An itch that had to be scratched

After my recent reread of Heinlein’s Double Star, I couldn’t resist revisiting John Varley’s The Golden Globe.*

Like Star, Globe is about a down on his luck actor. Kenneth “Sparky” Valentine made his nut on Luna as the kid star of a kid show. Right as Valentine is transitioning into adult roles, he is entangled in a crime and forced to run to the outer planets, where he works under a series of assumed names and in increasingly tenuous circumstances. Along comes the chance to play Lear and Sparky plots a trip back to where he is most wanted.
Both Valentine and Heinlein’s Smythe are self-centered enough to almost have tangible gravity wells. Both are convinced that they are the best actors who ever trod the boards. Both have a lot of growing up to do. And one is certainly a nod to the other.
Both Varley and Heinlein have distinctive voices that are built on concise but somehow also lyric prose. Both create universes that feel lived-in. Both wrote (and write, natch) books whose worlds interlock, either through characters or events. And one certainly absorbed much about the field and the craft from the work of other.
While there are many, many similarities, the stories couldn’t feel more different. Smythe’s path is relatively straightforward. Valentine’s twists and doubles back and redoubles again. Varley has given Valentine a believable back-story about the abuse his father heaped on him and how that abuse shaped the damaged man he became. And the world that Varley created is rich with engaging detail that almost leaps off of the page. In many ways, it feels like he’s just reporting from an already existing future, rather than one that he’s making up as he goes along.
My only problem with Globe is that Valentine is so fully imagined and drawn that it feels as if he stole narrative control away from Varley, which is high praise and a criticism. Valentine’s love of his own words takes over when he describes how to jump a freight ship or run a short con. Varley might have been well served to remind his creation that less is frequently more.
Some other thoughts:
1) I commented earlier that acting is a craft that won’t be influenced by technological developments. In Globe, Varley has proved me wrong. Valentine’s gizmos that let him change his appearance from his bones outward might be the next big theatrical tool.
2) This is a selfish want but I want more books with Hildy, who is one of my favorite characters ever. Not just in Varley’s work, mind. My love for Hildy crosses all borders. And, yes, she shows up in Globe.
3) I suspect there is an entire dissertation on the occurrence of magical luggage in speculative fiction.** Here it’s the Pantech, an actor’s trunk that is full of surprises. Examples include now the Pantech, Rufo’s folding box and Pratchett’s the luggage. What am I missing?
4) I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Varley’s Heinleiners, the Lunarians who have given up on the city and moved outside of the domes to set up their own very loose society of make-do-and-menders. Their one shared goal is to go to the stars. In Globe, they might just get there.
5) I have a degree in theater and spent a good decade working behind the curtains. Varley is one of the few writers who nails all of the details of that life. Heinlein tried, mind you, and covered up with hand waving what he didn’t have experience with. But Varley captures all of the tangible and emotional truths of the life that others gloss over.
* My fingers insist on typing this as “The Golden Glob,” which would be a great SF novel as well.
** In Southern and Gothic fiction, there’s been a number of papers about the appearance of the white mule. Magical luggage seems not that far removed and entirely more practical.

6 thoughts on “An itch that had to be scratched

  • April 7, 2010 at 4:18 am

    In Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide, the companion of the bureaucrat-protagonist is a briefcase. And Charles Stross's Singularity Sky features a similarly useful steamer trunk.

  • April 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    I much admire this unfolding of the authorial mechanisms behind so much. I would never attempt this dissection of actor life, and wonder how Varley did it. Ask him? — one advantage of dealing with a genre who icons still live.

    Gregory Benford

  • April 10, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I'd ask him – but I'm not sure to what end. What would I do with the information once I had it? It can't be a topic that drives readers crazy – just me, as far as I know. I'd rather not waste a writer's time just to scratch my own curiosity.

    What would you ask, Mr Benford (or anyone else who happens upon this thread)?

  • June 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    The time-traveling immortals of Zeus Inc in Kage Baker's Tales of the Company have cabinets which are definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside. I don't know if they qualify as suitcases, but they are definitely luggage, transported on the backs of humans and mules.

  • June 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Very magical luggage indeed accompanies the Zeus Inc Immortals in Kage Baker's Tales of the Company of time-traveling history-changers and scavengers. Their cabinets are larger on the inside that the outside, seem to contain an ansible as well as the best archivist's toolkit from the 24th century.


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