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Steel Beach Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 1993

64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After nearly a decade's silence, Nebula and Hugo Award winner Varley ( The Ophiuchi Hotline ; Titan ; Millennium ; etc.) makes a triumphant return with this absorbing novel, set in a future where humanity, expelled from the Earth by the alien Invaders, now lives in artificial habitats on the moon, Mars and other planets. Advanced technologies ensure a fairly effortless and secure life--almost any injury or disease is curable; people can change their features or even their gender with an afternoon of painless surgery. But all is not well on Luna. Hildy Johnson, top reporter for a tabloid, has been unaccountably depressed, even suicidal, and he soon learns that he's not alone. Even the Central Computer that maintains Luna's environment has been feeling down. As Hildy and the CC search for a reason to live, Hildy changes gender, quits his/her job and examines religions; the CC takes steps for itself that may lead to moonwide catastrophe. Varley's tight, clean writing, full of wit and good humor, evokes despair, joy, anger and delight. His Luna is packed with wild inventions, intriguing characters and stunning scenery. This long-awaited return is one of the best science fiction novels of the year.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Virtual immortality, freedom from disease, a perfectly controlled climate, and the benevolent, nonintrusive supervision of the Central Computer make the human colony on Luna almost ideal--except for the alarming increase in depression and suicide among its citizens. Varley's latest novel offers a strong argument for individual self-determination as an antidote to runaway technology. Reminiscent of Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in its lunar setting and its use of a sentient computer as a fully realized character, this sf novel of ideas belongs in most libraries.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 566 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (August 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441785654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441785650
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.2 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,232,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Beau Yarbrough VINE VOICE on November 28, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
More than one of my friends has picked up "Steel Beach" on my recommendation, soon after asked me what on Earth I was thinking, and then soon after that told me it was one of the best books they've ever read.
Some people may initially find John Varley a challenging writer, if only because he doesn't flinch at thinking about how sexual mores will change along with science fiction staples as bio-engineering, space colonies and artificial intelligence. As a result, compared to most science fiction, "Steel Beach" initially feels as though it's obsessed with sex, although it's no more so than modern society's sexual obsessions projected forward over the centuries.
Once one gets beyond the discussions of future sexuality that would raise even Hugh Hefner's eyebrows, "Steel Beach" turns out to be about much more. There's a discussion of the role of a free press, celebrity-as-journalist, libertarianism, the role of ambition in human history and, once again, the relationship between God and man.
While not a short novel, "Steel Beach" feels like one, as Varley sends protagonist Hildy Johnson (look up the name on IMDB.com if you don't already get the joke) on a wild roller coaster ride that works both as a straight story and serves to make the thematic medicine go down smoother than smooth: "Steel Beach" never feels like Varley's got a Point To Make.
Ultimately, the book is a wonderful showcase for Varley's Eight Worlds setting -- aliens who sympathize with whales and dolphins have kicked humanity off the planet, almost exterminating them in the process -- and is a big wet kiss to Robert Heinlein's science fiction and worldview.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ashley Megan VINE VOICE on June 7, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Steel Beach" was my first introduction into Varley's "Eight Worlds" universe (although he claims that this book technically does not belong in that series because of several timeline inconsistencies, come on, we all know it for what it is). The action in this book takes place much earlier than most of his "Eight Worlds" short stories, right at the Bicentennial celebration of mankind's eviction from Earth.

Denied their own home planet, Varley's humans have nevertheless carved themselves out a few nice spots in the solar system. They've managed to create a society totally dependent upon machines and artificial intelligence for their survival - the "steel beach" of the title, where man must struggle to evolve to his new environment.

Varley addresses a wide range of topics here, everything from suicide and depression to journalism, animal rights, child abuse, and the Second Amendment. Sound awfully didactic? Then you haven't been treated to Varley's prose yet, a delightful mix of cynicism, insight, imagination, and humor. His narrator, a tabloid journalist named Hildebrandt/Hildegarde Johnson (he undergoes a routine sex change partway through the story) walks us through Varley's world conversationally, as though you're an old friend.

I'm always impressed by how well Varley writes women (particularly Cirocco and Gaby from his "Titan" series). Hildy Johnson is another great female character, a tough cookie with a heart of... Well, gild at least. Secondary characters are great, too, although you end the book feeling that there were a lot of stories left untold. I wanted to know so much more about Callie, Walter, Liz, and the Heinleiners! I can only hope Varley returns to Luna soon.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lee Wilson on September 28, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book had me laughing out loud so many times my wife finally read it just to see what was so funny -- and she's not even a sci-fi fan (she loved this book, too). Varley's social commentary is so incredibly amusing and agonizingly accurate that it truly seems as if this were a very possible future for us. While the plot of this book can be a bit slow and wandering at times, the book itself is never boring. I highly disagree with other reviews on here stating that the characters are flat -- Hildy Johnson is, to me, a very believable character who engages my empathy and compassion. The only real problem I had with this book was the fact that it ended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By barbara_berger@prenhall.com on September 11, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have read all of Varley's works, and this one, while off to a slightly slow start, is worth reading! By the middle, you will be up way past your bedtime following the adventures of Hildy, whose satirical sense of humor had me laughing out loud. A brilliant social and cultural commentary of the future, which reflects on the "lunacy" of many 20th century institutions, such as the ludicrousy of media hype and consumer madness. Non-stop action, great dialogue, and an engrossing story make this one of my favorite science fiction stories, out of the many, many I've read. You really feel like you're there in the future. And I think it IS the plebian aspect of the characters that make them so fun to read about
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As noted before in my posted reviews, I'm a big fan of Varley's work. I first read this one, which is easily his best, when it first came out. In the near-decade since then, I had forgotten most of the details . . . which means it was time to re-read it and enjoy it all over again! The Invaders mopped up Earth in three days and went about their business -- think of it as spraying for termites -- and mankind is now limited to the eight worlds of our solar system to which we had already managed to spread. Now it's nearly the Bicentennial, and keeping Luna running and all its millions of inhabitants happy is the job of the Central Computer. And C.C. has done a pretty good job of it, too. No one messes with research in physics anymore, but the biological sciences have exploded to the point that changing your sex involves no more than a quick trip to a boutique. Everyone's body is loaded with nanobots (thanks to the Central Computer again), hardly anything is illegal, and the oldest Loonies are pushing three hundred years. And then C.C. begins to develop psychological problems. . . . Varley's style is similar to Heinlein's -- but far better developed and much more "literary" -- and he also models himself on R.A.H. in spewing out original ideas and quirky thoughts on every page. This is a fat book, more than 560 pages, but trust me: You're going to wish there was more.
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