Themes and Characters
Corporal Anna-Louise Bach is the point-of-view character for most of Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo. She is too acid tongued for her own good and has been placed in a dead-end job because she has throughout her career failed to show respect to incompetent superiors. She supervises the crew that mans the New Dresden Police Department's monitoring room. When the presence of a living person on the space station Tango Charlie is suspected, this crew activates the station's few functioning cameras and observes the girl.
Bach is a sad, lonely figure. She is attracted to empty-headed but muscular men and moves from one love affair to another, without ever feeling fulfilled. The lonely isolation of the little girl tugs at her heart, and she ends up making decisions based on morality and emotions rather than public opinion. The little girl calls herself Charlie.
Why she has remained a child for more than thirty years is a mystery, although the disease Neuron-X might have something to do with it. She is Tango Charlie's only human survivor. She is kept company by the descendants of Shetland Sheepdogs that survived the Neuron-X plague, as well as by Tik-Tok, the space station's computer. Her time is spent maintaining the space station and raising Shetland Sheepdogs to exacting dog-show competition standards. Tik-Tok makes sure that she follows a busy daily schedule of chores, sees to it that she eats nutritious meals, and bathes and grooms herself. She is lonely but does not know it. When first seen on camera, she is a startling picture: She has makeup smeared on her face like war paint, and wherever she goes she seems surrounded by a sea of flowing dogs. Her courage in the face of isolation and possible death makes her endearing; her childlike innocence helps make Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo one of Varley's most passionate and moving works.
An unusual character is the news reporter Megan Galloway. Once paralyzed from the neck down, she became famous as a mechanized being who moved with the aid of a golden exoskeleton and who exploited the glamorous and erotic possibilities her extraordinarily beautiful exoskeleton offered. Medical science eventually advanced enough to allow her to regain most of her natural mobility, although she uses a cane to help her walk. Now a high-profile reporter, she still wears ornaments that resemble parts of her no-longer-needed exoskeleton. She learns through informants of Charlie's plight, and takes an immediate and intense interest in the child's welfare. Seemingly cynical on the outside, she is actually a responsible and caring person who tempers her desire for a good story with compassion. Like Charlie, she is something of a freak; she empathizes strongly with the little girl's loneliness. It is Galloway who creates a plan to save the child. She is a bizarre, otherworldly figure, yet she has a core of humanity that makes her a believable and sympathetic character.
The conflict between incompetent civil servants and compassionate ones is an old idea, featured in perhaps thousands of works of fiction. It is not for the use of such a well-worn idea that Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo is special, nor in the tired sex lives of its characters; it is exceptional for its presentation of the problems of mortality through a person who is at once a little girl and a woman, as well as for its exceptionally well-paced plot and genuine emotional content.