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Visionary in Residence
Bruce Sterling
Thunder's Mouth Press, 320 pages

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: Visionary in Residence
SF Site Review: A Good Old Fashioned Future
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 Greg L. Johnson

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Visionary in Residence In the blink of an adult lifetime (mine), Bruce Sterling has gone from fiery young literary radical to respected spokesman and commentator. Works such as Schismatrix and Islands in the Net, along with editing Mirrorshades, the defining cyberpunk anthology, quickly established his reputation in science fiction. Non-fiction like The Hacker Crackdown and a continual presence on the internet have given him name recognition and influence outside his science fiction audience, Bruce Sterling is one of the few SF writers who has Done Good and made a name for himself well beyond the confines of the science fiction community.

It's good to see, then, that Sterling is still writing SF, enough for a new collection of stories with commentary by the author. As the title, Visionary in Residence suggests, though, the lasting impression left after reading the stories is that the author, while still capable of creating new worlds, has become a bit more interested in the ideas behind the stories than in how the stories are told.

That tendency is especially evident in "Luciferace," the second story in Visionary in Residence. The idea of intelligent, smart-ass bugs who converse about chemical triggers and biological urges is clever, but the story itself does little more than showcase the bugs' amusing understanding of their own biology. It's fun, but doesn't seem to have anything larger to say. The same is true of "The Growthing," an architecture story about a cool building that Sterling writes was "a pleasure to provide plot and characters" for. Again, the problem is the characters and plot are only there to show what a great idea the building is.

Sterling is too good a writer, however, for there not to be some worthwhile stuff here. Interestingly, the two best stories in the collection are collaborations, "The Scab's Progress," written with Paul Di Filippo, and "Junk DNA," with Rudy Rucker. "The Scab's Progress" is a ribofunk tale of two bio-scavengers searching for a legendary genetic sample in the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa. "Junk DNA" is the story of two business-women, and what happens when they go into business selling pets made from their owners DNA. Both of these stories have what's lacking in much of the rest of the stories in Visionary in Residence, the delight of telling a good story, they're more than an excuse to demonstrate a good idea.

That's the bad news about Sterling's latest collection. The good news is Bruce Sterling has a large body of work that remains well worth reading. If you're new to his work and looking for a good introduction, the collections Crystal Express and Globalhead both showcase Sterling at his short-story writing best. In addition to the novels mentioned at the top of this review, Holy Fire and Distraction are examples of what Sterling can do when he's in good form, extrapolate current trends into the lives of people who feel like they could be you, living in stories that could be yours, if you lived in their particular future full of wonders, problems, and yes, interesting ideas, too.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is often amused at how the ideas, images, and style of cyberpunk can still be seen in the world around us today. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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