What would you do if you had a second chance at life If you found the fountain of youth Apparently the answer is go apeshit crazy and live like a BoHo, wandering around Europe Snark aside, I wanted to like this book I felt like I should like this book, but there s just something about his writing style that I just can t get through It s set far enough in the future that things are supposed to be familiar yet foreign, and the author seems to dwell on descriptions of things that are supposed to be common He seems to stand up and say hey look at how weird this is Isn t this weird and it s just plain distracting For example, apparently 100 years in the future, animal cruelty is accepted practice, and rich people s pets can be augmented with technology to be plot devices, appearing at just the moment when the narrative has fallen so deep into a rat hole that nothing but a mad talking dog can get it out again To be fair, one of the talking dogs yes, there are than one is a bit of a slap for the main character, revealing in one brief scene that the do whatever the hell I want attitude of the main character and her new social group does indeed have consequences In fact, that seems to be the only major consequence of ANY of the characters actions There s this feeling that these characters are supposed to be edgy and outside the law but with the exception of one law enforcement official that has very little actual presence in the action of the novel, there s a lot of laying sitting standing around and not a lot of running from the law And don t even get me started on the But we re ARTISTS thread The title of the book, Holy Fire is a metaphor for the inner passion felt by an artist, that force that drives them to create, and the fuel that powers their creativity There is constant referral to artifice which I think we are supposed to think of as a future melding of all of the creative arts architecture, painting, photography, etc Supposedly all these artistes are creating amazing things that are going to change the world, but at no point are we really ever told about them There s reference to some of the characters programming human machine interfaces that apparently intend to do what they ve been torturing animals with for a while, but the work of the rest of the characters doesn t seem to have any influence on the world And maybe that s the point I certainly can identify with the frustration that the youth of this novel feel, trapped under the control of an aging aristocracy a theme that is perhaps even relavant today than when the novel was written over a decade ago But it s hard to see how they re being oppressed Socialism is widespread, drugs are readily available, and there seems to be a magic tincture for everything, and escapism on the net is common I just don t know about this one.
Bruce Sterling, Named One Of The Best Thinkers In Science Fiction Today By Newsweek, Now Presents A Cutting Edge Novel About The Beginning Of The Transformation Of The Human Race Brilliant Fascinating Exciting A Full Complement Of Thrills The New York Review Of Science FictionIn An Era When Life Expectancies Stretch Years Or And Adhering To Healthy Habits Is The Only Way To Earn Better Medical Treatments, Ancient Post Humans Dominate Society With Their Ubiquitous Wealth And Power By Embracing The Safe And Secure, Year Old Mia Ziemann Has Lived A Long And Quiet Life Too Quiet, As She Comes To Realize, For Mia Has Lost The Creative Drive And Ability To Love The Holy Fire Of The Young But When A Radical New Procedure Makes Mia Young Again, She Has The Chance To Break Free Of Society S Cloying Grasp I was intrigued by the premise of this book, the ultimate Boomer Utopia old people control society and use technology and, er, well, let s not spoil thingsto stay young An old woman gets a new body and then travels to Europe where the book suddenly veers into the world of contemporary fashion and yet another anarchist character is presented as a sham loser why can t anarchist characters ever be like real anarchists Why do they always have to be exposed as frauds and valueless wimps Strong start, dumb ass conclusion, sorry, Bruce.
Holy Fire has some wonderful cyberpunk ideas and a few semi profound truths on art I liked that it sided equally with youth and age, showing the beauty and pitfalls of both.
But mostly it just felt flat Sterling has created a weird fascinating world I would have been ready to read chapters on the new bio city of Stuttgart, or on the plague that caused its destruction but we are stuck with his cardboard cereal characters, none of whom I empathised with or liked for a single second.
One of my favorite Sterling books, Holy Fire is very much a product of Sterling living overseas in Europe for an extended period of time It details the misadventures of a age rejuvenated woman Maia after a radical life extension procedure disturbs her extended old age Sterling s post plague future is meticulous and quietly ruthless and the tour of it we see is both utopic and distopic in equal measures The prose itself is a combination of the plain, expressive writing of early Sterling with occasional lapses into the kind of word collage stream of consciousness that Gibson gets into in his most esoteric Unlike Gibson, the world building detailed in both actions of the characters nearly all distinct and well rounded, though sometimes rather static and in expositionary asides and comments.
The novel deals heavily with posthumanity, but not in the overt, transhuman mode that has become the default in these days of Extropian expansion into the mainstream Posthumans are abraded and worn away into their inhumanity by time and meticulous monitoring of neurochemistry, shaped by vast cultural and historical processes that make them very different from the people from today It s mid term future history stretches about a hundred years into the future, and the action consists mostly of conversations and traveling The book dips its toes, in that noncommittal way Sterling has, into aesthetics in a algorithmic world, the mathematics of life extension and what love and relationships mean in a world where religious experiences and memory dance to a chemist s tune.
A surprisingly human and personal look at a future that has many very plausible elements to it, while retaining the kind of hard edged speculation that makes Sterling one of the most thoughtful authors in SF.
I read this book years ago, but only remembered the general gist of it Having just finished a second read through, I think I know why.
This is the kind of book that will resonate strongly with people who like the kind, but will leave others lost and bewildered I m in that second group A very high concept book, it s extremely hard to read, and incredibly difficult to fully grasp Sterling uses concepts and ideas which he doesn t care to explain, so that only the most technically minded readers are able to imagine what he meant The book is full of philosophical and technical babble, which doesn t help Key concepts to the book s world are never fully described after reading the whole thing I still haven t got the foggiest idea what the Holy Fire is, how the net works in this world, or any certain info on anything, really The story is well, it s very badly executed Things will happen, which seem to have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, while other things, which sound interesting, are only touched upon and then abandoned Characters are wholly unlikeable and it s very difficult to understand or relate to their supposed motivations It just seems that throughout the book not much happens a lot of thoughts appear internally, within the main character s mind, but not much action stems from it And I don t mean shooty brawly combaty action, I mean ANY kind of action Things are discussed art, philosophy, politics, science , but nothing changes, nothing happens.
The book is very chaotically written, with dialogues which lead nowhere, events which don t have any impact at all on anything, and sudden changes of locations, environments and situations, which completely lost me as a reader I found it hard to follow the plot, which is basically derailed starting from the second chapter only 1 4 or so of the book and never reaches any kind of valuable conclusion I read the Polish translation of it, so it may be a problem which is made serious by that fact, but I have a feeling that it may not be wholly the translator s fault.
When you add all that to a, perhaps, realized but unpenetrable cyberpunk setting, which includes some things which I found didn t quite fit in there like DNA operations which revert you to a primate state or intelligent dogs running talk shows , it becomes even harder to go through this book believing what you re reading actually happened I find that internal world realism is CRITICAL for Science Fiction and Fantasy settings if it doesn t make sense within that fictional world s rules and unique feel , it is even so unbelievable than if it would happen in the real world Sterling dropped the ball in that department which is the final blow to a book which could ve been saved by an interesting world.
This book will only appeal to hardcore sf connoisseurs For any other reader, even cyberpunk enthusiasts like myself, this may be a chore, or even a completely hopeless attempt at trying to find a good thing about the book with neither story, nor characters, or even setting being a saving grace, there s really not that much here to keep you interested in the convoluted narrative.
The longer I read this book, the fewer stars it got It started off as a strong 5 star speculative fiction winner Really interesting views on what the next 100 years of humanity will bring What post humans will look like, think like Some of his theories are silly or ridiculous But a lot of them are within the realm of conceivable possibility, and thus interesting.
But it takes than some interesting concepts to make a novel You also need a plot And you need characters who aren t flat, insipid nothings Even the European Literati, spouting deep and meaningful insight into the nature of art and humanity were BLAH So boring So pointless.
There is a lot of interesting philosophy in here And if it had been packaged as a series of speculative essays on 21st century fin de si cle humanity, that would have been great But it isn t It s sold as a novel Which it most definitely is not If you are a pointy headed academic intellectual, there are heaps of fodder here for you to work on with some freshmen literature class You could come up with all sorts of interesting book club questions on the nature of this or that character and how their environment shaped their views and actions But the truth is, every time Sterling came close to an actual plot in this book he skittered away like a nervous kitten There were a couple of times when an actual story could have broken out So close And then NOTHING Just nothing All I can say is I m glad to be done with this book and free of it.
Long on ideas, short on narrative Sterling should be tapped to think up settings and backgrounds on a sci fi tv series, or an ambitious futuristic film Case in point in Holy Fire, he projects the story past decades of plagues to imagine a medical industrial complex run by gerontocrats A fine, not implausible notion But Sterling s real strength is to extrapolate from this general premise, having Indonesia become the richest, healthiest nation in the world after the plague years as an island nation, it was immune to the devastation The final stroke of imaginative genius is that Indonesia then purchased Indianapolis from the poverty striken United States, and used it for no risk architectural experimentation This small detail is interesting than 100 pages of Mia Maya s search for the Holy Fire of youthful creativity ostensibly the novel s central plot.
I very rarely put down a book before I finish it, but when I do it s usually a book that I ve been reading for than a month at a rate of just a few pages a day only at times when I have a choice between reading the book or doing absolutely nothing I put down Holy Fire about five sevenths of the way through It s possible that I didn t read far enough to see what makes this book something that deserves what appears to be almost universal approval, but I m going to tell you what I thought of it anyway.
I ve read a few reviews of this book which I don t tend to do unless I really love or really hate a book and most were glowing but a few were grounded I agreed with most of those that Sterling s characters don t face any consequences for their actions that his description of the oddity of the future world he envisions appears to be what he really cares about but it ends up being just distracting that in the socialist society he portrays where the characters don t appear to be reasonably or philosophically opposed to the status quo there is little to motivate their behavior, etc But my problem with it boils down to two things First, I just don t buy it Second, there s just no there there by which I mean, it doesn t teach me anything about the human condition From essentially page one I just didn t buy the premise I thought the beginning was interesting if a little slow but I just didn t buy this idea of a truly gerontocratic society where all power is localized among the very old apparently because they are very old and not for some other reason That s the main point and I ll get to it in a second, but on a micro level, I didn t buy a lot of Sterling s vision of the future Most of the time he spent describing the strange oddities present in his image of one century from now I spent rolling my eyes Exempli gratia Common and pervasive cybernetically enhanced animals And the point of that would be I mean, I could get behind some frickin sharks with frickin laserbeams on their heads, or even a single prototypical sentient dog with a talk show, but crab waiters Why on earth would you surgically improve a crab in order to make it able to carry drinks to a table when there are so many idiot teens and tweens who can do it just fine with their natural abilities I realize this may seem like a silly example, but it s actually indicative of a lot of what I thought was wrong with the book You get the feeling that Sterling didn t say Okay, this is what we can do with cybernetics now this is how I think our abilities will improve in the future therefore, this is what we ll come up with You get the feeling that he said Crab waiters Awesome and then didn t worry too much about how we get there or why science would invest the Herculean amount of time and treasure it would cost to make that sort of leap.
And, by the way, the crab waiters awesome approach is fine if you re the Flintstones If what you re going for is a joke, then by all means do dinosaur pets and dinosaur cars and dinosaur steam whistles and earth movers and cranes and bridges But if what you re going for is a serious look at a plausible, verisimilar future, what I want to see is a plausible, verisimilar logical progression from what we can do now to what we may be able to do in the future that takes into account what we re likely to invest in.
I can understand a single sentient dog as a step toward brain implants that would make humans smarter or even as an oddity that is odd in the novel world Remember Blade Runner That weird little geneticist that made his weird little genetic toys That wasn t presented as an economically viable industry Genetics was, sure And it produced the abilities the toy guy used to make his toys but he wasn t the head of a genetic toy company that specialized in weird little midget guys and whatever because the demand for that was such that it would support that kind of industry He was a weird little guy making his weird little toys that even future people thought were kind of weird.
I can understand sharks with laserbeams on theirs on heads too Military applications That s all you gotta say about motivation If we could make semi sentient intelligent sharks with laserbeams on their heads that could attack ships, either to interrupt trade or sink war ships, I m sure we d do it and I d never question a plot device like that, or anything that seems like something that would be worth our time because it accomplishes a goal that I can understand future people would be interested in Crab waiters doesn t make the cut.
By the same token, Sterling sorta misses the entire point of the internet And I know the internet was nascent when this was written and it was sort of anyone s guess what it would turn into and this is where Sterling suffers for my having failed to read this fifteen years ago, but wow did he get it wrong His vision seems to be a network of computers that somehow morphs into a single consciousness called the net You can ask it questions It gives great advice It s awesome.
It s also highly improbable Not because we couldn t come up with AI software and hardware Maybe that s possible and maybe it s not, but that s not what makes this seem wrong It s the fact that what makes the internet the internet is the confluence of millions of different and disparate intelligences sharing information It s improbable in the extreme that we re going to settle on a single, infinitely accessible super computer that stores all human knowledge and dispenses it in this socialist, egalitarian way What would be the motive Where s the profit in that Is there a single company that got so powerful that it took over the entire internet and now it provides all access to information Is it the government that does that Is there an internet resistance that s trying to restore freedom to the net and free expression and access to information Absolutely not.
In fact, freedom seems to be in infinite supply in Sterling s future Everything is free Food Health care Travel Clothes except for the one Jacket we see getting bought ear translators except for the one that threatens to damage your eardrums if you don t send a non existent, bankrupt company 700 marks So what s going on with the economy This is a socialist world where all the old people are extremely wealthy but power isn t about wealth and young people have fake money and old people have real money but you can only use real money invest in medical companies but medical companies don t pick who gets life extension based on who has the most money What And what s going on with politics and government Theft is a lifestyle choice but don t worry there are no victims so it s cool to take what you want because you could pretty much subsist by eating the walls and shitting in the corner and you can get by just drifting around on a wanderjahr from place to place with no money and no ID and no connections cause the artists and the gypsy capitalists will take you in out of the kindness of their hearts but beware the socialist aristocracy that wants to hunt you down as a dangerous criminal because you left town without telling them where you going WHAT Seriously, WHAT Writing 101 Step one is figuring out what the fuck is going on in your own world Step two is describing it for the reader in a way that makes sense.
I just don t buy it If Mia has access to a treatment that makes the old young, why doesn t everyone have access to that Because she s part of the gerontocratic elite and she invested in the company, right But we re told that it isn t about money The very wealthy can t just buy life extension That s parceled out according to how good a citizen you ve been And who makes that decision And importantly, if Mia has access to this treatment because she s been a good citizen, explain to me why she s a prisoner after she has it done Explain to me why she s a dangerous criminal because she takes her monitors off and skips town Usually in writing you want to do as little explanation as possible But you can only fail to explain things if they make SENSE If Sterling had created a world that seemed like a natural progression from the world we know it would have been awesome If every time he described something a part of the reader s brain said, Of course That s exactly how it would happen, then no explanation is necessary But if you re telling me that power is the hands of old people, when I know from my experiences with the world that most old people end up on a fixed income, decidedly not powerful, relying on family and government support after their ability to be productive has waned, then you re going to have to explain why If you re telling me that there s a world wide government that controls essentially everything, unproblematically and uncontroversially, then you re going to have to explain why there s still an army If you re telling me that there s this thing that everybody wants life extension and it s not available to the super rich unless they re a certain type of citizen, then you re going to have to explain why money still exists if it doesn t buy what people want or who makes the decisions and where that guy or government or organization gets its his power and why someone else who wants what he can t have hasn t come to take it by force That horrible Justin Timberlake movie from last year In Time did a much better job of addressing this question and presented a much believable vision of a life extension future Much.
If your vision is counterintuitive, then you need to explain the logic behind it and you need to give me than just There were some plagues and a bunch of people died as if that just explains everything because there s no way to predict what would happen as the result of an apocalypse Sorry there are some pretty good books out there that examine, painstakingly, what the likely results of all manner of different kinds of apocalypses are and none of them comes up with an outmoded, enervated gerontocratic elite If that s your theory, you need to tell me why.
But really this wasn t the problem that made me want to throw my iPad out the window over and over again Mostly I just thought the whole thing was pretty shallow and pointless.
Our main character, Mia Maya spends her whole life as a good girl who has no passions and no exciting adventures and then she gets a second chance I totally get that as a premise Sounds like an awesome start Let s see what you d do if you had a chance to do it all over again If you knew then what you know now Awesome.
So what does Maya do She goes to Germany and hangs out in a train station Then she hooks up with a thief Because she wants to experience passion Well, she doesn t really feel anything for him other than a general thumbs up for sex, but I can get behind that This isn t a love story Cool Bring on the other types of passion Where does she go next She hangs out in a tent store with a bunch of gypsies and models clothes.
Uhmm Okay So her passion is being pretty Not all that deep, but maybe there s something here Maybe what s coming in an indictment of the amount of value we put on appearance Maybe there s something in here about how she was pretty when she was young and then she grew old and realized how beauty is only skin deep but now being pretty again we see it from another perspective and realize that there is something important about physical beauty to the human experience Is that where you going Beauty is truth and truth beauty That sort of thing No That poem is quoted, but to what end None that I could see.
She leaves the store without looking back so she can go hook up with artists in Stuttgart No examination of any of those themes or any others that I could tell But here we go Art is life Awesome Here s where the passion comes in, right Wrong again She hangs out with a guy who has no memory for a while and accomplishes nothing except sex nifty again Then she leaves him without a word and hangs out in a city where the walls are made of moss and accomplishes nothing Then she comes back and sees the amnesiac again and doesn t even stay for the afternoon.
Has she created anything Has she studied art Has she even improved his art his pottery or anyone else s Not that I can see But wait, there s a famous photographer in town So now, two thirds of the way through the book she goes to see him He s not taking students but he lets her in because she remembers his most famous works from sixty years ago He takes her on as a photography student because why exactly But fine, she s finally found her passion, right She s going to take beautiful pictures And over the course of the next twenty pages we see her following him around to a fashion show that he is apparently required by law to attend, it s so important and that conveniently is going on on the very day Maya arrives in his life and immediately what people want from her is to make her a walking mannequin again What she wants out of life is to wear make up and nice clothes.
I m done.
Maybe the book is building to something interesting Maybe there s a revolution coming Maybe there s something to this memory palace stuff that seems like non sense at this point, but I LL NEVER FIND OUT because I can t stand wading through the superficial, unrealistic, illogical, disjointed and wandering crap that makes up the path to that point.
I am so done.