"Steel Beach" was my first introduction into Varley's "Eight Worlds" universe (although he claims that this book technically does not belong in that series because of several timeline inconsistencies, come on, we all know it for what it is). The action in this book takes place much earlier than most of his "Eight Worlds" short stories, right at the Bicentennial celebration of mankind's eviction from Earth.
Denied their own home planet, Varley's humans have nevertheless carved themselves out a few nice spots in the solar system. They've managed to create a society totally dependent upon machines and artificial intelligence for their survival - the "steel beach" of the title, where man must struggle to evolve to his new environment.
Varley addresses a wide range of topics here, everything from suicide and depression to journalism, animal rights, child abuse, and the Second Amendment. Sound awfully didactic? Then you haven't been treated to Varley's prose yet, a delightful mix of cynicism, insight, imagination, and humor. His narrator, a tabloid journalist named Hildebrandt/Hildegarde Johnson (he undergoes a routine sex change partway through the story) walks us through Varley's world conversationally, as though you're an old friend.
I'm always impressed by how well Varley writes women (particularly Cirocco and Gaby from his "Titan" series). Hildy Johnson is another great female character, a tough cookie with a heart of... Well, gild at least. Secondary characters are great, too, although you end the book feeling that there were a lot of stories left untold. I wanted to know so much more about Callie, Walter, Liz, and the Heinleiners! I can only hope Varley returns to Luna soon.