The Ophiuchi Hotline Essay - Critical Essays

John Varley


The Ophiuchi Hotline, John Varley’s first novel, was published after the author had established himself as an award-winning writer of science-fiction short stories. The novel builds on several themes and subjects introduced in Varley’s earlier works, such as memory transference, cloning, and uninhibited sexuality. Varley’s writing style has been compared to those of both Alfred Bester and the early Robert A. Heinlein.

Known as a feminist writer who frequently uses female protagonists, Varley creates a world in which gender roles are irrelevant. Characters may improve or enhance their natural bodies at whim, and sex changes are frequent and perfectly acceptable. Humans no longer define themselves by stereotyped sex roles, because they may adopt any body form that suits their occupation or their taste.

Humans are, however, not without prejudices. The theme of self-definition is prominent in the novel. Although twenty-seventh century humans have no qualms about modifying their outward characteristics, they are still prudish about changing their DNA, which, they believe, makes them human. They ignore the majority of the Ophiuchi Hotline data, which is meant to teach humans how to change themselves in order to adapt to life outside the solar system. Varley makes the point that in the same way that humans had to learn to free themselves of ethnic and gender biases, they must now learn to overcome their fear of changing basic human...

(The entire section is 448 words.)