Birthday Reviews: John Varley’s “Just Another Perfect Day”

Birthday Reviews: John Varley’s “Just Another Perfect Day”

Cover by Gottfried Helnweinn
Cover by Gottfried Helnweinn

John Varley was born on August 9, 1947.

Varley has won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for his novellas “The Persistence of Vision” and “Press Enter [].” He won an additional Hugo Award for the short story “The Pusher.” His novel Red Thunder won the Endeavour Award. The novel version of The Persistence of Vision won the Prix Apollo. His novella “In the Halls of the Martian Kings” won the Jupiter Award. He won the Prometheus Award for The Golden Globe. “Press Enter []” and “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo” both won the Seiun Award. In 2009, Varley won the Robert A. Heinlein Award. One of Varley’s most famous stories, “Air Raid,” which formed the basis of the novel and film Millennium, was originally published with the pseudonym “Herb Boehm.”

“Just Another Perfect Day” was originally published in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine in June of 1989 by editor Tappan King. Gardner Dozois picked the story up for his The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection. When Dozois’s volume was translated into Italian in 1995, Varley’s story was translated by Massimo Patti and included in the volume Millemondi Inverno 1995. In 1996 it appeared in translation in the German magazine Galaxies #3 and was translated into Japanese in 1998. Varley included the story in The John Varley Reader and John Joseph Adams reprinted it in the April 2011 issue of Lightspeed, as well as a performance of the book in the Lightspeed Podcast for the same year.

One of the cliché’s of science fiction is the character who awakens to a blank slate, in an empty room, with no idea who they are, where they are, or even what year they are in. It is a way for authors to provide necessary information not only to the character, but to the reader. In “Just Another Perfect Day,” John Varley bases his entire story on that cliché, providing a letter to his amnesiac, written by a previous version of the amnesiac, to explain the important parts of what has happened in the twenty-two years since his last actual memory.

The majority of the letter explains to the reader what the day has in store for him, what happened to him in 1989 that caused him not to remember anything since 1986, and eventually the salient features of what has changed in the world that he doesn’t remember, notably that the Earth has been invaded by aliens, called Martians, although they don’t come from there, and each day they are interested in visiting with him for an hour to talk. The subjects of these discussions, both historically, and in the context of the day the story is set, is left up to the reader to conjecture.

A minor quibble is that the author of the letter notes that the Martians removed the letter “Q” from the alphabet, among other relatively minor changes, and states that where one would expect a “Q” the letters “kw” appear instead, yet the story includes the words “questions,” “queasy,” “frequently,” “Square,” etc. A minor issue, but consistency would have improved the story.

Originally published in 1989, the story predicted the disappearance of the World Trade Center between 1989 and 2004, although Varley’s explanation for it is quite different than reality.

Reprint reviewed in the collection The John Varley Reader, by John Varley, Ace Books, 2004.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

Oh, c’mon, Steven! You know that there was a famous classic published by a writer born on this date.

And no, I’m not talking about “Flowers for Algernon”! Or even Mary Poppins!

How could you have passed up the opportunity to review the immortal “Eye of Argon”, by my fellow St. Louisan Jim Theis?


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