Bookmarks Issue: 
John Varley

A-MammothIn the barren Canadian province of Manitoba, billionaire computer genius Howard Christian has commissioned a hunt for a frozen mammoth to clone. When his people excavate a fully intact frozen woolly mammoth, he’s ecstatic. But the discovery becomes even more significant when they also uncover a well-preserved Stone Age man, about 12,000 years old, lying next to the beast. The mummified man is wearing a wristwatch. And clutching a time machine. The profit seems to be in time travel rather than mammoth cloning, so Christian hires a world-famous physicist to fix the contraption and unlock its secrets.
Ace Hardcover. 368 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0441012817 4 of 5 Stars
"Taking center stage may be little Fuzzy, a woolly/Columbian mammoth hybrid from the stone-age who, after traveling through time and loosing his herd, becomes a circus star the likes of which we have never seen! . . . With a light hand, [Varley] presents abstract subjects, helping the reader to visualize the principle in question while staying in touch with the humanity of the characters." Shaun Farrell

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Varley is aware that he is toiling in the long shadow of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. . . . By the time the identity of the mummified caveman is revealed, Mammoth has worked through its suspenseful premise with the perfect amount of wit and craftsmanship." Michael Berry 4 of 5 Stars
"Howard Christian, as a conglomeration of Bill Gates and Howard Hughes (and maybe one of Ayn Rand’s protagonists as well) is utterly believable. . . . As for the chrono-whimsies, suffice it to say that Varley has already exhibited his mastery of the paradoxical, which gets a fine workout here." Paul Di Filippo

SFRevu 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[E]ven though I was certain I knew how things would work out from the start, he managed to misdirect me just enough to keep guessing till the end, which turned out to be better than I’d hoped. . . . Not a perfect story, as there are a few plot points you could drive a herd of woolly mammoths through, but inventive, refreshing, and peopled by engaging folks." Ernest Lilley

Critical Summary

Over the past three decades, Varley has won almost every SF award. Called "The New Heinlein" and described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a far better science fiction writer than [Michael] Crichton," Varley has written a captivating time-travel thriller. Although he delves deeply into scientific and metaphysical principles, Varley never loses sight of his characters, who, like the engaging baby mammoth Fuzzy, keep the book alive. Besides its great humor, intelligent prose, spiritual discovery, and great emotional range, critics also praised the novel’s clever structure: it begins with chapter five. "The result," writes Shaun Farrell, "is a unique piece of work: a book that makes you think critically while keeping it enjoyable and fun."

Where to Start

The John Varley Reader Thirty Years of Short Fiction | John Varley (2004): This wonderful introduction to the classic SF writer contains his best short fiction, including "Picnic on Nearside," "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank," "The Barbie Murders," and others.