John Varley was born in Austin and raised on the Gulf
Coast where he learned to run behind DDT-spraying trucks
during heavy mosquito raids. Since then he seems to be
immune to the bites of non-Texas mosquitoes.
His ticket out of the petrochemical stinks and hellish
humidity of tiny Nederland, Texas, was a National Merit
Scholarship to Michigan State University with plans to be a
scientist. Science turned out to be boring. So did English
and, shortly after that, school itself. He stopped going to
classes except the ones where they showed classic movies.
He once hitch-hiked from Detroit to East Lansing to catch a
screening of Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou.”
After a year and a half he hit the road with a friend,
ending up in San Francisco just in time for the “The Summer
of Love,” which neither of them knew was going on. The
first day there he sang and chanted with Allen Ginsberg in
a hippie crash pad. He decided he was a hippie. He found
out he is allergic to marijuana. That was a bummer, because
people kept thinking he was a narc. So he smoked it
sometimes, and threw up.
He criss-crossed the country for a while. He lived in
Tucson where he met Linda Ronstadt before she got famous.
He got caught in a traffic jam in upstate New York that
turned out to be the Woodstock Festival; he couldn’t get
out for three days. He dodged the draft. He spent six years
with no visible source of income and still can’t recall how
he did that. But it must have been harder than it sounds
because, in 1973 he decided to become a Science Fiction
writer. In other words, work.
He wrote a terrible novel in longhand, then learned to type
and has sold everything he has written since then. Varley
was one of the first writers to be called “The New
Heinlein.” This flattered and troubled him, since the Old
Heinlein was a major role model-- and not yet dead.
He used to be a fast writer, but now he is very slow. He
doesn’t know why. His post-hippie life has been the usual
financial ups and downs of a free-lance writer, but he has
never held another job. His work has been translated into
16 languages he can’t read, including Esperanto.
There was a ten-year hiatus in his career when he worked in
Hollywood with such people as Douglass Trumbull, John
Foreman, and David Begelman. He made good money and once
had an office right at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio gate.
He met Mel Gibson, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Charlton
Heston, and many other stars. They were all shorter than he
had imagined, except Weaver. (John Varley stands 6’ 6”
without his cowboy boots.)
Only one movie resulted from this time, and it was bad:
MILLENNIUM, starring Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd, and
Daniel J. Travanti. Varley takes the entire blame for this.
He got out with his sanity intact, and has now resumed his
John Varley recently lived in Portland, Oregon, above a
pretty good Italian restaurant which burned down shortly
after he left. He now lives in a big RV parked fifty yards
from the beach on California’s Central Coast, with Lee
Emmett, who has become his first editor. She’s good at it
and full of useful suggestions. They shared a nineteen-year-
old dog named Cirocco, who was the prettiest fat Sheltie in
Oregon, even when she got so miserable with arthritis that
they had to put her to sleep. He finally finished his long-
overdue novel MAMMOTH and is currently writing his not-yet-
overdue novel, a sequel to RED THUNDER.
Books:Irontown Blues, September 2018
Eight Worlds Metal Trilogy #3
Dark Lightning, August 2014
Slow Apocalypse, September 2012
Rolling Thunder, March 2008
Mammoth, June 2006