A book report on John Varley’s Red Thunder
Purchased: April 5, 2005
Finished reading: May 19, 2006
Total days taken to read the book: 414
Average reading speed: appx. 1 page per day
Yeah. I’m embarassed, ever so slightly, that it took me over a year to read one book. That’s rather pathetic. In my defence, though, I have been living a rather full life. I mean, I read over 400 comics last year, over 100 trade paperbacks, and a number of books in-between spurts of reading this one (I tracked stats here… although funny enough, I manage to exclude any novel-reading statistics, and if you were to ask me what other books I read I’d be hard pressed to tell you). It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the novel, because I did, for the most part. I like Varley and his writing style is so vivid that even after breaks as long as 3-months I could pick the book up and get right back into it… like hopping back into a tv show after summer hiatus… or getting into the next chapter of a movie trilogy. Basically the reason it took me so long is the sad truth about my reading skills…
… I get bored. It doesn’t matter how engrossing a story or a book is, sitting around, being inert, reading… I. Get. Bored. After about 45-minutes to an hour I need to get up, move around, and do something else for a while. Usually it’s something differently stimulating like banging my head against a doorframe or slicing -and then ingesting- some cheese. The funny thing is when I usually put a book down out of boredom the last thing I want to do is partake in another storytelling exercise, like watching tv or a movie.
Often what happens though, and for some reason it’s usually when I’m reading on the streetcar ride to work, is I get the inclination to start working on my own stories. Reading, and this is part of the reason why I’m a pathetically slow reader, stimulates my creative senses. I divide my attention while reading a book between the actual story and reading for style and technique, which you can imagine means I often miss a lot of story elements, but it also means I drift off into daydreamy land thinking about my own writerly ways (I routinely joke that I could write a book faster than I could read one, but I think I’ve already proven that false). The sad thing is I’m usually on my way to work so I can’t properly capitalize upon the stimuant, which is a tragedy the world should morn, I figure. If the world would like to mourn with financial donations to me, I won’t object.
Yeah, I don’t really devote a lot of time to reading (books), and it’s significantly less in the Spring/Summer/Fall than it is in Winter (most of my bookreading happens on the streetcar, and unless it’s raining or snow is on the ground, I’m biking to work most of the year, thus losing most of my prime reading time). This book has actually accompanied me on a number of road trips… up to Thunder Bay last summer and to Montreal this year, and even a flight to New York in December (where I read the on-board magazine on the way there and listened to comedy albums on the way back rather than read). I should find more time to read, like before bed. But I’ve developed over the past 25 years a near Pavlovian response that equates reading to sleepytime (or its daytime equivalent, boredom). Plus the demands of weekly comic-book reviewing mean I’m usually reading sequential art before I head of to dreamland (the montly books are convenient in their 10 - 20 minute injections of story… it means I don’t usually fall asleep with the desire to read more).
Anyway, Red Thunder is an absurd story about four kids, an astronaut and an idiot-savant Cajun who build a spacecraft operated by the Cajun’s new propellant(?) discovery. They build the spaceship to take them to Mars on a week-long journey, thus beating the Chinese as the first people to land on the moon. It’s all very silly but told in such hyper-realistic detail that Varley makes it plausible. Divided into three parts, the book really covers all the grounds, answers almost all questions, and builds a real-world case around one technological advancement (and not a series of them). It can get jargony, but Varley works it in with a sense of humour and a natural candor that makes it easy to read if not always to understand. If there’s a point where it falls apart for me, it’s at the actual moment where these untrained college kids make it into space in a homemade craft without any major foul-ups (the sci-fi bits I can get behind, the competence behind untrained engineering, not so much). At the same time, the book succeeds in present an interesting story that doesn’t have a nemesis other than time, and even then there’s not much emphasis put upon the clock.
Was it worth letting occupy the space at the back of my mind for a year? I dunno. I doubt it. Varley’s preceeding books the Golden Globe and Steel Beach were much more entertaining (more humour and very clever sci-fi quirks) and yet I can hardly remember them as vividly as I can this book. It’s almost a shame. But, I’m glad I’m done it. Now I have to find my next reading project. Suggestions?
A book report on John Varley’s Red Thunder