Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Distraction

Sterling, Bruce. Distraction. Bantam Books, 1998, 439 p.

This book was enough to drive me to distraction. I picked it up after I saw in a list at CNET or Wired or someplace like that and it was lauded as one of the most influential SF books of the last decade. Or something like that. Hard to understand why. It's not that Sterling didn't have a good idea for the plot. He did. Imagine a near-future USA where the political establishment is all but impotent, where regional authority has by and large replaced national cohesion. Global warming has seriously altered the world's climate. Genetic engineering is careening out of control. Privacy has all but disappeared. But politicians still pretend they matter and campaigns are still run. Into this world steps Oscar Valparaiso, the handler for newly elected senator, Alcott Bambakia. It's a nice set-up. Unfortunately Sterling doesn't do much with it. Or rather he doesn't let his story unfold. Instead we are treated to page after page of dialog and exposition, which Sterling seems to mistake for action. The few times that Sterling lets the characters act and engage in real activity the book starts to move forward. But soon it all bogs down again as Sterling puts long speeches and justifications into their mouths.

I should have known this would happen. I'm not a big fan of Sterling's fiction. But I love his nonfiction work. He's done some fine journalism for Wired and his book of essays, Tomorrow Now, was pretty good. I think it'll be awhile before I try any more fiction from Bruce Sterling.


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