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John Varley (author)

John Herbert Varley (born August 9, 1947) is an American science fiction writer.

John Varley
John Varley.jpg
BornJohn Herbert Varley
(1947-08-09) August 9, 1947 (age 72)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
GenreScience fiction


Varley was born in Austin, Texas. He grew up in Fort Worth, moved to Port Arthur in 1957, graduated from Nederland High School—all in Texas—and went to Michigan State University on a National Merit Scholarship because, of the schools that he could afford, it was the farthest from Texas.[citation needed] He started as a physics major, switched to English, then left school before his 20th birthday and arrived in Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco just in time for the "Summer of Love" in 1967. There he worked at various unskilled jobs, depended on St. Anthony's Mission for meals, and panhandled outside the Cala Market on Stanyan Street (since closed) before deciding that writing had to be a better way to make a living. He was serendipitously present at Woodstock in 1969 when his car ran out of gas a half-mile away. He also has lived at various times in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, New York City, San Francisco again, Berkeley, and Los Angeles.

Varley has written several novels (his first attempt, Gas Giant, was, he admits, "pretty bad") and numerous short stories, many of them in a future history, "The Eight Worlds". These stories are set a century or two after a race of mysterious and omnipotent aliens, the Invaders, have almost completely eradicated humans from the Earth (they regard whales and dolphins to be the superior Terran lifeforms and humans as only a dangerous infestation). But humans have inhabited virtually every other corner of the solar system, often through the use of biological modifications learned, in part, by eavesdropping on alien communications.

Varley's "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" was adapted and televised for PBS in 1983. In addition, two of his short stories ("Options" and "Blue Champagne") were adapted into episodes of the short-lived 1998 Sci-Fi Channel TV series Welcome to Paradox.

Varley spent some years in Hollywood but the only tangible result of this stint was the film Millennium. Of his Millennium experience Varley said:

We had the first meeting on Millennium in 1979. I ended up writing it six times. There were four different directors, and each time a new director came in I went over the whole thing with him and rewrote it. Each new director had his own ideas, and sometimes you'd gain something from that, but each time something's always lost in the process, so that by the time it went in front of the cameras, a lot of the vision was lost.[1]

Varley is often compared to Robert A. Heinlein. In addition to a similarly descriptive writing style, similarities include free societies and free love. Two of his connected novels, Steel Beach and The Golden Globe, include a sub-society of Heinleiners.[2] The Golden Globe also contains a society evolved from a prison colony on Pluto and a second society evolved from it on Pluto's moon, Charon, similar to the situation found in Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Unlike Heinlein's lunar society, Varley's convict society on Charon maintains its criminal ways and is similar to the mafia or the yakuza. His Thunder and Lightning series plays on his connection with Heinlein by deriving its main characters' names from many of Heinlein's characters, including Jubal, Manuel Garcia, Kelly, Podkayne, Cassie and Polly, and by frequently dropping titles of Heinlein's novels in the dialogue.

Varley's works frequently feature prominent female characters and routine sex changes.

Early in his career Varley wrote a trilogy of novels set in a sentient hollow world reminiscent in structure to a very large Stanford torus space habitat, but with a distinctly different personality. The three volumes are titled Titan, Wizard, and Demon.



Year Title Series Notes
1977 The Ophiuchi Hotline Eight Worlds Locus SF Award nominee, 1978[3]
1979 Titan Gaea Trilogy Nebula Award nominee, 1979;[4] Locus SF Award winner and Hugo nominee, 1980[5]
1980 Wizard Gaea Trilogy Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1981[6]
1983 Millennium Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 1983;[7] Hugo and Locus Awards nominee, 1984[8]
1984 Demon Gaea Trilogy Locus SF Award nominee, 1985[9]
1992 Steel Beach Eight Worlds Hugo and Locus SF Award nominee, 1993[10]
1998 The Golden Globe Eight Worlds Prometheus Award winner, 1999; Locus SF Award nominee, 1999[11]
2003 Red Thunder Thunder and Lightning Endeavour Award winner, 2004; Campbell Award nominee, 2004[12]
2005 Mammoth
2006 Red Lightning Thunder and Lightning
2008 Rolling Thunder Thunder and Lightning
2012 Slow Apocalypse
2014 Dark Lightning Thunder and Lightning
2018 Irontown Blues Eight Worlds

Short story collectionsEdit


Critical studies and reviews of Varley's workEdit

Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe and other stories
  • Di Filippo, Paul (January 2014). "On Books". Asimov's Science Fiction. 38 (1): 101–105.


Varley has won the Hugo Award three times:

  • 1979 - Novella–"The Persistence of Vision"
  • 1982 - Short Story–"The Pusher"
  • 1985 - Novella–"Press Enter■"

and has been nominated a further twelve times.

He has won the Nebula Award twice:

  • 1979 - Novella–"The Persistence of Vision"
  • 1985 - Novella - "Press Enter■"

and has been nominated a further six times.

He has won the Locus Award ten times:

  • 1976 - Special Locus Award–four novelettes in Top 10 ("Bagatelle", "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance", "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank", "The Phantom of Kansas")
  • 1979 - Novella–"The Persistence of Vision"
  • 1979 - Novelette–"The Barbie Murders"
  • 1979 - Single Author Collection–The Persistence of Vision
  • 1980 - SF Novel–Titan[5]
  • 1981 - Single Author Collection–The Barbie Murders
  • 1982 - Novella–"Blue Champagne"
  • 1982 - Short Story–"The Pusher"
  • 1985 - Novella - "Press Enter■"
  • 1987 - Collection–Blue Champagne

Varley has also won the Jupiter Award, the Prix Tour-Apollo Award, several Seiun Awards, Endeavour Award, 2009 Robert A. Heinlein Award and others.


  1. ^ Interview in St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday, July 20, 1992
  2. ^ "Heinleiner". Retrieved 2019-02-17.
  3. ^ "1978 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  4. ^ "1979 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  5. ^ a b "1980 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  6. ^ "1981 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  7. ^ "1983 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  8. ^ "1984 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  9. ^ "1985 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  10. ^ "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  11. ^ "1999 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.
  12. ^ "2004 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-05-17.

External linksEdit