF? How interesting!
This guy goes well with Octavia Butler and Wraethlu. It's super imaginative.
I still love this book. It's got strong female characters and diversity. And not the shitty kind you get in an Orson Scott Card book where every character is a boring political puppet and not a person. They are genuinely strong and diverse. There is a scene of sexual assault later in the book by the way so skip that. Cirocco is just so badass. I also love Gaby too. The next book is even better because you get to see more of their relationship and more Titanides. It takes so long for them to appear in this book.
This is book 1 of one of my very favorite sci-fi trilogies. Once I discovered them, in about 1980, I devoured them as quickly as possible, losing sleep so that I could keep reading. I went on to read everything else written by John Varley, and have never been disappointed. If you want a quick idea of what his writing is like without committing to a trilogy, try "The Barbie Murders" or "The Persistence of Vision" -- these are short stories.
This book didn't grab me: I was about 100 pages from the end and realized that I honestly didn't care what happened. Part of the problem was that I had already pigeonholed it as sort of a Rendezvous with Rama or Ringworld (exploration of a Big Dumb Object by an underprepared away team) by way of Philip José Farmer. Once it was categorized, all the magic was gone.
I didn't particularly hate it, but felt that finishing it was pointless. I was not enthralled by the characters, the exploration of the alien biology, or the mystery of Gaea itself.
This was a bit of a disappointment after Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline. However, if you like a quest theme like that of Farmer's Riverworld series, then you may like this novel and the two which follow. I enjoyed the originality of this, the first, but found the latter two increasingly tedious.
The first manned expedition to Saturn discovers a new moon, but closer examination reveals it to be a huge space station.
All kidding aside, the station is in the shape of a Stanford torus, albeit a thousand times larger. Attempts to dock with the station go horribly wrong for Captain Cirocco Jones and her crew. Stranded on the station, they have no choice but to find who's in charge in hopes of finding a way back to Earth.
Titan was published in 1979 and is the first book in John Varley's Gaea trilogy. I didn't find out that this was a series until after I'd read the third book, Demon. During the 80s, I'd joined a science fiction book club that sold hardcovers for paperback prices. Demon was one of the books I bought along with Varley's standalone Millennium. I enjoyed both, but I didn't find my way back to this series until recently when I'd heard that Varley was having heart surgery. But I digress.
At first blush, Varley's space station comes across as another Big Dumb Object (BDO). I admit to being a sucker for this type of story. Ringworld, Rama, the Halo videogame, etc. In BDO stories, exploration of the BDO is often the story itself. Cirocco's search for her crew runs parallel to her exploration of this strange new, and manufactured, world. But Varley's BDO has more going on that just a bunch of humans poking around in a sterile alien vessel or the ruins of an advanced civilization. Fantastic alien creatures are met. The sentient ones have a unique culture and speak of Gaea, the entity in charge. And so, Cirocco sets off on a quest to find Gaea, whether Gaea is an alien, a committee, or computer.
Varley was one of the few men in sci-fi that wrote strong female protagonists in the 70s. Cirocco Jones is the first woman to command a NASA mission, and the pressure of it weighs on her, though I wish that it had been explored a bit further. Instead, Varley explores sexual freedom among his characters. Bearing in mind that this was written in the 70s, Varley imagines that on long space missions, the crew will likely pursue sexual relationships because that's what people do. Details are light, just enough to give the reader an idea of what's going on. Once on the space station, Varley takes things a step further, not just among the crew but the aliens as well. With regards to the crew, non-binary relationships are explored. Among the aliens, the titanides have multiple sex organs, so keeping their genders sorted out would probably require a spreadsheet.
Personal transformation is another theme explored by Varley. Each of the crew go through some sort of change once they're on the station. While some changes are benign, like suddenly knowing how to communicate with the various alien species, others are darker. Certain aspects of one's personality are magnified. A loner finds herself transformed into one of the alien species who lead a solitary, predatory existence. Another finds his toxic masculinity magnified. No one in the crew is untouched, and how they respond to adversity under these circumstances is itself a transformative event.
Titan is all about discovery: a new world to explore, new life forms to interact with, self-discovery among the characters. I'll admit that sometimes the story bogs down in the space station details. I felt that Varley had to satisfy the gearheads by throwing out specifications about the place to justify how and why it works. While the place is wondrous, sometimes the wonder wore off with the minutiae. And the quest itself seemed rather long with rather little to offer the reader between momentous encounters. But the payoff in the end was worth it. What Jones discovers about Gaea is far from expected for just a BDO.
Началото на поредицата „Гея” започва с откриването на неизвестно космическо тяло близо до един от спътниците на Сатурн. Огромният мастилено-черен тороид, останал години наред незабелязан за Земята, внезапно напада кораба „Рингмастър”, а екипажът му е погълнат от чудовищно огромното същество-спътник.
След прекараните в полусън месеци капитан Чироко Джоунс се събужда във вътрешността на тороида – сама, изцяло обезкосмена и докарана до нервен срив от времето, което е трябвало да преживее, без да използва сетивата си. Мястото е странно – въздушната среда и четвърт g гравитация са подходящи за хората, но пространството е ограничено, макар и потискащо с мащабите си – гигантските кабели, прозорци и клапи създават впечатлението за изкуствено творение. И все пак то е живо. Постепенно намирайки се един друг, членовете на екипажа ще открият, че психологическите травми от нападението са почти съизмерими с физиологичните промени, които всеки един от тях е претърпял. Защото създанието, наречено Гея, има свои планове за тях, а децентрализираните мозъци на Гея – съвсем различни. А по пътя си към небесата, където ще потърсят управляващите, хората ще се сблъскат с разумните обитатели на този свят-колело. Същества извън границите на въображението и на ръба на възможното.
„Титан” не звучи особено оригинално в идейно отношение – когато бива публикувана през 1979 година, Лари Нивън вече е издал „Пръстенов свят”, а две години по-рано Артър Кларк е отнесъл „Хюго” и „Небюла” за „Среща с Рама”. Не напразно сравнявам трите произведения – те са удивително еднакви в много елементи – светът с несферична форма, неравностойната борба на хората срещу огромно и могъщо същество и личната драма на героите, поставени във враждебна среда. Но „Титан” се отличава със своето динамично действие, чудноватост на обстановката и по-достоверната човещина на действащите лица. Мотивите им не са подробно описани, но въпреки това създават усещане за автентичност. По мое мнение Варли е намерил идеалната комбинация от динамичност, краткост и детайлност, без да задълбава в излишни описания и психоанализа.
I read this trilogy by John Varley years ago -- I believe I read The Persistence of Vision first, during middle school, while off sick from school. In any case, I loved particularly how Varley wrote about gender. In general I prefer women authors, in any category (as will no doubt become plain over the course of this year's exercise in tracking my reading [and re-reading]), but Varley is one of the exceptions to that rule. He seems himself to be very interested in the mutability of gender as a category, and fairly free from annoying gender stereotypes. It's a bit of a surprise, because he clearly likes Heinlein (that is, it's clear in many of his other books, especially later additions to his 8 Worlds stories), and I remember all too clearly how DISGUSTING Heinlein was about gender, ugh. Anyway, so Varley is a bit of a libertarian. Or a lot of a libertarian.
In Titan, followed by Wizard and Demon, Varley has created a sentient space-traveling semi-planet (though torus-shaped, and engineered, rather that evolved) one of which exists among Saturn's moons. A spaceship which seems really only just ahead of us -- that is, is imaginable with real physics, rather than those of Star Trek (not that I am knocking Star Trek, just its science) -- encounters this being, which itself is peopled with different sentient species, created by the being itself, and adventures ensue.
Characterization is good and the imagined beings are great, especially the Titanides and their fancy reproductive strategies. I can't wait to reread the second book -- and I am annoyed that the third, for some reason, does not exist as an ebook, though the first two are on Kindle. I hope I have a paperback copy around somewhere...
This is exactly the sort of book that turns new readers of science fiction away from the genre.
Is it a bad book? No, absolutely not. The issue is that it's got a relatively large number of pages devoted to the description of the rotation of a space ship and the angle of approach to a nearby object. Combining that description with sex might work for some, but I suspect that readers that don't already have a decent grounding in science fiction will turn away.
I found the characters very difficult to relate to. I *deeply* didn't care which of the crew slept with the others - it was a distraction. I found the emotional contact between most of the characters to be superficial - almost as if the relationships were being set forth as a problem in logic or logistics rather than emotional connections.
Having said all that - the creation of all the species of the world, the journey and the mechnics of the world's function were really imaginative. The amount of thought into how the whole system worked together was really well thought out and explained.
Overall - if you like "hard SF" then this is your kind of book. If you're new to the genre, I might recommend something lighter to start with and get around to this one later in your reading list.
I’ve read quite a lot of John Varley, and one thing you can generally count on is a somewhat gratuitous weird sex scene, often in zero gravity. “Titan” does not disappoint, basically starting out with the zero G sex as if wanting to get it out of the way so the plot can start. Varley was once described as the new Heinlein, but while Heinlein's politics tended to the crypto-fascist and his female characters always seem like objects to be analyzed by the male gaze, Varley is more of an unrepentant 60s hippy whose female characters have no problem passing the Bechdel test.
So, what of the story? Well, imagine "Rendezvous With Rama", but take away the cold, closeted English sensibilities of Arthur C Clarke, and replace them with something more pansexual and Texan. (I don't know if Varley is actually a queer author, but he seems to me to write like one.) Instead of strange robot-like tripedal aliens, we get a rainbow of multicolored genderqueer alien centaurs, so well hung that they are endowed twice. But if you can get past the feeling that you're reading some kind of My Little Pony slash that was inexplicably written in 1978, there's some great SF here. The sex never gets too frequent or too Piers Anthony, and in the mean time there's a living alien space station built with biological technology, an intricate biosphere following its own rules, collective intelligences, mind control, layers of mystery, inner turmoil, action and adventure… It was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula and won a Locus award, and deservedly so.
The novel is unapologetically the setup for a trilogy, though it has enough payoff and closure to stand alone if you don't feel like continuing the series. Me, I'm not quite convinced I want to read all three, but I'm glad I read this one.
A spaceship gets, literally, swallowed whole by what the crew had thought was an undiscovered moon of Saturn. As it turns out, it's a planet-sized living creature with a penchant for Greek mythology. Weird? Yeah, but surprisingly entertaining. There's a lot of time spent on describing the strange landscape, which I neither liked nor completely understood, but the plot is inventive and fun, and the characters are interesting, with a healthy supply of strong females who contain a refreshing amount of complexity.
It was surprisingly fun to read. I thought it would be difficulty since I had started to read it several times already, but never got past the first few pages. The beginning of the book is a bit hard to get interested, however, I finally stuck to my guns and kept on reading past the first chapter. After that, it was easier.
The book is about a world called Gaea. It was discovered by humans to be an artificial world, so they sent a spaceship to investigate it. They got more than they bargained for, because Gaea wasn't only a world, but also a mind. At this point, that I was reminded me of the planet, Pandora, in the movie "Avatar". Pandora, too, had some semblance of a sentient mind. The main difference between Gaea and Pandora, however, is that while Pandora is a subtle goddess who hides in the background, Gaea, (as written by John Varley), has the personality of a Greek god. She meddles, creates knew species, creates wars, and does showy, flashy magic.
It was in these parts of the story, where I finally got sucked in and began to be interested in finishing the book. You see, the first few chapters talk about life on the ship, and it can get a bit technical. Except for all the talk about how interesting it is to have sex in null gee, it was pretty dull. It was only after they got pulled in and crashed by the planet, Gaea, that all the interesting enigmas started appearing, such as the world inside the black shell of Gaea, the centaurs and angels, and all the fairly fantastical elements of the story which I find easier to digest.
Of course, no one would call Titan "heavy reading". The book has a sort of adventure/fantasy feel to it. There are no difficult and emotionally jarring ideas being delved into. It's something kids would enjoy. The world is similar enough to Earth, to be easy to imagine, and creatures such as centaurs, angels, and airborne whales that act as dirigibles, are amusing. There is nothing really "alien" about the story. Even Gaea, the planet mind, is very human in her personality.
Overall, I give it 3 stars. It's a good book, but I wouldn't be itching to read it again.
250515 from ??? childhood: new review. many, many years (decades...) since i read this as teen, probably was 15, but my memory of it is mostly accurate. i read this just when i was beginning to read big books of lit and classics like 1984- but when i look at it now, read it now, i pick up more of his references to, allusions to, outright thefts from other sf works... and maybe a better understanding of his gender conflicts...
this is good, for, as the man says, it is not where you take things from but where you take them to. this is sentimental favourite, though for some reason i did not go on to read his other two books of the gaea trilogy (have read them by now). probably feeling he was heading to fantasy and in my puritan years i was sf or nothing...
yeah, it is a big dumb object but as fun as it was to explore, in my youth admiring o'neill/lagrange space habitats, it was just not as radically fantastic as niven's ringworld or purely estranged as clarke's rama, even if the writing and story is better than either, but it is inspiring. reading it now, having read so much more sf and fantasy and lit and philosophy, i can see that particular pleasure sf can deliver, eye candy or sensawunda, that no other genre can quite offer. i like the way the fantastic is sfnal and not fantasy, that metaphysics is consistent and natural and nothing magical...
so, fun, but i have to read the next two books to be sure it is worth a four...
I'm still about 75 pages from the end, but I'm giving this one star because the protagonist gets raped *twice*, and the second time, she lets the rapist get away because she feels sorry for him. For 1979, Cirocco Jones was considered a progressive female protagonist, but that just shows that at the time, science fiction readers had extremely low standards for female representation.
Beyond that, I was going to give the book two stars because the Gaea setting is interesting. However, this book has a severe lack of plot or thematic unity, the dialogue sucks, and the characters are all one-dimensional. They each have a single dominant character trait (e.g. Gaby's codependency) but are otherwise impossible to tell apart. If Varley was considered the new Heinlein, then the old Heinlein was better.
EDIT: Book now finished. My opinion didn’t change.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This is John Varley's science fiction take on "The Wizard of Oz." It's not a yellow brick road that our Dorothy (aka Captain Cirocco Jones) follows through the alien habitat known as Gaea but rather a convoluted trail through a biologically engineered mix of landscapes and life forms.
Varley has more fun in the Gaea novels than in his later, more pessimistic and polemical books. Inventive and sufficiently interesting to make you want to finish the story, it's a fine old piece of space opera. Because of its adult themes, I wouldn't recommend it for younger (under 14) readers, though that may simply be showing how completely out of touch I am with current day sensibilities. Proudly so.