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Zeitgeist
Bruce Sterling
Bantam Spectra Books, 291 pages


Eric Dinyer
Zeitgeist
Bruce Sterling
Bruce Sterling was born in 1954 in Brownsville, Texas. He attended University of Texas at Austin and worked for the Texas Legislative Council in Austin as a proofreader back in the late 70s-early 80s. He edited Mirrorshades, felt by many to be the definitive document of the cyberpunk movement. He writes a popular-science column for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and a literary-critical column for Science Fiction Eye. He has appeared on ABC's Nightline, BBC's The Late Show, CBC's Morningside, on MTV, and in Newsday, Omni, Whole Earth Review, Details, and Wired. He lives in Austin with his wife and daughter.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Good Old-Fashioned Future
SF Site Review: Distraction
SF Site Interview: Bruce Sterling

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

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This fantastic, hilarious novel provides a solid dose of nostalgia for Y2K. Remember when your brother-in-law refurbished his ammo reloading gear and bought a generator? Which he kept in the living room? And everyone's spouse had a job involving Y2K "compliance," as it was called? Including Marge Simpson?

"Leggy" Starlitz sells the sizzle with a Spice Girls band imitation. They don't bother with records, they just do the merchandising. As the millennium shuts down, they concentrate on Third World countries, ripe for commercial western culture. Gangsters in Istanbul muscle in on Leggy's scam, but Leggy is distracted anyway. His ex-wife has shown up, with the daughter Zeta, whom he has never met. His ex is ready to simplify her life a bit, blow off parenting, and so its Leggy's turn for a while.

Leggy and his daughter are both rather magical characters, perhaps as in magic realism, but also as in an understated ability to teleport and walk on ceilings. It runs in the family. Leggy's father is a spectre who appears when Leggy and his daughter conjure him up.

Leggy talks to his daughter about reality at one point, and tells her that the deeper reality is made out of language. Of course, this is even more true for characters in books than it is for the rest of us. We have to use words to think and communicate about reality.

The novel takes place in a strong popular culture context. There is the intense commercial music business stuff, of course -- but also much more, such as a Brian Eno reference,

"I know him back in Roxy Music... I know Brian Eno when he wear makeup and feathers."
In another exchange, Leggy's mentor interviews Zeta:
"You like Dragonball?" Makoto offered at last.
"Yeah," Zeta muttered, "Dragonball is pretty good."
"You like Sailor Moon?"
She perked up. "Sure!"
"'Pokémon? Hello Kitty?"
"'Everybody likes those! Who can't like those? They'd have to be stupid!"
As for magic realism, Leggy reminds us:
"Calvino is dead, and García Márquez is in the fucking hospital."
I really enjoyed this story. However, it occurs to me that some readers might find the characters annoying.
"Hey, Dad."
"Yeah?"
"Hey, Dad, you know something?"
"What?"
"Hey Dad, you know something, I never did anything like this before."
Little kids really talk like that, because adults never listen. Sterling, obviously, listens.

Leggy and his daughter may be abrasive, but Leggy is an attentive parent, and he also worries about the safety of the girls in the band as the clock winds down to Y2K; he feels strongly that the scam should end with the new year, and he is concerned that there won't be a place for him in the next millennium.

The thing about Y2K was that it was exciting to consider the end of civilization as we know it. Our modern world does have its problems, and it might have been, you know, an adventure. Maybe all the consumer debt databases might have disappeared! But Leggy made it through to the new year with just a bit of trauma, and I guess the rest of us did as well.

Copyright © 2001 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.


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