When Bill Schafer first proposed this book, he sent me a list of my stories that were not currently available in book form. There were eleven of them, and he wanted to know what order I’d prefer to have them appear. I wrote them all down and thought about them (for the first time in years, in some cases), pondered what they were about and other way of ordering them. Many of them go back to the 1970s, and like most of us, I was a different person that long ago.
I wasn’t getting anywhere with it, and then it occurred to me to consider the settings of these stories. Many of them were written during a time when we were making new discoveries about our solar system, some of which pulled the rug out from under our old pictures of the planets. Jupiter had rings and a lot more moons than we thought (66 at current count). Saturn’s rings were almost infinitely more complex than we thought. Mars had the largest mountain in the system, and a gigantic canyon. Deimos looked like a potato.
The moneyed British classes used to do something called the “Grand Tour” of Europe. By train and steamship they would visit all the cultural landmarks of the continent, from Paris to Venice, from Moscow to Madrid. The theory ran something like “If you go to these places, some of the culture will rub off on you.”
And I realized that I could order some of the stories as a sort of Grand Tour of the Solar System.
Not all of them fit–the last two stories here are more essays than stories, and another is a one-off that has nothing to do with anything else I have written.
And I won’t be able to take you to all the planets.
There’s no Mars story here. If you want one, try “In the Hall of the Martian Kings,” in my collection The John Varley Reader, or my novels Red Thunder, Red Lightning, and Rolling Thunder. (Or there are the excellent Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson and Joe Haldeman.)
There is no Jupiter story. If you want to read one, try Rolling Thunder.
There is no Uranus story. If you want to read one that visits the Uranian moons, try my novel The Golden Globe.
There is no Neptune story. If you want to read one…well, the cruise ship SS Varley never got around to docking there. Sorry about that. And offhand, I can’t recall any memorable stories by other authors set around Neptune.
But I do have a Pluto story–“Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe”–written back when the poor little icy world was still a planet. Now it’s a “dwarf planet,” along with Ceres, Haumea (which even has two moons of its own!), Makemake, Eris, and maybe Orcus, Quaoar, Sedna, and one so new it’s not even named yet: 2007 OR. You can’t blame me for not including them on the itinerary since, except for Ceres, they hadn’t even been discovered when I wrote these stories.
I do wish I’d written a story about Neptune, though…