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Blue Champagne
By John Varley
Dark Harvest 1986

Blue Champagne was John Varley's third collection of science fiction short stories, written as his career was at its peak. It contains four stories from the Eight Worlds setting and four miscellaneous stories. The collection as a whole won the Locus Award in 1987, and the various stories within it have won a number of other awards.

The Pusher: A rather creepy story that won the 1982 Hugo Award and the 1982 Locus Award. Despite starting out as an apparent tale of a pedophile stalking his next victim, this turns out to be an interesting and well-written story abut the psychology of long-term near-lightspeed space travel. Although, as the primary 'gimmick' of the story is how shady the main character is acting, it is not exactly a fun story.

Blue Champagne: Technically, a novella. This won the 1982 Locus Award for best novella, and is, I believe, the earliest appearance of Anna Louise Bach by internal chronology. However, she is only a secondary character in this story, which deals primarily with Megan Galloway (who will also appear in Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo and as a historical figure in Steel Beach), the famous feelie star (immersive VR, now with added emotion!) and Q.M., a retired Olympic swimmer working as a lifeguard in a giant orbital resort. The story follows their relationship and Galloway's struggle to remain independent despite crippling injuries.

Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo: A most excellent story fitting the style of the later Eight World books and filling in some of the Anna Louise Bach narrative. Bach is stuck in a dead-end job -- she's too smart and efficient to be promoted. Luckily, this puts her in just the right position to interfere when a young girl is found trapped on a quarantined (and assumed deserted) orbital station. She finds herself in the middle of a political tangle as corporations, the government, and the military try to figure out the best spin in the situation... and she may even be able to save the girl.

Options: A story of life on Luna during the time period that sex change operations become cheap, safe, and easy. The plot is fairly straightforward -- a 'normal' (Lunar) housewife decides that she wants to try being a man for a while, and we get to see how this stresses her marriage. This story is comparatively light on the science fiction, and heavy on the sociology and psychology of sexual identity and gender identity. It is a well-written story that is consistent with the Eight Worlds, but is not considered part of the canon.

Lollipop and the Tar Baby: Another Eight Worlds story, somewhat reminiscent of The Ophiuchi Hotline. Xanthia and Zoetrope are black hole hunters -- long-range space scouts, looking for drifting micro-holes in the general neighborhood of the Sol system. They come across an impossibility -- a sentient black hole -- and find that it has its own plan for them. This is a quite good story, despite a good amount of unnecessary incest.

The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged): I don't know what this is. It's a story about everyone in New York City, but with some left out. It's a sarcastic look at SF's take on atomic war. It's what happens when the phone company is taken over by an AI, who then goes senile. Or something. A pleasant read, in any case.

The Unprocessed Word: The SF community is a fairly tight-knit group, and every so often stories come along that are half in jokes and half an author just being silly because he knows he is among friends. This is one of those. Varley goes a bit nutty, and starts a personal crusade against computers and word processors (still relatively new in the 1980s), references a few writers who's lives have been ruined by computers, and just about drives his editor around the bend. While this is certainly a story about the SF community, it is not SF itself, and is not much of a story.

Press Enter █: another novella, and one of Varley's most popular. In 1985 it won a Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and Locus Award. It is a classic paranoid computer espionage story, but with Vietnamese/Cambodian war victims as the protagonists. It has echos of Spider Robinson's writing style, and sets the stage for the popularity of cyberpunk novels in the 1980s. The story starts when a reclusive computer hacker dies, leaving all of his estate to his unsuspecting neighbor. This estate includes a large amount of impressive equipment, an even larger amount of data -- if it can be accessed without destroying it -- and at least one powerful enemy who does not want anyone to discover... something.

Overall, a very strong collection. If you are a serious fan, you might want to first read The Barbie Murders (later republished as Picnic On Nearside), which contains the earlier Anna Louise Bach stories. However, this collection can certainly be enjoyed on its own. Some of the stories are a bit dated, particularly the computer technology in Press Enter █ and The Unprocessed Word, but other stories, such as Options have held up very well, and the Eight World stories are set so far in the future that it will be decades before they start to age. This is a particularly good read if you have an interest in 'classic' (well, classic-ish) SF, but is still enjoyable if you are more familiar with more modern stories.

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