Titan - John Varley
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).


I wish that Amazon’s look-inside feature used the edition of this book that I have. When you flip open my version, the inside of the cover has a brilliant colour picture of a naked woman riding a centaur through a lush alien landscape with a whale-like blimp-creature floating in the sky.

Before you’ve read a single page it lets you know (ho-ho-ho) we’re in for THAT kind of ride.

Titan won the Locus Sci-Fi award in 1980 (ahead of Pohl’s Jem and Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise – which won the Hugo award that year).

The story is a classic example of the Big Dumb Object sci-fi trope. Under-prepared explorers encounter a big mysterious object (in this case an alien habitat orbiting Saturn) and are overwhelmed when they try to investigate. So-far so-standard.

Titan then takes a splendidly silly tangent by populating said space station with a war between centaurs and angels (watched over by sentient blimps). Wonderful!

To quote the magical maestro, Mr Miéville: “Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they're not absurd.”

This is a story that treads the borderline between sci-fi and fantasy, pick’n’mixing conventions to suit – all with deadpan seriousness.

I didn’t know that this was the beginning of The Gaea Trilogy – I knew nothing except that it won the Locus SF in ’80 – and based on the inside-cover pic my expectations weren’t exactly stratospheric. But I found myself pleasantly surprised and enjoying it.

None of the human characters left much of an impact on me and the overall explanation of the TV-addicted Gaea is ridiculous verging on absurd, but the overall experience is imaginative, playful a bit sexy and a lot of fun!

I’m somewhat bemused when I read reviews that rate this up amongst the greats – perhaps the trilogy as a whole is more effective than Titan as a standalone? I am tempted to read Wizard and Demon, but there are so many good books out there that they’re pretty low priority at the moment.

I definitely enjoyed the read – but have too many reservations to recommend whole-heartedly. If you spot a copy at a garage/boot sale it's worth a few pennies.