So, these were the stories published in this volume, most of them also pretty damned brilliant, and certainly better, at very least on average, than the novels Varley was publishing in those years (as did his occasional editor Damon Knight, Varley showed a remarkable tendency to slough off good sense or believable character development at novel length, despite being so very good at both in even novellas as well as shorter fiction; both would eventually get past that, Varley happily rather sooner in his career than Knight in his):
- The Barbie Murders John Varley (Berkley, Sep ’80, pb) (1984 Berkley edition retitled Picnic on Nearside)
- Bagatelle [Anna-Louise Bach] · nv Galaxy Oct 1976
- The Funhouse Effect · nv F&SF Dec 1976
- The Barbie Murders [Anna-Louise Bach] · nv Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Jan/Feb 1978
- Equinoctial · na Ascents of Wonder, ed. David Gerrold, Popular Library 1977
- Manikins · ss Amazing Science Fiction Jan 1976
- Beatnik Bayou · nv New Voices III, ed. George R. R. Martin, Berkley 1980
- Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe · nv Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Spr 1977
- Lollipop and the Tar Baby · nv Orbit 19, ed. Damon Knight, Harper & Row 1977
- Picnic on Nearside · nv F&SF Aug 1974
While these had been the stories gathered in The Persistence of Vision, one of the several volumes published in a new and sadly short-lived program edited by D, R. Bensen, who had been Pyramid Books' primary editor for more than two decades, and who had been rewarded, after Harcourt Brace Jovanovich bought up Pyramid and rebranded it as Jove Books, with the new Quantum imprint, with some serious promotion and editorial budget, the books published by a consortium of James Wade and Dell Books (and Dell's subsidiary hardcover line the Dial Press), duly reprinted in Britain by Sidgwick & Jackson. (Quantum launched with the first and probably least bad of Varley's first five or six disappointing novels, The Ophiuchi Hotline.)
- The Persistence of Vision John Varley (Quantum/Dial, 1978, hc)
UK editions (Sidgwick & Jackson/Futura 1978) as In the Hall of the Martian Kings.
- Introduction · Algis Budrys · in
- The Phantom of Kansas · nv Galaxy Feb 1976
- Air Raid · ss Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Spr 1977, as by Herb Boehm
- Retrograde Summer · nv F&SF Feb 1975
- The Black Hole Passes · nv F&SF Jun 1975
- In the Hall of the Martian Kings · na F&SF Feb 1977
- In the Bowl · nv F&SF Dec 1975
- Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance · nv Galaxy Jul 1976
- Overdrawn at the Memory Bank · nv Galaxy May 1976
- The Persistence of Vision · na F&SF Mar 1978
It's not putting it lightly how mind-blowing Varley's short fiction, up to novella length, was for me as 13yo reader, digging deeply into the new fiction magazines for the first time in 1978, and in my first new issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction finding Varley for the first time with the novella "The Persistence of Vision" and needing to see as much of his fiction as I could gather. He was doing what Heinlein could no longer do, and had been less adept at even at his best (and in establishing a template, or further establishing that of H. G. Wells and other forebears), in providing glimpses of actually lived-in futures, and ones where technological quantum leaps had had concomitant effects on the lives and behavior of the characters, including no little their sexuality. Varley had a very 1970s-era sexual libertinism inherent in much of his work (which also didn't offend me at all at thirteen, relatively alienated and well into puberty) but managed to express it for the most part naturally through a sophisticated take on his characters' lives and interactions, in posited worlds where changing bodies was only mildly more difficult than changing clothes, and (in many of his linked stories) humanity had been displaced from Earth by alien invaders, who came to save the cetaceans, and thus the human diaspora was spread across the other planets and other bodies of the Solar System, giving Varley a lovely assortment of (then up-to-date-detailed) environments on those planets, etc., to explore. Joanna Russ noted that his female characters were unusually good for a male writer, perhaps for all writers (given how there simply was less tradition of good portrayal of women in fiction, not least fantastic fiction, to draw on); Algis Budrys suggested that at his best, Varley was drawing together all the things that science fiction, at least, could do best and uniquely. Even as a new reader of the new work in the field, it felt to me like Varley, while perhaps not the best creator of lapidary prose in the field at the time, was nonetheless otherwise ahead of (nearly if not) everyone else's curve in showing how a future life might be, indeed a quantum jump of his own in the way that, say, Stanley Weinbaum's work had been in the late 1930s in sf, albeit Varley was innovating in a now much richer and vastly more sophisticated tradition.
And while the stories in the earlier collection averaged a bit more brilliant (and the next collection, Blue Champagne, would also have a slightly better if less startling batting average), the majority here are more than fine, such as "Robinson Crusoe" or "Picnic on Nearside", and the intentionally outrageous "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" (which features among other things a sentient black hole and is one of the most explicitly sex-driven of Varley's stories); all are worthy of standing with his other early short fiction (and most of it has been offered again in Varley's most recent and retrospective collections, The John Varley Reader and Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe and Other Stories). Original title story "The Barbie Murders" was the second account, after introduction in "Bagatelle", of police officer Anna-Louise Bach, whom as Varley has noted lives in a somewhat grittier future than that of most of his human-diaspora stories (I believe Mattel, the doll line's manufacturer, took issue with the book's first title, in part driving the retitling, not that the second title isn't a better one for the collection...wish we could say the same for the new cover). Both Berkley editions were released to coincide with first releases of the latter two novels cited in the blurb between Varley's name and the book title on the cover below.
But I will grant it's better than the Orion/Futura UK paperback cover on the first collection:
Though even that is vastly better than what Futura did with The Barbie Murders in their edition:
For swank, and eyewash, here are the somewhat more dignified and better covers Varley has had on his collections since:
Though I will grant that none of the covers are absolutely brilliant, and this one particularly seems to me could've used another draft...
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.