It's 1999, and in the Turkish half of Cyprus, the ever-enterprising Leggy Starlitz has alighted - pausing on his mission to storm the Third World with the G-7 girls, the cheapest, phoniest all-girl rock group ever to wear Wonderbras and spandex. His market is staring him in the face: millions of teenagers trapped in a world of mullahs and mosques, all ready to blow their pocket change on G-7's massive merchandising campaign - and to wildly anticipate music the band will never release.
Leggy's brilliant plan means doing business with some of the world's most dangerous people. Among these thieves, schemers, and killers, he must act quickly and decisively. Y2K is just around the corner - and the only rule to live by is that the whole scheme stops before the year 2000. But Leggy's G-7 Zeitgeist is in serious jeopardy, for in Istanbul his former partners are getting restless - and the G-7 girls are beginning to die...
Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, critic and a contributing editor of Wired magazine. Best known for his ten science fiction novels, he also writes short stories, book reviews, design criticism, opinion columns and introductions to books by authors ranging from Ernst Jünger to Jules Verne. His non-fiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992), Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2003) and Shaping Things (2005).
"Starlitz stared in silent hunger at the satellite telephone. The device stank of futurity. They would probably go broke, being so far ahead of the curve and all, but the gizmo was an utter harbinger of things to come, like discovering a fossil in reverse. Starlitz felt a powerful urge to grip the phone, caress it, perhaps bite it, but he restrained himself. Vanna was sure to take that gesture all wrong."
Boy, is this weird book aptly named ... ideas and philosophy and sideways-stuff explode out of every page. The Balkans, Hawaii, Turkey, and pop music are all exposed. I guess you could call it magical reality, except he shows that, "there may be a reality somewhere, but it isn't here". At the end, my head felt like a can whose top was being pryed up.
Sterling is one-of-a-kind; either you like going on sideways trips, or you don't. I sure do.
Bruce Sterling is easily one of the most original writers out there today. So many works in the sci-fi/fantasy field are simply remixes of Lord of the Rings, or Conan, or a Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke/Niven novel. But when you open a Bruce Sterling novel you know you will be getting something that isn't like anything you've ever read before.
And for this alone, bonus points.
But I'll be honest...I'm not sure what I read. I liked the style, I got caught up in the characters, but I'm just not sure I'm clear on how the sub-plots and story lines all tied together. What's with the father? Was he really living his life Merlin-like? Arms dealers? Drug smuggling? What did Leggy know? How much did he approve of? Why the importance on getting the girls out alive?
Perhaps I didn't read it carefully enough, or perhaps much of these didn't matter. Chances are I'll read this again, because I am intriqued. The ending, with the observations that Leggy's daughter declared, and her goals, struck a chord. I think she did indeed "get it."
If you've never read a Bruce Sterling novel, then don't start with this one. Pick up Involution Ocean or Heavy Weather. If you have enjoyed Sterling before, then definitely give this a read. If you just want something that is so incredibly original, then this is the book for you.
Bruce Sterling has a sawed-off idea shotgun and you're about to get it in the face with this messy book. He has a new idea for every page, and some of them are interesting but none of them are focused; it feels indulgent, like he thinks he's too smart to need rigor.
Pretty smart he is: this is one of the foremost authors in the cyberpunk subgenre, and the guy who invented the clever though self-defeating term "slipstream", for books that meld genres. Here he's using what we might as well call magical realism, and a friend calls it "applied postmodernism", that is, taking postmodernism's tics literally. Unfortunately Kurt Vonnegut already did that, and did it better. And William Gibson already did cyberpunk about as well as anyone needs to.
What we're left with isn't pioneering, and it's a little too helter-skelter to fully engage. It's pleasant but you wish he'd chosen a story to tell and then stuck with it. You find yourself wiping flecks of ideas off your shirt hours later.
Whenever I read anything by Bruce Stirling it takes a little longer than normal to complete than another novel of approximate page/word length. Not because it is difficult to read, yet his stories make me stop and reconsider my personal beliefs in a manner that fine tunes the perceptions I may have long held. His characters challenge each other and in turn may challenge the reader, and as you sift through the pages you may find by the end of the story your conscious has passed through a sieve making you a product that is not quite the same.
I read this when it came out, back in 2000, and again at some point in the intervening decades, but I don't think I really caught what was going on here before. It's Bruce Sterling. I was expecting a stitched-together bag of zany ideas about cool new tech that's totally going to warp society.
This still has that manic hustler vibe, but it's set in 1999 (present day as he wrote it) and it's more magical realism than anything else. It's like a Tim Powers story as told by Bruce Sterling. When, right at the beginning, one of the characters says "I am a powerful secret master of the modern world's deeper reality," that's not the usual self-aggrandizing tech nerd jive you'd see in a Sterling book; it is to a large extent literally true. Just so you know what to look out for.
It's also a book about the clash of cultures; media, marketing, and celebrity; parenthood; Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There's a lot going on here. I think I need to re-read it again soon.
All in all another great read from Bruce Sterling. I picked it up and was hooked pretty quickly, and ended up reading 80% of the book in one sitting (staying up way too late); fortunately I had enough left to make a good reading session while wrapping it up the next night,
This is another fascinating work by Sterling, who specializes in near-future speculative fiction. This one isn't far in the future at all - in fact it's really in the present, since the book takes place in 1999 and it was published in 2000.
I have always found Sterling's characters and storytelling to be pretty compelling, but this work has some very different elements to it - in fact, it is almost more a work of fantasy than science fiction. This doesn't hurt the work at all, it just has a very different feel than a lot of Sterling's other work. As I was reading I realized that in fact the style and tone of the book was a LOT like Neil Gaiman, which is not a bad thing at all... in many ways, this is like Gaiman crossed with Sterling's normal frenetic realistic style.
Along the way, Sterling has his usual fascinating riffs on culture and events, particularly interesting since this time they are about real world events that likely happened as the author was writing, or just beforehand. As with all of Sterling's work, there are some really brilliant passages of social commentary, but this time there are also some very touching personal introspections as well.
The ending of the book does feel a bit rushed, as if the author was told to meet some specific page count and ran over and just wrapped it up too quickly... but then the book really is about one main character, and the wrap up talks about how a different character turns out, so it's not horrible if you think of it as just showing contrast between the characters.
I just had to share this almost 'noir' flavored description of Istanbul, Turkey:
Worn out from repeated jet flights, Starlitz stared murkily out his curtained window.
So it was back to Istanbul, finally. He'd never meant to spend so much time here. The place had a fatal attraction for him. It had been so much stronger than he was, so far beyond his ability to help. The city was neck deep, chin deep, nose deep, in the darkest sumps of history. Istanbul was the unspoken capital of many submerged empires: it had called itself Byzantium, Vizant, Novi Roma, Anthusa, Tsargrad, Constantinople....
Stuck in dense Turkish traffic, their driver clicked on his radio and began to curse a soccer game. The variant districts of Galata, Pera, Beshiktas, and Ortakoy inched beyond the bumpers. It was the Moslem London, the Islamic New York, crammed neighborhoods of millions with as much regional variety as Bloomsbury or The Bronx.
Istanbul. Crumbling ivy-grown Byzantine aqueducts with Turkish NO PARKING signs. Smog-breathing streetside vendors with ring-shaped breadrolls on sticks. Rubber-tired yellow bulldozers parked under the carved stone eaves of mosques.
Tourist-trap nightclubs featuring potbellied Ukrainian dancers. Vast sunshine-yellow billboards imploring bored Turkish housewives to learn English. Cash-card bank machines in prefab kiosks, built to mimic minarets. Pudding shops. Chestnut trees. Spotted wild dogs of premedieval lineage on their timeless garbage patrol.
Istanbul had more vitality than Sofia, or Belgrade, or Baghdad. Despite its best efforts, the twentieth century had not been able to beat the place down. Istanbul had lost its capitalship, but Istanbul had always walked on its own sore feet. It had not been crushed, conquered, and carpet bombed, it had never been forced to exist at the sufferance of others.
Bruce Sterling is an astute of observer of pop culture, but this book goes far beyond that. Written in 1999 and published in 2000 it predicts the post Eric Snowden world, the rise of Islam on the global stage and centers on Turkey as the eye of the Mid-East storm. Slobodan Milosevic plays a minor role, but the Yugoslavia Wars are an underlying motif, especially the NATO bombing of Christians who were implicated in war crimes against Muslims. What a complicated world we have inherited! The book starts out slow, but stay with it, you will be caught up in Mid-East subterfuge very quickly.
"Really bizarre romp through the Third World with Leggy Starlitz and an all-girl rock group. Leggy does business with some very dangerous and strange folks. It's a futuristic pop thriller, a funky and fun read."
It's McWorld versus jihad, kid: it's the high-tech souped-up Lexus smashing head on into the ethnic Olive Tree.
Can you believe this guy?? Read that above sentence again: it was written (for publication in) the year 2000 ... (and, yes, I feel like I'm intoning the Conan O'BRIEN skit, here. Try this on for size: "If you come to know serious rich people, say at the World Economic Forum or the Renaissance Weekend, you'll notice they always make that peculiar wincing motion with their lips when the name of Donald Trump pops up. Donald Trump is very rich, but he is the chrome-plated cartoon version of a rich guy. He deliberately and loudly does the things poor people imagine rich people doing, like building a yacht, picking up chicks, and running for president." (that's from Tomorrow NOW: Envisioning the Next FIFTY *YEARS* ... in 2002!!!)
What's going on here, folks ... ??
Well, it's as simple as one word, and that word is a name:
Probably three and a half stars really. This was an entertaining read but I was never quite sure of what was going on or what it was all building up to. I guess I got it at the very end, last dozen pages or so, but it still felt like the book had contained a good deal more than was ultimately resolved. This was my first Bruce Sterling novel, and after enjoying a lot of his cultural commentary over the years, I was surprised at the Russ-Meyer-movie nature of the whole thing. But just like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I was entertained throughout, even if I was often a bit fuzzy on what was going on and/or what the point of it all was.
Listened to this. Liked it. Kinda magical realist for a cyberpunk adventure. Because it's not cyberpunk, but it's got that fascination with the sorts of places were all the weird stuff is happening, where gangster mix with scam artists and spies and terrorists and black marketeers and fake girl bands and avatars existing in various narrative paradigms. Works, though.
Reading this book 20+ years after publication is wild, for sure. Sterling has always been good at predictions, but this stuff.... Especially since the manuscripts probably was turned in in the first months of 1998, based on the copyright date.
I remember getting this book in hardcover, because at the time I was so excited about a new Sterling novel I wasn't about to wait for the eventual paperback edition. Sadly I remember almost nothing of this book and had to look up a synopsis to even recall it at all.
Zeitgeist is exceptional, particularly in this sense: it's one of the very few near-future thrillers that has tumbled into the recent past almost unscathed, without becoming stale and irrelevant. Yet, anyway.
Sterling's novel came out during The Year 2000, and it captures the jittery sense that many felt in the pre-Y2K West, that the end of the 20th Century would bring with it irreversible changes, and that most of them would be unpleasant. He hasn't exactly been proven wrong. Sterling was undoubtedly prescient (or at least au courant) in many specific respects, from his confident description of the demise of the Iridium satellite phone network, which had just recently been announced when the book came out, to the looming significance of Osama Bin Laden as organizer of international terrorists (even if Sterling did get the country wrong). At that level, Zeitgeist is a realistic thriller, full of political intrigue, global economics, black market deals and pop-cultural references and even a little occasional mourning for the things we're discarding in our mad rush to the future.
But Zeitgeist is also a magical book. Its protagonist, Lekhi (Leggy) Starlitz, is a showman and a charlatan, who runs a "band" of nearly talent-free clothes horses called G-7 that's more about selling outfits and accessories than it is about putting out music, and who puts together a hippie-fleecing New Age sideshow almost single-handedly... but there are times when Starlitz almost seems to have a handle on a fundamental hook of nature, a way to redefine reality using a ceaseless flow of words (something Leggy is good at), changing the narrative until the real world follows along.
This view of the world as defined by the Word (Logos, though that term is never used) makes this book to my mind a work of magical realism, regardless of its mundane, techno-thriller and science-fictional trappings.
What Zeitgeist is, though, what it always is, is interesting... it seems that Bruce Sterling can't help but be a pyrotechnic artist who shoots off more ideas-per-page than most novelists manage in entire books, and as a result this book, as an artifact of its time, remains interesting and relevant even today.
Following the research of notable philosopher in literature like Derrida, Sterling tries too hard to create something new, with a broken narrative speaking about itself... but without ever doing nothing else than to annoy the reader to death. If you want to get a better "let's break the fourth wall", tries any Deadpool comics, most of the Discword books, or books about comics from Scott McCloud.
My favorite things in this book I don't want to spoil in this review, but that doesn't really matter because I don't really understand them very well and I'm also perfectly fine with that. The book doesn't quite break through the barrier to modern fantasy, but it certainly pokes a hole in it now and then.
All the Leggy stories are great, but this one is like a 90s iteration of the old Moorcock Jerry Cornelius character, except instead of a spy he's managing a knock off Spice Girls act called the G-7. There were several times I audibly laughed reading this book. It's a pretty great book, paced expertly, with great dialog and Sterling's ear for authenticity in locations.
Sterling riprende alcuni dei suoi personaggi e scrive un romanzo ambientato alla fine del millennio, quindi tre lustri fa, oramai. C'è una scommessa, creare una banda musicale femminile, le G7, e portarla ad un successo a tempo determinato, dopodiché la banda si scioglierà con la fine del 1999. Ma qualcosa andrà storto!
I am really not sure how to classify this book. Its certainly not cyberpunk, its not really science fiction. It is a however an interesting journey, sometimes technical, sometimes fanciful, sometimes firmly grounded in reality, that takes you through the changing of the millennium in a style i have only really seen with Haruki Murakami. I really liked it!
Like most of Sterling's main characters, I hated this one at the beginning. But, also like most of Sterling's work, by the end I sympathized with the character enough to appreciate the changes he'd gone through.
This book was all over the place, with characters that all sounded like they were making speeches and a plot that made no sense. It had some interesting social commentary. Perhaps it would have worked better as an essay than a novel.
Zeitgeist is a little all over the place. Weird. A world where 1/1/2000 was a funhouse mirror held up to the world. It probably made more sense a decade ago, which puts the joke on me. Not unpleasant to read, but ultimately not that rewarding.