Varley's ROLLING THUNDER: third book in Thunder/Lightning Heinlein juvenile tributes, a smashing success

I've just finished reading Rolling Thunder, John Varley's wonderful sequel to Red Thunder and Red Lightning, his ongoing series of tributes to the golden age of Heinlein's juvenile sf novels.

The Thunder and Lightning books are fantastic, action-packed, science-packed homages to Heinlein's best work, and Rolling Thunder is no exception. In this volume -- set decades after the action concluded in Red Lightning -- a descendant of the story's original heroes named Podkayne (due to a vogue among Mars residents to name their kids after fictional Martians) finds herself embroiled in several kinds of adventures, including a musical encounter with vast, unstoppable, deadly crystalline lifeforms; a military hitch; musical stardom, and more. She is at the center of the saga of the ongoing collapse of poor old Planet Earth, laid to waste by security paranoia, religious fervor, greed, and environmental catastrophe.

Through Poddy's eyes, we watch the action unfold on an interplanetary scale, re-visiting the best characters from the previous books (the stasis fields from Rolling Thunder are an effective means of indefinite life-support, so practically everyone is still alive and chumming about, as in Heinlein's Cat Who Walked Through Walls), and the action skips seamlessly from the micro-scale (Poddy's familial and romantic entanglements) to the macro (interplanetary war!).

I can't recommend this stuff too highly. Varley is clearly bent on reviving everything that made the Heinlein juvies great, and he's doing a hell of a job with it. These books are fond without being nostalgic, reverent without being old-fashioned. Everything about them is utterly contemporary, but it's easy to believe that Heinlein would have written them (more or less!) today. Link

See also:
Varley's Red Thunder qualifies for preliminary Nebula ballot
The novel Heinlein would have written about GW Bush's America


  1. *heh* There is only one true Rolling Thunder for me, and that’s William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones on a shooting spree in a brothel in Mexico to take down those bastards that killed his boy.

    Of course, I am guessing that the book’s Rolling Thunder reference is back to Operation Rolling Thunder.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I am a long time Heinlein fan and will put this on the top of my “for fun” reading list.

    Now if I could just get through those 20 odd books I have on my “must read” list …


  3. Also have to recommend John Varley’s other work.

    The Gaea Trilogy (TITAN, WIZARD, and DEMON) about a living space-habitat orbiting Saturn.

    His recent time-travel yarn MAMMOTH.

    And a lot of his excellent short fiction was collected in THE JOHN VARLEY READER: 30 YEARS OF SHORT FICTION.

  4. I loved the first book in this series – I didn’t realize it had gotten this far along! I’ve got to check this out.

  5. I’m a huge John Varley fan. I’ve read the first two in the series and I will most likely read this one as well. However, my favorite of his is definitely Steel Beach. It was the first book of his that I read , one of the first sci-fi books I read at all and it’s a big reason that I’m still reading sci-fi to this day . I rembered being in awe that someone could even imagine the kind of crazy shit that he did in that book. Right from the first sentence it pulled me in. Varley is truly one of the best!

  6. Far more than Ellison, Varley has a habit of writing things that make me go ‘I don’t believe he did that, nobody else would dare!’

    Even ignoring the immortal opening line of _Steel Beach_, there’s the bizarre predelictions of the enemy in _Demon_, the talking nuclear bomb in one short story that’s happy to tell all passers-by that it is in fact a nuke, and when it will detonate (a sort of high-tech suicide bomber), and perhaps most of all _The Golden Globe, which is the Varley attempt at that old SF staple, the almost-plotless travelogue, which turns into something best described as a Shakespearean picaresque shaggy dog story (with assassins, artists, and sarcastic AIs.)

    I really must get around to reading this latest trilogy: I’m afraid that shortage of shelf space and the habit of some publishers of cancelling engaging series halfway through has led to me only buying SF series when they’re completed. (I’m in mourning for Tony Daniel’s gonzo two-thirds-complete _Metaplanetary_ series: if it’s been finished while I wasn’t looking, someone please say!)

  7. Thanks, Cory. Heinlein was my third SF author to devour as a child so the nostalgia factor is intriguing. Not that anyone cares but I started with some odd ones; ‘Venus on the Half Shell’ by Kilgore Trout (Farmer) and next to Michael Moorecock’s ‘Dancers at the End of Time’. I will grab one or more of Varley’s books next time I’m out.

  8. Not sure if the author had anything to do with it, but why has the United States Marine Corps seal been hijacked to represent the “Martian Naval Corps”?!?

    Gold eagle (pointed in the correct direction and trailing ribbon intact), globe and anchor (again pointed in the correct direction) against a red field surrounded by a blue ring bordered by a gold rope. The only thing they did was add some stars to the red field and change the text.

  9. Splendid series, splendid book, splendid author. This is my favourite of the now-trio in Varley’s Martian universe, partly because I live in Pismo Beach, where the book opens.

    Mostly, though, I commend this book because the Heinlein juveniles were one of the brightest spots in my reading youth. They enliven my adulthood, too.I was in the later end of the original target audiance (my copies were the ones with the black and white illos actualy drawn by Heinlein), and I can say with happy authority that Varley’s books are right on target.

    Has anyone played the Spot The Title game in the last chapter?

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