Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Ophiuchi Hotline

John Varley
Completed 6/16/2019, Reviewed 6/16/2019
3 stars

This was John Varley’s first novel, from 1977.  It involves cloning of the protagonist until there are several of her running around the solar system.  It makes for complex plotlines following the clones.  I enjoyed it though.  It was a good first novel:  good writing and well thought out.  I did find it difficult to keep up with the plots as the main character was cloned, but in the end, it was worth it.  It’s the first of a series by Varley, of which he just published a fourth book last year. 

Hundreds of years in the future, the earth has been invaded by aliens simply known as the Invaders.  They basically ransacked all modern development, leaving green pastures and new sprouting plants.  In the succeeding years, ten billion people died of starvation.  Most of the remaining humans left the earth to live on our moon, Luna, as well other planets and moons in our solar system.  There, they are the recipients of new technological advances that are sent to them by aliens from somewhere in the constellation Ophiuchus via what’s been called the Ophiuchi Hotline.  But after several hundred years of this, the Invaders want payment for the information, throwing the eight worlds of humanity into chaos.

Lilo-Alexandr-Calypso is a genetics scientist who deals in genetic modifications.  She’s been working primarily on food but also works on humans, which makes her an enemy of the human race.  She is saved by a self-stylized Boss Tweed by cloning her and sending the clone to the gallows in exchange for working for him.  She agrees to this but soon finds out this is a prison of sorts.  She tries several escape attempts where she dies and is cloned back again.  Eventually, there are three clones of her each with their own plotline.  The main story follows her as she tries to find out what the payment is that the Ophiuchians want.

Lilo is a good character, but not particularly well defined.  We have some moments in her head, but not a lot.  I felt like I was always one step removed from her, rather than in her head.  She’s passionate about her work as well as escaping from the clutches of Boss Tweed and his clone minions.  But I think the three clones of Lilo added to my inability to stay in her head, because there were three different heads to try to get into.  On an interesting personal note, Lilo is bisexual, and in the future, there is a lot of gender fluidity.  It’s one of the reasons this book made it onto the WWE LGBTQ reading list.

This was a short book, at just over 200 pages, but it is jam-packed with excitement.  There’s a decent amount of good prose as well.  Ultimately, I felt the book suffered from the undertaking of too complex a plotline with the three clones. I’ve also read Varley’s Titan, which was written two years later, but I found it a much better book.  I give this one three stars out of five.

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