Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stardom in the Blood and Bone

Review: The Golden Globe by John Varley

The life of an itinerant actor stumping from village to town, dreaming of his own theatre in the big city translates well to space travel when John Varley writes it. His brilliant poly-named polymorphic main character is sometimes star and sometimes hobo, sometimes leading man (or leading lady) but more often bit player or street performer. 

"Sparky," "Dodger," and formally, "K.C.Valentine," is how he refers to himself in his reminiscences. This tale is told almost entirely in first person, so we learn from those around him that he doesn't share his real name—or face—with anyone except his two constant sidekicks, Toby and Elwood.

Since Toby is a dog, and Elwood stays out of sight of everyone except Valentine, they aren't giving away his secrets.

So Valentine stays one step ahead of whatever bĂȘte noire chases him, equally ready to ride the twenty-second century equivalent of the rails as to travel in splendor on a luxury cruise line. He must adapt, chameleon-like, to each new community's standards, and adroit with a bribe as he moves from world to world, for:
...the more bureaucrats there are, the more laws are needed to keep them fed.

By contrast, when he sleeps we hear from the troubled soul of this mountebank. We learn of his courage in the face of an abusive father and troubled childhood. And we begin to see why Valentine is determined to "play Lear," to build a grand Shakespearean theater in the asteroid belt.
...we didn’t have to play Shakespeare in free fall, as we’d done at Boondocks and several previous engagements. Friends, Romans, countrymen, throw me a tie-down! Talk about your theater in the round.

This novel has a daunting physical and emotional scope, yet even so, the story does not feel heavy-handed. Valentine copes with the great talent and low support life has given him, and with the assistance of Toby and Elwood, stays as close to sane and happy as most men come. The tale ranges from high drama to low humor1; it was never more clear that Shakespeare was right:
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts... —As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII 

Liner Notes:

  1. An example: Toby is quite the ladies’ man. I’d seen him, with more optimism than common sense, mooning over a Great Dane bitch he’d need a stepladder just to sniff. Sure, you can write that off to high hopes. But the amazing thing was, the bitch was looking really interested.
  2. The creator of Valentine's nightmare, DAEWOO, is a real, currently-existing company. I can't say more (it would be a spoiler), but this was just another element that seasoned the novel with real spice.