The Ophiuchi Hotline

John Varley
The Ophiuchi Hotline Cover

They Came for the Dolphins


Try not to take this personally.

In the year 2050, invaders from another galaxy enter our solar system and take over Jupiter and Earth. They have come to make contact with intelligent species like themselves, which unfortunately does not include the human race. On earth they are interested in only whales and dolphins. Human beings they put in the same category as beavers and muskrats. By plowing under the surface of the planet, they cause most earth life to starve. I suppose the invaders are meanwhile in the oceans partying down with whales and dolphins. Humans that have already begun populating the moon and the eight other planets the invaders leave to their own resources. We are like squirrels: just part of the landscape unless we become a nuisance and require an exterminator.

Progress on the eight worlds has been speeded along by transmissions that appear to come from Ophiuchi, a star seventeen light years away. Even though most of the information is unintelligible, mankind now has sophisticated technologies such as cloning, advanced space travel, and these really nifty suits that fit you like a skintight mirror and allow you to exist for thirty hours in a vacuum.

Lilo is a geneticist condemned to death for unlicensed experimentation. She is freed by Boss Tweed, ex-president and now among the wealthiest men in the universe. (Why the historical reference here I never understood.) Tweed finances the Free Earth movement, a fool's errand that hopes to expel the Invaders. Lilo is smart and spunky. She has been killed three times trying to escape and is now living as her third or fourth clone. She finally goes off on Tweed's sponsored expedition to Poseidon, Jupiter's crummiest moon. From here on out there are so many plots and so many agendas that the book turns into the wild adventure that has earned it classic status. The characters are smart and capable of facing each challenge thrown their way. Varley's settings, whether they are the manmade caverns on Poseidon or Tweed's absurd Disney-like environments, stay true to their own logic and give each episode its own feel.

There has also been a disturbing new transmission from Ophuichi. It is garbled like all the rest, but it is unmistakably a bill, and there are some serious late charges.