How to Make a Near-Utopia Interesting: John Varley’s Eight World Stories

Between 1974 and 1980, John Varley wrote thirteen stories and one novel in the classic Eight Worlds setting. These worlds do not include Earth, which has been seized by aliens. Humans on the Moon and Mars survived and prospered. Humans have spread across the Solar System (with the exception of alien-owned Jupiter and Earth). The human past has been marked by a calamitous discontinuity (the Invasion and the struggle to survive the aftermath), but their present is, for the most part, technologically sophisticated, peaceful, stable, and prosperous.

Peace and prosperity sound like they’re good things, but perhaps not for authors. What kind of plots can be imagined if the standard plot drivers are off the table? How does one tell stories in a setting that, while not a utopia, can see utopia at a distance ? The premise seems unpromising, but thirteen stories and a novel argue that one can ...