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).
Fleeing Earth after an alien invasion, the human race stands on the threshold of evolution, like a fish cast on artificial shores. Their new home is Luna, a moon colony blessed with creature comforts, prolonged lifespans, digital memories, and instant sex changes. But the people of Luna are bored, restless, and suicidal -- and so is the computer that monitors their existence...
I would have to say that this book is very much an homage to Robert A. Heinlein. That’s not necessarily a bad thing--there’s a very strongThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress vibe, which I was totally okay with. The Central Computer (CC) in Steel Beach is channeling the self-aware computer in TMiaHM and ends up having similar problems.
There are nods to other writers as well. There’s a lot of sex-changing in this novel, which made me think of Iain Banks’ Culture series and George Effinger’s When Gravity Fails. Varley’s version also made me think of Tiersias of Greek mythology--you know, the guy who found a pair of copulating snakes and hit them with a stick? Hera was so displeased with him that she turned him into a woman for seven years (apparently being female is a punishment). Needless to say, the Ancient Greeks were eager to hear his perspectives on this and he confirmed their bias by saying that women got much more out of the sexual experience than men did. It seems that Varley believed this too.
There’s also a shout out to Arthur C. Clarke, when the CC is worried that he’s going to end up singing “Daisy, Daisy,” like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Another Heinleinian element: a scrapped spaceship called in R.A. Heinlein, within which his spiritual descendents live & grumble. When Hildy is handing out pseudonyms, she christens one of them Valentine Michael Smith (see Stranger in a Strange Land).
I read until the end because I wanted to see how things were wrapped up, but if you’re not a big fan of RAH, my advice is to skip this book.
Book number 308 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.