The Ophiuchi Hotline
|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (August 2009)|
The novel both introduces and finalizes the story elements of Varley's Eight Worlds series which are further explained in other novels and short stories, which explore earlier stages of the story of humanity, post-2050.
In the year 2050, a race called only Invaders has destroyed all human technology on Earth, so that the remaining people on the planet exist at a stone-age level. The rest of humanity survives on all available solid bodies in the solar system with the aid of a technology derived from information in the Ophiuchi Hotline, a radio signal apparently beamed from the star 70 Ophiuchi. They live mostly underground on bodies such as Luna, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Pluto. There are no settlements on the moons of Jupiter, because the Invaders live in the atmosphere of that planet. Using Symbiotic Spacesuits ("Symbs"), thousands of humans also enjoy an odd existence floating in the rings of Saturn.
The Invaders' purpose is simple - they recognize two kinds of intelligent life: themselves, evolving in the atmospheres of planets like Jupiter, and sea-living mammals like whales and dolphins. Humans and other tool-users qualify only as vermin. They reduced humanity to the stone-age (starving billions to death in the process) to protect the whales and dolphins.
A major political division among the space-bound humans is the division between "Free Earthers" who seek to go on fighting the Invaders and liberate the home planet, and their opponents who feel that provoking the incomparably powerful Invaders would be both foolhardy and dangerous.
Important technological elements of the stories are cloning and the ability to record memories and restore them to a brain at a later date. There is also advanced surgery used for cosmetic body alteration. Everyone is fitted with a data port which allows them to be interrogated by computer. They can also have their nervous system shut down selectively for surgery. Many people change sex on a whim. Others choose to exist without sex at all.
One result of the universal possibility of creating a clone of a dead person is that murder has gone down in importance, being considered a second-rate crime rather than the heinous act it is in our society - since the victim would be revived, and the murderer has only deprived him or her of a few months' memories and experiences.
The possibility of cloning is, however, strictly limited to reviving a dead person. For the sake of keeping the population down, it is absolutely forbidden to make a copy of a living person. Upon discovery, such an "illegal copy" - who is as much of a living, feeling human being as the "original" - must be destroyed immediately. Therefore, illegally made clones have no recourse to law and are in effect at the mercy of whoever created them - a point of central importance to the plot.
Lilo is a rebel geneticist living on Luna. Violating the laws of the Eight Worlds, she has experimented with human DNA, using money she received from her legal work on such creations as the "Bananameat" tree. As the story opens, she is facing execution.
On the eve of her execution, she is visited by "Boss Tweed", the most powerful politician in Luna. Accompanying Tweed is a formidable bodyguard and Lilo's own clone, fresh out of the growth tank with a full set of Lilo's memories. Tweed offers Lilo a deal - she can escape and the clone will die, or vice versa. It's never clear which she chooses, because the next scenes show one Lilo committing suicide in the prison and another going free with Tweed. Whichever it is, the corpse goes into the "Hole", a captive black hole which serves as a power plant for Luna, generating energy from garbage tossed into it.
Lilo learns she is to become a cog in Tweed's machine, to be trained for use in his schemes to strike back at the Invaders. Like all Lunarians she periodically records her memories for restoration into a clone should her body die. The first time she does this, she revives and is told that she has been killed twice, for escaping from Tweed. She is the third clone Tweed has made of Lilo. Thus Lilo resolves to be much more careful.
Tweed's bodyguards are themselves clones of one individual, both male and female, called "Vaffa" or sometimes "Hygeia". They are large, strong and deadly. Tweed's one weakness is that his entire operation is clandestine. Despite his power, his illegal cloning and his intent to take on the Invaders would result in his downfall if it were generally known.
The Hotline people are taken aback. The cube is a null-field surrounding a singularity. Receiving a singularity from the Invaders is a sign that time is even shorter than they thought. It is another element of the story that always takes place. Because of Tweed's attack, the Invaders are preparing to evict humanity from the entire solar system, but before they do so, are offering humanity the chance to escape. The singularity is a tool to manipulate space-time and eliminate inertia, and can be used to evacuate the Solar System and allow humanity to seek a new home among the stars. Unfortunately, however, the available living space is spoken for, and humanity is in for a long time in the wilderness. Lilo, Diana and companions set out to return to the solar system, to break the bad news.
At the end the various Liloes, past, present and future, on Javelin's ship and on the asteroid, realize they have a connection. They have been having dreams all along, and realize that the place in the dreams is somewhere they will all meet, in the future.
- "1978 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-26.
- The Ophiuchi Hotline at Worlds Without End