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Steel Beach Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 1993

4.1 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews
Book 4 of 5 in the Eight Worlds Series

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The Underground Railroad
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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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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting read. I read this when I was a kid and for some reason a lot of the concepts have been regurgitating in my mind lately. Now, as an adult, I'm having trouble getting through the book. There are a lot of interesting concepts in this story. If you like Joe Rogan, a lot of his ideas about the future are realized in this writing (AI, whimsical sex change). If you like science-fiction and a glimpse at contemporary conspiratorial ideas, check this out.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have read Steal Beach a number of times in a print edition, so I was very excited to see it in a kindle format. It is my favorite John Varley novel. Unfortunately, it contains more than a few glaring typos that detract from the novel. It is not as bad as some the Stephen King conversions, but still makes reading less enjoyable. It appears that it was just scanned in by OCR without proofreading. Apparently, the publisher does not employ any proofreaders or even anyone who can read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is most definitely my new favorite book, and I'm only halfway through it. Don't try to judge it by the first chapter, or two.

I've been reading it for about two months now. I could've finished it in two or three days with how captivating the storyline is, but this is one of those books that I want to bask in the glory of for a while.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Can't say enough about this book. I've read it twice over a period of 20 years. Gave away my first copy eons ago, then purchased this new. I'm not really a Varley fan, but Steel Beach is right up there with the best of scifi. I don't think anyone has written a story plot quite like this. I highly recommend it to everyone who loves a good sci fi story of any kind.
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