Rereading: TITAN by John Varley

Cover design by Tony Russo

In the 1970s I was reading several science fiction digest-size magazines regularly, and finding new favorite authors there to add to ones I liked from a previous generation like Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. One was John Varley, whose inventive stories seemed cutting edge, full of original ideas, and well written. I bought each of his Gaea trilogy novels when they came out and loved them, but hadn’t read them since. Titan came out in 1979 in hardcover, I got the 1980 paperback.

In 2025, a small crew aboard the NASA ship Ringmaster heads toward Saturn on an exploratory expedition. The crew consists of Commander Cirocco Jones, astronomer Gaby Plauget, the clone twin physicists April and August Polo, pilot Eugene Springfield, physician Calvin Greene and engineer Bill (no last name given). As they approach Saturn they discover a previously unknown satellite that can’t be natural, it’s in the shape of a hollow wheel or torus thousands of kilometers wide with six spokes and a central hub. As they approach it, control of their ship is lost, and they are drawn into the torus by tentacle-like appendages. The crew is rendered unconscious, and each of them spends uncountable time inside the structure’s “soil” or lower levels before emerging to the inner surface and awakening. Cirocco is the viewpoint character, and while marveling at the amazing world around her, she’s also trying to find her crew as well as answers about exactly what’s happened. Some of the crew is reassembled, but each of them has been changed by Gaea, as they name this world they’ve entered, and somehow they know it’s one gigantic living thing. Calvin, for example, has been given the language of Blimps, giant gas-filled creatures who roam the skies of Gaea, while Cirocco has the ability to understand and sing in the language of the Titanides, centaur-like creatures who become the allies of she and Gaby as they explore the vast inner world of Gaea and try to find a way to contact the mind of the world itself. To do that they must make a perilous climb up a huge cable to the hub, where Gaea holds court and perhaps will help them, or perhaps will kill them.

This book is stuffed with wonderful ideas and characters, it has a thrilling plot, and the sense of wonder never quits as Gaea’s nature is gradually revealed, with the inner torus divided into many different lands, some in sunlight, some in darkness, and all dangerous. I won’t say any more except to recommend it highly.

One thought on “Rereading: TITAN by John Varley

  1. Jim Derbyshire

    I read most..maybe all..of Varley’s books as they came out years ago. I think Mammoth might be my favourite. Several books of short stories when you’re in that mood. I agree with you that the
    Gaea trilogy bears rereading. Thanks for the reminder.

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