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A Good Old-Fashioned Future
Bruce Sterling
Bantam Spectra Books, 304 pages

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

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Not being a fan of cyberpunk, I've managed to avoid Bruce Sterling for years. However, when a recent anthology of his stories appeared under my nose, I decided that I had better see what everybody has been raving about.

A Good Old-Fashioned Future contains seven stories set in the near future, all of which feature international settings, clever high tech detail and interesting ideas. Sterling certainly has a feel for globalization. In "The Littlest Jackel," for instance, Russian mafioso hire Bosnian mercenaries to help Finnish separatists stage a rebellion in the Aland islands, so the Russians can use the Alands as a handy site for various shady business ventures, such as laundering rubles in Japan via Finnish toys.

Sterling also has sharp observations to make about modern society. In "Bicycle Repairman", a bunch of political handlers are scrambling to cover up a big scandal, but they are so far out of touch with their constituency that they haven't realized the American public doesn't CARE.

The last story in the book, "Taklamakan", was easily my favourite. Two extreme climbers, Katrinko and Spider Pete, are hired to find a hidden Chinese experimental base deep in the remote Taklamakan desert. As the story opens, the mission is going badly wrong. Then Katrinko and Spider find the rumoured base and things get much worse than either of them could have imagined.

The science in this story is some of Sterling's best, from the climbing gizmos to the extreme fringes of cyber-technology at the Chinese base. Many people who try to look into the future just create a more-of-the-same-but-bigger-and-faster scenario, but Sterling has the imagination to conceive of massive, transforming qualitative change. This story is also closest to being a cohesive tale, rather than a lengthy anecdote.

Still, if you like decisive endings, Sterling is not for you. All his stories trail off, their conclusions vaguely implied; their characters fates foreshadowed but not decided. When the smoke clears, the reader can see that the situation will remain much the same. It's very artsy and post-modern, but does not appeal to me as a reader.

Coming to Bruce Sterling right after Nina Kiriki Hoffman (A Red Heart of Memories) also made me acutely aware that Sterling's stories, although exceptionally well written, are emotionally shallow. His characters are all style and no substance, and consequently I found my interest in them waning quickly, despite the awesome special effects.

Sterling's stories are masterfully written, but they ultimately left me thinking "So, who cares?" Consequently, I won't be rushing back for more.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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