Schismatrix Plus

By Bruce Sterling

Rating: 3 stars

This volume collects the novel Schismatrix and all the short fiction set in the universe, starting with the novel. I’m not sure that it might not have been better to reverse the order and put the short stories first, giving you a more gentle introduction to the world, since the novel does throw you in at the deep end. It follows a natural born human called Abelard Lindsay, who is trained as a diplomat by the Shapers – those who have genetically reshaped their genetic heritage, in opposition to the Mechanists – those who use mechanical augmentation to enhance themselves. Lindsay is exiled from his home and finds himself travelling the solar system in order to, er, well, I’m not really sure. Survive? Thrive? Get revenge?

The action jumps around from lunar orbit, to the outer planetary rings, and there are sometimes large jumps in time. This sort of stuttering narrative makes it difficult to get a handle on what’s happening (not helped by my own intermittent reading of the book) and made it less likely for me to want to pick it up again. I did eventually get properly into the story towards the end of the novel, but it took quite some time.

The short stories are easier, both because they focus on a single story, without the sprawling feel of the novel, and perhaps because several of them touch on characters or themes that I had previously read about from a different angle in the novel.

I mostly read this because several authors whose work I like cited this as an inspiration. I think this may reward rereading but to be honest, I don’t feel that, for me, it would be worth the effort.

Book details

ISBN: 9780441003709
Publisher: Ace Books
Year of publication: 1995

Burning Chrome

By William Gibson, Bruce Sterling

Rating: 4 stars

Cyberpunk is a genre that can date very quickly. It says something about Gibson’s work, here in this collection, and elsewhere in the Sprawl series, that it still feels fresh and relevant, even though the technology itself has dated.

To pick some highlights, I think my favourite story in the collection is one of the low-key ones: The Gernsback Continuum. The protagonist in this story keeps having flashes of a world that never existed: the future projected by the golden age science fiction of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, full of shining towers, airships and perfect people. It’s a loving homage to those stories, while still portraying the grimy reality of the ’80s as well. Very well balanced and great fun to read if you, like me, are a fan of those old golden age stories.

The Belonging Kind is quite creepy, where a man follows a girl he likes in a bar, to see her change and fit in perfectly, everywhere she goes. A nice tension builder with an unexpected pay-off.

The Winter Market tells the story of a dream editor, who can edit together the dreams of gifted individuals for distribution to the masses, and his obsession with the crippled woman who makes his career.

There are few, if any, actual misses in the collection, and it’s nice to see Molly Millions, of Neuromancer fame, make a return in Johnny Mnemonic.

This is the way the future was. Bruce Sterling, in the introduction, says that Gibson reinvigorated a genre in need of it, in the ’80s. This collection still feels angry and edgy whilst still shouting in sheer joy of living, and for that alone is worth your time.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006480433
Publisher: Voyager/Harpercollins
Year of publication: 1986

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