cover image Irontown Blues

Irontown Blues

John Varley. Ace, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-98937-1

It’s been 20 years since the publication of Varley’s The Golden Globe, but this haphazard sequel, the fourth novel in the Eight Worlds far-future setting, still relies heavily on readers’ familiarity with the earlier works. Former cop Chris Bach has tried to move on from the events of the Big Glitch, when he participated in the eviction and eventual slaughter of separatist “Heinleiners” in the Irontown district of his lunar colony. The invasion was cooked up when the vast AI that controlled the colony went rogue. Years later, Chris more-or-less cosplays as a noirish detective, dressing the part and adopting the slang while uncovering conspiracy theories with the help of his pun-cracking bloodhound, Sherlock. When a dame walks into his office with a story about weaponized leprosy, something smells off. Chris and Sherlock follow her trail, which inevitably leads back to Irontown and to a past that is still very much alive. Varley gleefully mashes together elements of noir (including racial stereotypes), cyberpunk, and hard SF that jostle for space. But the conspiracy at the heart of the story barely hangs together, and Chris is too mild to be a knockoff Philip Marlowe. Readers who like talking dogs, wiseguys, dinosaur farms, and bloody battles will be entertained. Readers who don’t can consider themselves warned. Agent: Kay McCauley, Zeno. (Aug.)