I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Wizard...returns us to the awesome interior of Gaea, the world-sized alien first encountered in Varley's monumental bestseeler, Titan.
Gaea's discoverer, Cirocco "Rocky" Jones, is now herself an inhabitant, plotting wizardry in the remote highlands between two of Gaea's brains. Gaea is old, perhaps dying. Wearily, she assures her usefulness to Earth by performing tawdry miracles.
Enter two pilgrims: Chris'fer, late of San Fransisco. And from the Coven on the dark side of the moon, Robin, small, nine-fingered, female with snake...
Probably around 3.5 stars, but rounded up to 4.
Wizard picks up where Titan left off in its exploration of the nature of sexuality. Gone are the frequent references to other works of science fiction, although the Greek mythology links are of course maintained. This novel is unusual in that the majority of its main characters are women, with earth-guy Chris thrown in as the token male to be used to contrast everything with. Also introduced in this second book is Robin, a young woman from an all-female space colony (known as The Coven). And yes, it is that kind of coven—women looking to establish their own matriarchal society, free of the influence of men, who are envisioned by the women of the Coven as bogeymen. It was slightly predictable that Chris & Robin would be thrown together on Gaea so that we could watch them work out their prejudices with each other.
This is very much a quest tale—both Chris and Robin have genetic anomalies that are disrupting their lives in major ways and they have come to Gaea to see if they can be healed. An audience with the Goddess reveals that there’s no such thing as a free lunch (Robert Heinlein would be pleased) and that the two must get out into the world of Gaea and be heroic if they expect any assistance. Their need to go do something is helped along when Cirocco (the Wizard of the title) and Gaby (one of the main characters from the first volume) offer to take them along on a long trip around the edges of Gaea, along with 4 of the centaur-folk known as Titanides. The reader is never allowed to forget that the Titanides have a very complex sexual life which they are absolutely pragmatic about—none of the human hang-ups concerning this essential part of life—and some of them (including one of the travel party) sometimes become enamoured of humans. Chris gets to be the lucky (?) recipient of this attention as well.
It definitely passes the Bechdel test—there are more than two women (humans), who talk to each other about many things besides men. Despite this, our lesbian witch, Robin, does take one shot at the heterosexual side of the street. Token guy, Chris, gets pushed into leadership in several places where he is just not qualified—a nod perhaps to our society where, in hospitals, people ask for (male) unqualified interns when well-qualified female doctors are on the scene. By and large, it is a feminist novel—however, Varley makes everything hinge on Chris in a way that, to my way of thinking, gives him undue influence, especially in sexual terms. Thankfully, he actually realizes it in several places in the book, making me like him better for it.
There’s lots of action and danger as the travelers make their way around Gaea, which kept me reading just to see what happened. I realize that sexuality was being explored, but it really did seem to keep taking over everyone’s attention when they probably would have been better off looking for the next cliff/predator/large unfriendly body of water. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and will definitely read the last book in the trilogy.