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Irontown Blues
An Eight Worlds Novel
by John Varley
Ace Books; $16; 289 pp.
Published: August 2018

Mix a little film noir; femme fatale and all, Heinlein (perhaps The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress) and a loyal cybernetically-enhanced bloodhound named Sherlock and you’ve got the eccentric makings of Varley’s current novel.

An ex-cop named Christopher Bach, having received a large settlement after injuries received during a police action during an event called the Big Glitch, decides he wants to be a reincarnation of Phillip Marlowe; a 1940s shamus with a small dingy office up a few flights of stairs in a grungy part of downtown Los Angeles.  Except this is the moon. And it is now centuries later and most humans have left Earth after the Invaders arrived and decimated a lot of the population. Humans now live on most of the other planets and a lot of the moons.  The moon sounds like an overcrowded mess. But everyone is entitled to air, food, a place to live, and other services, since robots and the Central Computer do a lot of the work (and thinking) for the lunar residents.

Christopher Bach is steeped in the nostalgia of film noir: Farewell My Lovely, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon, etc. He even sports a fedora.

He doesn’t have a lot of clients, but it’s enough work to keep him, well… entertained and moderately occupied.

A real dame with veiled hat and all comes to the office and hires him. Yuck! She has a genetically engineered case of leprosy and shows him her half-destroyed fingers and face. Apparently on the moon right now, disfiguring diseases are all the rage. They can be easily fixed. Except for “Mary Smith’s” case. She wants Bach to track down the rather virulent affliction she acquired and catch the miscreant who gave it to her.

And we’re off.- exploring a crammed Luna littered with multitudinous “disneyland” environments like high mountains to ski on, the beach, etc. The moon has everything to keep the residents entertained. But because it’s been centuries, the moon is crowded and neighborhoods blend into others, stacked and piled and added to all over the place. And, of course, a little worn down.

Luna is not paradise for everyone. The “Heinleiners” live off the grid and have their own society, eschewing the use of the Central Computer and running things on their own. There is also ”Irontown” the place where people gravitate to simply because they have no skills or desires to do anything much more than exist—or indulge in criminal behavior…

We don’t only get Chris Bach’s narration of the events in this novel. We also get the bloodhound Sherlock, who has a “translator” able to decipher, for the most part, what the dog observes and smells and even some of his emotions because she is trained to do so with some mental enhancements. And Sherlock has an engaging doggy sense of humor.

So the bloodhound has separate entries giving us his view of the situations Bach finds himself in.

It’s a wonderful adventure. Lots of high drama and explosive fights and a very intense ending. Luna’s Central Computer which runs everything and keeps tabs on everyone is going insane…and evil.

This was just such a fun read. I really recommend it.  I am sure there will be more adventures of Sherlock and Bach. ~~ Sue Martin

For more titles by John Varley click here

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