by John Varley
Cover Artist: Bob Warner
Review by Carolyn Frank
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015634
Date: 04 March 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Lieutenant Patricia Kelly Elizabeth Podkayne Strickland-Garcia Redmond, known as Podkayne, grew up on a human-settled Mars and joined the Martian Navy for her required tour of duty. Following the story of Travis and Jubal Broussard and her grandparents as told in Red Thunder, and the story of her father Ray Garcia-Strickland as told in Red Lightning, Rolling Thunder brings together many of the aspects of the Martian colonization and rise to supremacy in the Solar System, with Podkayne as the focus.
We meet Podkayne serving in her posting to Earth a few years after a major tsunami had killed three million to four million people and started planet-wide climate changes. But what Podkayne really wants to do is sing, and she gets the chance to join the Music, Arts and Drama Division of the Martian Navy. The upside is that she gets to be the lead singer in an eclectic jazz group touring the Solar System; the downside is that more planetary upheavals are on the way, and Podkayne ends up in a rather nasty place.
Podkayne states up front that she was named for Podkayne of Mars, a science fiction heroine of a book she has never read. Many science fiction readers of today are quite aware of Robert Heinlein's juvenile SF novel written in the early 1960s (re-released in paperback in 2005). In contrast, this Podkayne is no longer a teenager, but a young woman out to embrace her chosen career. They do share a talented but strange younger brother, an uncle who is not what he appears to be, and a facility for finding themselves in situations way out of their control.
In the past 40 years, through the use of satellite telescopes, unmanned missions and extraterrestrial landings, scientists have learned a great deal more about our nearby space neighbors. And so, as Podkayne sets off on her musical tour of human-habitable space -- primarily Mars, the asteroids, and the moons of Jupiter -- we learn a great deal about planet, planetoid and moon composition, position and climate, based on current knowledge of our Solar System.
Podkayne is more the dream female of a 60-year-old male author with a breast fixation than a realistic person, but her personality is winning. Someone is needed to serve as the focal point for all of the societal upheavals, and this pointedly ascientific but musically creative person fulfills the requirement. And along the way she picks up a pet cat, Kahlua, to ensure that any reader who feels the least bit threatened by the science can enjoy a soothing feline influence.
This is well-crafted science fiction, written by a master, enjoyable by all. Although reading the two preceding books of the series is recommended, enough of the back story is conveyed to enable anyone to enjoy this book on its own.