|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Followed by||The Golden Globe, (1998)|
Steel Beach is a novel by John Varley, a science fiction writer who has won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards multiple times. Steel Beach is set in the same continuity as The Golden Globe, but takes place much earlier, and was published in 1993.
The same year it was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards for Best Novel. When it first came out it garnered much attention for its opening line: 'In five years the penis will become obsolete'.
The Golden Globe and Steel Beach take place in a universe similar to, but different from, Varley’s "Eight Worlds" universe; in both universes, the solar system has been colonized by human refugees fleeing aliens (known simply as "the Invaders") invading the Earth. Earth and Jupiter are off-limits to humanity, but Earth's moon (known as Luna) and the other planets and moons of the solar system have all become heavily populated. There are also minor colonies set in the Oort cloud beyond the solar system itself.
The Steel Beach in question is Luna, Earth's moon and the most heavily-inhabited world in the solar system since the Invaders obliterated human civilization on Earth. The allusion being that humans were thrown onto the inhospitable moon, just as fish made their way onto land as they evolved.
The protagonist, Hildy Johnson, is a newspaper reporter who finds trouble beneath the near-utopian society run by the Central Computer. The Central Computer runs every aspect of every person's life: it is the government, court, information source, and friend to every citizen.
Hildy Johnson starts off as a male reporter in the beginning of the book. He, like many people in the moon, has become dissatisfied with life. As a result, society, as well as Hildy, take part in destructive activities such as "slash boxing" (a blend of knife fighting and boxing), and in Hildy's case, attempting suicide multiple times.
The first half of the story deals with the bizarre occurrences of life on the moon, such as the indoctrinations of celebrity heads-in-jars, negotiating with brontosaurus herds to figure out who they will sacrifice to make burger patties, and Earth-themed Disneylands which come complete with snakes, sand and sunburns. In the second half, Hildy makes contact with a group of people who have figured out how to travel through space without spacesuits. These people then reveal that they are hiding from the Central Computer, partially to keep their technology secret, and to keep free of secret experiments the Central Computer has been performing on people.
Hildy then learns that the Central Computer has been attempting to clone the deceased in order to keep the population up. Hildy then becomes suspect, as she (he has had a sex change by now) has attempted to commit suicide several times, and it is unclear if she has been rescued or cloned. The Central Computer eventually resorts to launching a military raid on the people, which eventually causes the machine itself to crash. This leaves the moon city in chaos, and in its death throes, the Central Computer sends a projection of itself to Hildy, explaining that the schizoid nature of having multiple versions of itself was conflicting and strenuous, and that the city's doom was inevitable.
- "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-26.