Despite their idyllic existence, the residents of Moon Colony Luna are becoming bored, apathetic, and even suicidal, but when the central computer adopts a similar pathology, the entire colony is in danger of being destroyed. Reprint. PW.
Some people may initially find John Varley a challenging writer, if only because he doesn't flinch at thinking about how sexual mores will change along with science fiction staples as bio-engineering, space colonies and artificial intelligence. As a result, compared to most science fiction, "Steel Beach" initially feels as though it's obsessed with sex, although it's no more so than modern society's sexual obsessions projected forward over the centuries.
Once one gets beyond the discussions of future sexuality that would raise even Hugh Hefner's eyebrows, "Steel Beach" turns out to be about much more. There's a discussion of the role of a free press, celebrity-as-journalist, libertarianism, the role of ambition in human history and, once again, the relationship between God and man.
While not a short novel, "Steel Beach" feels like one, as Varley sends protagonist Hildy Johnson (look up the name on IMDB.com if you don't already get the joke) on a wild roller coaster ride that works both as a straight story and serves to make the thematic medicine go down smoother than smooth: "Steel Beach" never feels like Varley's got a Point To Make.
Ultimately, the book is a wonderful showcase for Varley's Eight Worlds setting -- aliens who sympathize with whales and dolphins have kicked humanity off the planet, almost exterminating them in the process -- and is a big wet kiss to Robert Heinlein's science fiction and worldview.
A rollicking good read, equal to his Gaean Trilogy, and only excelled by them in that we (so far) have only seen one book's worth of character development with Hildy, as opposed to the full arc in "Titan," "Wizard" and "Demon."
A must-buy for Varley fans and fans of Robert Heinlein.