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A novel by John Varley

First Edition: Quantum Science Fiction: 1977

When the Invaders came, ethereal creatures with a soft spot for cetaceans and vengeance in mind, humanity was driven off the face of the earth, driven to the warrens of Luna and the other eight worlds of the solar system.

This is the setting for what is commonly known as Varley's "Eight Worlds" universe, in which much of his fiction is set. The Ophiuchi Hotline is Varley's first novel of this sort.

The protagonist is Lilo, a brilliant geneticist and an outlaw, guilty of such "crimes against humanity" as genetic manipulation. At the opening of the book, she is sentenced and awaiting her death. A certain corrupt politician, Tweed, with a flavor for anachronistic character, and cheesy, villian-style lines (an aspect of his character upon which Varley comments from Lilo's perspective) has other plans, however. And he's going to make her an offer she can't refuse.

Throughout the novel, there are obscure references to mysterious transmissions, originating, from space in the area of Ophiucus, referred to as the Ophiuchi Hotline. (off-e-YOO-ki, as Varley points out in an author's note tailing the title page) Much of the advanced technology in the story is based on instructions sent over the Hotline, the source of which remains one of the largest riddles in the Solar System, along with the motivations of the broadcasters for feeding all this information to humankind. Though I wouldn't recommend reading this as your first Varley novel, (Not because it's not as good, but because it's so packed with Varley flavor that the beginner may be overwhelmed.) it's definitely one you want to get around to, especially if you have an interest in individualism or SF.

Varley's creations are wildly original and fantastic. The prose is sometimes as direct as a gun in the face, sometimes surreal and abstract. He conjures amazing imagery interspersed with witty dialogue and hard-edged characters brimming with grit in a future where survival has once again become a game of muscles, teeth, and poker, especially for anyone with a mind of her own and the balls to press her luck, like Lilo.

Next to the obvious themes of humans beyond Earth, and advanced technology, Varley also tackles the nature of human consciousness itself, especially with regards to cloning and memory recording. Your clone, infused with the sum of your experience, may have your memories and a body just like yours, it may fool your friends and your enemies, but it's not you... or is it?

The Ophiuchi Hotline is fantastic, another pearl in a priceless, and regrettably short, string authored by John Varley.

"I'll take the job," said Lilo, as loudly as she could.
Tweed looked at her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." She swallowed, hard. "Kill her. Let me live."

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