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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Golden Globe

Reviewed: December 28, 2005
By: John Varley
Publisher: Ace Books
517 pages, $10.99

An actor’s lot is often not a happy one. The life story of Kenneth C. Valentine is the stuff of The Golden Globe, played out on a cosmic stage that includes the entire solar system.

Well, not all. In Varley’s vision of humanity’s future we got kicked off the homeworld by mysterious aliens who destroyed everyone still on Earth during what appears to have been little more than a sneeze on their part. Humanity got to keep the Moon, and other colonies in the solar system, which included some of the planets, many other  moons and asteroids too numerous to mention. For some reason, THEY left us alone in space.

Kenneth is centenarian actor (lots has been done with chemistry, genetics and implants in this future) intent on escaping his past, a past in which he was probably guilty of parricide, though it’s a little confusing. Ken travels the spaceways with an enhanced canine companion and a bit of luggage that would make even the most experienced traveler turn green with envy.

He’s a wandering thespian, acting when he can and conning when he can’t, and he never intended to cross swords with the law or the criminal element again. Somehow he runs afoul of the Charonese Mafia (think of them as Sopranos with attitude) and finds himself fleeing across the solar system trying to escape an assassin and hoping to survive long enough to play King Lear under the best director in the solar system.

It is during the periods of hibernation enabling him to make this long voyage from the moons of Pluto to Earth’s Moon that Ken, who is telling us all this, slips into the third person and relates the story of his long life.

It’s fascinating stuff. The kid was raised by his dad, John Barrymore Valentine, an abusive monster who made his life hell, but had him reciting  all of Shakespeare from memory by the age of six. It’s while they’re sort of on the run that Ken stumbles onto the gig that is the making of his career and becomes the child star known as Sparky. Growth inhibitors and other wizardry enable him to keep this act going for a long, long time, until he finally decides he’s rich enough, and has been a kid long enough, that it’s time to grow up.

You know what they say about the adult careers of many a child actor.

Some of this story is told us by Hildy Johnson, the reporter who was the central character in Steel Beach, an earlier Varley novel. Some of it comes in press releases and other news coverage, but most of it is from Sparky himself, who flees the moon after his dad’s death, his only companions being a dog named Toby and the itinerant ghost of Elwood P. Dodd, who looks a lot like Jimmy Stewart and sometimes acts more like Tom Destry.

Varley writes a great story, with enough action, humour and plot twists to keep you turning those pages. He’s indicated that this book and Steel Beach form two-thirds of a loose trilogy, in that the books occupy about the same time frame and have some overlapping characters.

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