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Titan (Gaea) Mass Market Paperback – April 15, 1987
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1979 also saw the release of John Varley's TITAN. Both ALIEN and TITAN had to have been produced at the same time with neither director Ridley Scott nor author John Varley having any knowledge of either project and yet each one produced nearly identical heroines close enough in intelligence, temperament and almost appearance to be sisters (at least if they had one different parent). Although there are some differences between the two they are so similar it's as if they were spawned by the zeitgeist of the mid 70s.
Both women are intelligent professionals who are able to draw upon an inner strength that enables them to face fantastically dangerous situations without coming off as stereotypical tough female cardboard cutouts (truncated men actually) tossed in to either appeal to those men and women who champion feminist causes or tossed to suggest a progressive view of women on the part of their creators. I should note here that Ripley was originally written as a man in Dan O'Bannon's screenplay but thanks to Ridley Scotts very detailed character history and Sigourney Weaver's interpretation that trap was avoided.
While we are offered glimpses of Ripley's spirit early on in ALIEN it only becomes apparent later on in that film that Ripley is a no joke take charge woman, particularly in how she asserts her authority when confronted by Parker's barely containable fury regarding their situation. By contrast, it is very clear from the beginning of TITAN that Cirroco Jones is a take charge kind of gal, she is in fact, the Captain of the DSV Ringmaster which, as in the Nostromo, carries a crew of seven (no cat however). Aside from these similarities as well as the discovery of a BDO (Big Dumb Object) two works diverge in very different ways.
Naturally due to the nature of literature Jones is the more fully fleshed out of the two and as a consequence we get to see her flaws and weaknesses as well as her virtues and strength and although Ripley has never been in the position of damsel in distress in need of rescue the same cannot be said of Cirroco Jones. But lest you think this salvation comes at the hands of some heroically chinned, bulging muscled container of testosterone, think again.
Meet TITAN's second most interesting character: Gabriella (Gabby) Plauget. Unlike Veronica Cartwright's Lambert serving as a contrast to Ripley in ALIEN, Gabby Plauget is no f rail, shrinking violet and as such, becomes an indispensible part of the entire Gaea Trilogy, unlike the other five crewmembers, ultimately serving as a compliment to Cirroco's strengths and compensation for her weaknesses.
TITAN tells the story of a research crew traveling toward Saturn that is suddenly confronted by a what appears, implausibly at first, to be six small natural satelites a common center of gravity in perfect formation (referred to as a rosette in the novel) but which soon turns out to be a Sanford torus in our own backyard with six massive slanted mirrors (what were mistaken as the satellites) on the outside reflecting the sun's light inward through a transparent roof. As the DSV (Deep Space Vehicle) Ringmaster moves in for a closer look, massive tendrils from the object reach out, break up the ship and draws the entire crew individually into the interior of the object. Once there, each member spends an unspecified time in what they remember as a vague womblike environment where each has undergone a fundamental change that is subtle and not immediately apparent in some while very drastic and obvious in others.
Author John Varley then introduces us to one of the most amazing environments in all science fiction. While he is hardly the first to create a spinning habitat in outer space, Larry Niven's Ringworld being the most prominent, Varley's creation is entirely organic and constructed in such a manner as to present stunning vistas of massive five kilometer wide cables encrusted with soil, trees and other vegetation rising from the ground towards and through six massive trumpet horn-like openings in the roof. The structure is aptly described as a circular suspension bridge with the ground kept from spinning away into space by the cables anchored at the hub.
We later find out that this is no typical BDO it is in fact a singular individual known as "Gaea" hosting an entire ecosystem within itself and who just so happens to have the ability to design, create and sustain life and it is via this aspect that Varley can present us with a kind of fantasy setting within the confines of science fiction. Don't think for a moment however that Varley merely creates fantastical creatures and shrugs it off as "Gaea did it". By way of describing the design of several creatures it becomes clear to the reader that Varley was mindful of ensuring that all creatures in Gaea adhere to scientific principles even if at times those principles seem a bit stretched.
Sex and Language. There is certainly some profanity in the entire series as Varley strives to create realistic characters; some use profanity while others do not swear at all. While I personally would not label the entire trilogy pornographic by any measure, judging by some of the other customer reviews there appears to be more sex than some people can handle in their science fiction. I've read some complaints that the sex serves no purpose as far as the plot is concerned and to that I counter that the sex does indeed shape the motives and helps to define those characters that are depicted engaging in sex as well as defining and developing their relationships and as with profanity not all characters engage in sex. Frankly, I find complaining about characters having sex in this series about as confusing as complaining about the characters eating, or doing laundry or anything that might not be construed as strictly moving the plot forward. These are essentially slices of life that go into fleshing out the setting. The funny thing about those who complain about the sex is that Varley doesn't get very graphic or even go beyond more than a couple of lines indicating the sex taking place. If you find yourself tempted to masturbate to any sex in this series you either just hit puberty and everything is masturbation material to you or, you seriously need to get out more often.
Cirroco Jones and Gabby Pluaget essentially become a lesbian couple with Gabby being the initiator and Cirroco Jones being less enthused regarding this development, at least initially. I must say however that Varley is somewhat clumsy in establishing this relationship at the beginning but once the relationship develops some legs it becomes more plausible though it is made clear later on in the series that Cirroco swings both ways as they say.
As I stated before, each crew member has had some changes made to them and initially they wake up emerging from Gaea's soil separated, hairless and naked save for the metal fitting rings dangling around their necks that were once part of their helmets. While Cirroco can hardly remember anything of her time in the womb Gabby was greatly affected emotionally and possibly traumatized and as such she emerged with a zest for life she had never really experienced as well as a fixation on her captain. They eventually meet up with several others similarly affected with two of the crewmembers so transformed (one to an extreme) that they prefer the company of what has become a different kindred Gaean species for each one.
There is no technologically advanced culture with Gaea. Cirroco eventually discovers that she has an innate ability to communicate with the main species on Gaea; The Titanides, an agrarian species which are rather large centaur like beings all of whom, in spite of being classed as male or female, (it's more complicated than that) appear as human females in their human half. They are very musically inclined and in fact their language is sung, with nuances of meaning relayed depending on how the singing is performed. Cirroco and Gabby are stunned to learn that in spite of their primitiveness the Titanides are aware of Earth and nonchalantly reveal that they know the humans are from Earth rather than from Gaea as soon as Cirroco tries to explain that they come from another world.
It is through the Titanides that Gabby and Cirroco, who at this point have been joined by crewmember Gene, learn of the deity known as Gaea that supposedly lives in the hub of the "world". Upon hearing about this deity the trio decides to pack provisions and climb one of the four hundred plus kilometer cables to the hub, a journey not as difficult as it may seem considering the lower centripetal force gravity generated by Gaea's spin (which lessens as one climbs higher) compared to Earth's.
I won't reveal further details of the adventure save to say that they eventually meet Gaea in a couple of rather surprising incarnations and much more is explained than I have revealed but I will say that this book and the entire series is rife with movie references and for a reason: SPOILER ALERT: Although I have yet to see anyone else mention this; If you take a close look at Gaea's design and the fact that it spins you will see that it is modeled after a reel of film. It also turns out that Gaea has been receiving broadcast signals from Earth since we began broadcasting and is intimately familiar with Earth culture most especially movies and has created some her forms of life accordingly.
There is undeniably a tongue and cheek attitude throughout this book which vaporizes at the first sign of true danger and serious drama only to re-emerge later on. This is high adventure in the truest sense with a wild mix of science and fantasy elements as opposed to wall to wall action. I can't say that any book in this trilogy (TITAN, WIZARD and DEMON) is my favorite book but collectively this is my favorite series by far with each book having a different tone than the last particularly the fun house ride that is the final book: DEMON which adds a layer of gritty urban reality (think futuristic Barbary coast) to the mix of science fiction and fantasy . If you read DEMON after TITAN skipping WIZARD you will scratch your head wondering how the heck can this book be part of the trio after the tone set by TITAN, but in the grand scheme of things Gaea it makes a whole lot of sense.
Like any good novel, the impact of the story will last long after you put the book down. Varley has convinced me that there can be fantastic organisms sharing our universe. He continuously feeds the reader with smells, colors, sounds or oddities of this world (for it dwarfs any construct of mankind). It is fantasy that could drive the explorers insane. They come to accept that there is no logical reason why Earth's lifeforms should be replicated across the universe.
The humans are the victims of so many events- punishments as well as rewards. Loving or confused, drowsy or peppy, dispirited or driven- characters rarely have time to plan their next action.
Varley directs this play in multiple parts. The intro is approach of Ringmaster and first contact.
Next is the return to consciousness which we experience through Cirocco Jones' senses. I include their initial travels and the reassembly of the crew. Readers need to slow down to follow the twists and surprises of the Ophion river. Then the thought strikes: why does it flow? -where? -most important: what powers this marvel? In time, the explorers assemble a picture of the outer ring, and Cirocco assumes a new purpose.
********************** Spoiler Alert ******************************************************************************
In this act, she undertakes a quest to travel to the hub. This will be intense- threatening to violate or destroy her very being. I can think of similar quests, but not in such alien surroundings. The pace drags slightly, as her team encounters multiple challenges. There are multiple plot twists.
The plot is intricate , often springing new events when humans fall into routines. Sure, affectionate thoughts or sex intrudes at some inopportune times- skip them if you are offended. Eventually, bigger issues (such as NASA's response to this object) will assume priority. That forces the explorers to find organic means to contact relief ships. And that is the only discordant note- how do they calibrate or tune an organic transmitter?
You will be glad to add this volume to your collection.
See book two: Wizard (Gaea), and book three Demon (Gaia).