The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

John Varley’s work examines questions of identity on many levels, with a particular emphasis on gender. The main character of Steel Beach is “Hildebrandt, Hildegarde, and Hildething,” one person who experiences much of the range of possibilities. The other main character is CC, the supercomputer responsible for all the day-to-day operations of life on Luna.

As the novel opens, Hildy Johnson is a male journalist working for the News Nipple and struggling with work that he sees, correctly, to be little more than scandal hunting. Hildy gets three “lucky” breaks in succession. First, he is the sole journalistic eyewitness to a sensational death at his mother’s brontosaurus ranch. Next, he is able to prove the cause of a lunar dome blowout. Finally, he becomes personally involved in the death by assassination of Silvio, the greatest musical star of his generation and one of the few people Hildy respected.

Hildy undergoes a sex change and is actively, if not successfully, suicidal. The toll taken by these stories convinces Hildy to live in Texas, a “disneyland,” where she has a cabin. Hildy hopes that the simple life of Texas will act as therapy, in the same way, perhaps, as the therapy attempted by CC. CC believes that Hildy’s depression, and that of many others like her, is affecting CC adversely. Hildy manages to shock CC by suggesting that rather than humans infecting CC with their depression, perhaps CC...

(The entire section is 470 words.)