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The impression one comes away with from Titan is that it is a science fiction retelling of "The Wizard of Oz". Varley creates within the toroid space station an inner world, unknown to the rest of the universe, not that different from the dream world explored by Dorothy Gale. In the role of Dorothy, ship's captain Cirocco Jones encounters a world that mixes the innocence of the Titanides, a "new" race of centaur-like creatures, with the "angels", similar to the flying monkeys of the movie version of "The Wizard of Oz". The novel grows from an exploration of this new and interesting world, into a search for its creators, echoing the journey to the emerald city to see the wizard, the controlling force called Gaea by the inhabitants.
The parallels are intriguing, but the book is not just a one-to-one retelling of the Oz story. From the basic framework, Varley weaves in elements very much of his time, not of L. Frank Baum's. Along the "yellow brick road" of exploring the lands of the space station's outer ring and spokes, Cirocco and Gabbie, the strong female protagonists of the novel, confront very modern issues of homosexuality, gender violence and pregnancy that jar the reader into the realization that "we're not in Kansas anymore". First deposited in different parts of the space station, the disparate crew members find each other, but also find that each has changed in subtle ways by the place. They are all carefully drawn individuals who have their own reactions to their manipulation by this world's intelligence. Far from being emblematic of human virtue or vice, as the tin man, the scarecrow or the cowardly lion were in Oz, the crew members' personalities shine as complex humans dealing with forces they can barely comprehend.
This rich and enjoyable story follows the trajectory of the classic journey of discovery, as we follow Cirocco and Gabbie from the total innocence of being newborn (literally) to the station's inner lands to drawing aside the veil of the station's less-than-awe-inspiring life force. Through this journey, Cirocco grows and changes as a person, struggles with her own character as a leader, and with her own emotions as a woman. As with all great novels, Titan transforms its characters from the clichés they begin as to render them more complex and more unpredictable, as most of us are. As in Baum's classic, the final question is posed: "Is there, indeed, no place like home?" The answer surprises, delights and sets the stage for the next book in the trilogy, "Wizard".
Click here to buy Titan - Gaean Trilogy Series #1, by John Varley on Amazon
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