Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Birthday Review: Stories of Bruce Sterling

I can't believe I haven't done one of these birthday review collections for Bruce Sterling yet. So here we go! This is a collection of my reviews of his short work from my Locus column. Happy Birthday -- Bruce Sterling turns 66 today.

Locus, September 2002

Bruce Sterling's short story "In Paradise" (F&SF, September) is a fine romp, extrapolating a bit from our current "Homeland Security" measure. Felix is a plumber who falls for a beautiful Iranian woman he sees at the airport, and with the help of a high-tech Finnish cellphone he manages to seduce her. Their whirlwind romance is interrupted when it turns out to have political repercussions. Where then is freedom or paradise in a high-tech, security obsessed, world? Sterling has an answer. A fun story, and oddly romantic (as Sterling often is – perhaps in contrast to his reputation), though it lacks the extrapolative snap of Sterling at his most characteristic.

Locus, January 2003

Another fun piece from the January Asimov's is Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling's "Junk DNA", a story fully as frenetic as we expect from that duo.  Janna Gutierrez is a half-Vietnamese, half-Latino woman sometime in the next few decades, who more or less randomly enters into business with a Russian immigrant who wants to market a pet based on human junk DNA, particularly the pet owner's own DNA. Before long they are dealing with a big corporation's takeover attempt. How much sense this all makes is questionable, but the story is a fun romp. 

Locus, January 2005

Bruce Sterling's "The Blemmye's Stratagem" highlights the January F&SF. Hildegart is a nun who runs a far-flung commercial venture in the Middle East towards the end of the Crusades. Sinan is an Assassin, and at one time Hildegart was one of Sinan's wives. They both work for a mysterious entity called the Silent Master. As the story opens, they are called to their Master once again – they assume simply to receive instructions and to be given another dose of life extension elixir, but in fact something rather more important is going on. The story is by turns cynical, cynically romantic, scary, moving, and fascinating. An award contender, I would think. And at Sci Fiction in December we find Bruce Sterling's "Luciferase", a funny story about a male firefly looking for love, and finding it in a rather dangerous place.

Locus, September 2005

I also liked Bruce Sterling's "The Denial" (F&SF, September), about a husband and wife in an Eastern European town some centuries ago, whose lives are changed by a terrible flood. Indeed, the wife seems to have died in the flood – but to have somehow come back to life. The husband's attempts to deal with his changed wife lead him to an unexpected revelation.

Locus, January 2007

The cover story for the January F&SF is a new novella by Bruce Sterling, certainly a welcome sight. That said, while “Kiosk” is an interesting story, it seems a bit unfocussed – it doesn’t quite work. It concerns an aging Eastern European war veteran, sometime a few decades in the future, who operates a small shopping kiosk which becomes the center of a revolution of sorts when he obtains a black-market “fabrikator”, which can make a duplicate of most anything out of nanotubes. It seems the authorities have all read “Business as Usual, During Alterations” and A for Anything, so they are concerned about such a machine’s impact on the economy … but in the end, information wants to be free. The ideas here are certainly worth exploring – but the story doesn’t really grapple with them – more interesting, really, are the colorful characters – but they don’t really have a story of their own.

Locus, August 2007

The online magazines have not been silent either. I finally caught up with Subterranean’s Spring issue. Bruce Sterling’s “A Plain Tale from Our Hills” is a subtle sketch of a post-catastrophe future, told in Kiplingesque fashion about a wife’s brave effort to keep her husband in the face of an exotic woman’s affair with him. It is of course the stark details of this deprived future, quietly slipped in, that make the story powerful.

Locus, November 2007

Eclipse One is yet another strong original anthology from Locus Reviews Editor Jonathan Strahan. Highlights include a truly odd story from Bruce Sterling, “The Lustration”, about an isolated planet on which the inhabitants have built and maintain an entirely wooden, world-spanning, computer. The protagonist realizes that something strange is happening with the computer, and ends up in a society which guards a terrible secret. The story is in one way almost too strange, but in the end successfully ponders a central SF question

Locus, February 2009

Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling have lots of fun with the end of the universe in “Colliding Branes” (Asimov's, February). Bloggers Rabbiteen Chandra and Angelo Rasmussen have learned that for either mystical or physical reasons the structure of the universe is collapsing. So they head for Area 51 (sort of ) to witness the end as best they can – and to have some “pre-apocalypse sex”. Post, too, as it, rather sweetly, turns out.

Locus, June 2009

The March-April Interzone features a Bruce Sterling story – not that he was ever gone, but Sterling seems “back” this year, with a new novel and now “Black Swan”, gritty and savvy, with a journalist lured across multiple timelines, chasing wild tech not to mention a revolutionary version of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Locus, September 2009

And Bruce Sterling offers a clever fantasy about an Italian auto executive encountering the devil – or something like him – in “Esoteric City” (F&SF, August-September). The story is fun, original – certainly worth reading, but at some level it struck me as insubstantial.

Review of Subterranean 2: Tales of Dark Fantasy (Locus, May 2011)

Another story I particularly enjoyed comes from Bruce Sterling. “The Parthenopean Scalpel” concerns an assassin who has to flee the Papal States after the too clumsy success of one of his assignments. In exile he falls in love – but a certain Transylvanian intervenes. The story rides on the well-maintained voice of the main character, and the backstory of Europe in the turbulent middle of the 19th Century.

Locus, June 2012

Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington offer The Future is Japanese, which collects a number of SF stories about, in some sense, a Japaneses future, as well as a few stories by Japanese SF writers. ... From English-language writers, I liked Bruce Sterling's “Goddess of Mercy”, a characteristically smart and cynical story set on a Japanese island ruled by a Pirate Queen where a woman comes to negotiate for the freedom of a political agitator;

Locus, January 2014

A Bruce Sterling story showed up in Dissident Blog, "N'existe Pas", not really SF but certainly involved with SFnal ideas, so that it seems worth bringing to Locus reader's attentions. It's a somewhat comic story about privacy and the lack thereof, set as a conversation in a Paris cafe between a paparazzo and his brother, a spy (a double agent, indeed), as they await the rumored arrival of the Prime Minister and his newest mistress, while discussing the nature of their similar businesses, and of privacy and surveillance in the modern digital age, eventually involving an American spy and a Syrian woman and an actress who was also previously the Prime Minister's mistress ... nothing much really happens but the story is intellectually interesting and quite funny.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! IB I've read all of these but this one, and here it is:
    Bruce Sterling's Luciferase story