A pair of reviews of and a sneak peak inside Bruce Sterling’s energetic PIRATE UTOPIA.
At B&N SCI-FI & FANTASY BLOG, Sam Reader praises the book.
PIRATE UTOPIA, the new story cycle by Bruce Sterling, represents one of science fiction’s masters operating in peak form. A dieselpunk satire about a group of radicals and pirates bent on world domination, it features all the hallmarks of Sterling at his best—insane gadgets, deep world-building, a ridiculous cast of colorful characters, extrapolation from existing history, and a warped sense of humor—while creating something entirely new, a gonzo look into the might-have-been that directly engages with its background and acknowledges the darker parts of its history. The result is a joyfully deranged look at the past through a warped mirror, equal parts exciting and unsettling.
Sterling also imbues his world with a sense of humor that borders on parody, but never tips over the edge. The earlier vignettes have numerous slapstick touches, from a riot that ends in something resembling a Warner Brothers gag, to escalating gestures of revolutionary fervor that involve giving all one’s possessions away, to a protagonist whose obsession with explosions borders on a fetish. As the book takes a darker turn and the government descends further into state-sponsored corruption, the humor grows subtler and more biting, from the bizarre, over-designed uniforms everyone wears, to the way the two American agents refuse to get Secondari’s rank and title correct while trying to entice him to aid the US, or simply the fact that once Carnarans fully seize the means of their production, they fail to do anything useful with them, as the labor unions would rather be living lavishly than using the means of production to produce. Combined with a ton of historical in-jokes, the humor helps maintain a light pulp atmosphere without too much dissonance.
Looking for alternate timeline pulp that engages with history rather than using it for a backdrop to showcase magic and technology? This is the book for you. There’s something for everyone here, whether obscure history buffs or lover of dieselpunk, or just an aficionado of the truly weird and pulpy.
Y LOGS enjoys the tale.
I loved what Bruce Sterling did with this alternate history, dieselpunk Europe, full of contradictions: praise for the Future and strong beliefs and angular colourful clothes; rambunctious pirates proud of their ways, fascists with minds turned towards a different ideology, and engineers stealing armoured cars from the rioters who stole them first; beautiful and mysterious artist women, and a magician without fear who may or may not be human; but also factories churning torpedoes, small guns produced by the hundreds and used as currency, manifestos and propaganda, and a mounting tendency towards a new war.
A constant energy permeated the narrative, nervous and stressful in parts, ecstatic in others, and it provided for a fascinating read. There’s humour and pulp and inventions and scary ideas as well in there. There’s speed and technology and violence, carried by a youthful spirit—in one word, Futurismo—reflected in the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. Delightful.
On his FEUILLETON blog, artist/designer John Coulthart offers a look at his extraordinary illustrations for PIRATE UTOPIA.
Here at last is the small hardback book I spent most of February and March working on. PIRATE UTOPIA is published this week, and I’m pleased that it’s been very well received, with reviews drawing attention to the illustration and design as well as the text.
No need to emphasis the pertinence of a story of global political turmoil appearing at this point in time. Back in March the traumas of Brexit and the US election were mere possibilities rather than the unavoidable facts they are today. Pirate Utopia doesn’t necessarily reflect the present moment but some of the resonances are, shall we say, suggestive. Bruce Sterling, as noted earlier, is a futurist (as distinct from a Futurist), and had this to say recently about the current state of affairs.
The chapter spreads and other interior graphics run variations of the works of Fortunato Depero and others. Depero was an ideal choice not only because his work tends to the cartoonish—this is a humorous book about serious matters—but much of it is bold and monochromatic, ideal for deployment as black-and-white graphics. Ordinarily I’d write a little more about the art influences, but since I already did so inside the book itself it seems better to encourage those who want to know more to buy a copy. You can, however, see a few more of the page layouts here. A book about Interesting Times for Interesting Times. Join the Futurist Revolution!
For more info on PIRATE UTOPIA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and illustrations by John Coulthart