Interview: John Varley
with Ernest Lilley
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Also this issue: Red Thunder by John Varley (Review)
Author Site: John Varley Site
Ernest: First off, what made you decide to write a Rocket Ship Galileo Goes to Mars story? Is this a Heinlein tribute or a satireÖor something else?
John: I wrote it for the usual reasons: I had an idea, and I thought it would be fun. It was supposed to be fun with Spider Robinson as a co-author, but that finally didnít work out, so I did it myself. I donít think of it as a tribute, merely a chance to try my hand at the type of story that got me into SF in the first place.
Ernest: Did Heinlein have any blind spots?
John: Heinlein apparently was a fan of Joe McCarthy, at least at first. He and I would have had many political disagreements if we ever met and talked politics, which we never did.
Ernest: One of the things I liked in Red Thunder was the use of space hardware that had already been developed instead of pretending all you needed was a few oxygen tanks and a steel drum. I also like the epilogue where we find that some of the characters lived happily ever afterÖsome less so.
John: It seemed to me that many of the engineering problems of space travel have already been solved, so why solve them again? Given the miraculous space drive, the trick then becomes building an environment that will keep you safe for a few weeks, instead of the many months a real trip to Mars will require. Thatís a lot easier.Heinleinís later juveniles didnít all end happily ever after, either. Life always goes on past the literary climax and past the end of the book. Things never work out fine for everybody, nor in all ways for anybody.
Ernest: Where do you suggest readers start their John Varley reading? The Ophiuchi Hotline?
John: Iíd prefer they start with one of my short story collections.
Ernest: Your last book, The Golden Globe (SF-Site review), was in your eight worldís solar system after Earth was put off-limits by an aliens and humanity has made the best of the rest, including a lot of elements that other authors are just now starting to deal with. Will there be another (third?) book in the series? Where would you take it?
John: The third book will be IRONTOWN BLUES, if I live long enough to write it. So far, it has stayed out of my literary reach, but Iím still thinking about it.
Ernest: You quoted Buckaroo Banzai in your Xero interview. I saw that you did an introduction to the 2001 printing of When Worldís Collide. What sorts of SF film turn you on? What canít you stand?
John: The smart sort, I guess. Thereís not many of them. What I canít stand are idiot films, like SIGNS. But Iím much more interested in movie musicals than in SF. Iím hoping the big success of CHICAGO will lead to more, like SWEENEY TODD.
Ernest: Did you have fun making Millenium? How many yearís was it from start to finish?
John: I wrote the script eight times over about a decade, until the life was squeezed out of it. Millennium was a career in itself, and not really a good one, in the end. But I had a lot of fun.
Ernest: You've cited Marvin the Martian and Wily E. Coyote. Whoís your favorite cartoon character and which one is the most like you? Do you pay much attention to anime?
John: Michigan J. Frog. Iím more interested in the animators than the characters. Guys like Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Ub Iwerks. I have videos of all the Walt Disney feature animations, including SONG OF THE SOUTH dubbed in Japanese, at least until it became hard to tell what was really a Disney film. I pay so little attention to anime that I hardly know what it is.
Ernest: Growing up, when did you first get interested in Science Fiction? Do you remember the firs book you read?
John: It was RED PLANET, in the 7th grade.
Ernest: Why does it take so long between your novels? What do you do when youíre not writing? What do you do for fun?
John: I used to be a fast writer, but for some reason Iím slow now. It takes me a while to work things out. When Iím not writing I spend a lot of time agonizing about not writing. I like to travel when I have the time and money. I recently finished visiting all 21 of the missions of Alta California.
Ernest: Is SF redundant, now that we live in the future?
John: I wouldnít say redundant. Itís different, now that we know space travel is possible. But SF, though often bad SF, accounts for most of the biggest movies of the last few decades, so people still like to think about what might happen.
Ernest: How do you feel about the future? Is there any danger that it will be boring and perfect, or that weíll all die off?
John: I think 9/11 proves the future will never be boring, nor perfect, nor expected. The day I saw the towers fall, I knew ANYTHING could happen. Iím just waiting for the next thing, now, and hoping it will be better.
Ernest: Whatís next?
John: Plan B. Plan A didnít work so well.