Pirate Utopia

Bruce Sterling

2016 Sidewise Award for Alternative History – Short Form nominee
 2018 Theaker’s Quarterly Award 

Who are these bold rebels pillaging their European neighbors in the name of revolution? The Futurists! Utopian pirate-warriors, mortal enemies of communists, capitalists, and even fascists (to whom they are not entirely unsympathetic).


Pirate Utopia

by Bruce Sterling

ISBN: 978-1-61696-236-4

Published: November 2016

Available Format(s): Hardcover and Digital Books

“Provocative, exotic, and very entertaining.”
Kirkus, starred review

Who are these bold rebels pillaging their European neighbors in the name of revolution? The Futurists! Utopian pirate-warriors of the tiny Regency of Carnaro, the unlikely scourge of the Adriatic Sea. Mortal enemies of communists, capitalists, and even fascists (to whom they are not entirely unsympathetic).

The ambitious Soldier-Citizens of Carnaro are lead by a brilliant and passionate coterie of the perhaps insane. Lorenzo Secondari, World War I veteran, engineering genius, and leader of Croatian raiders. Frau Piffer, Syndicalist manufacturer of torpedos at a factory run by and for women. The Ace of Hearts, a dashing Milanese aristocrat, spymaster, and tactical savant. And the Prophet, a seductive warrior-poet who leads via free love and military ruthlessness.

Fresh off of a worldwide demonstration of their might, can the Futurists engage the aid of sinister American traitors and establish world domination?

Original introduction by Warren Ellis
Cover, illustrations, design, and design notes by John Coulthart
Afterword by Christopher Brown / Interview with Bruce Sterling by Rick Klaw

Praise for Pirate Utopia

A Kirkus 9 Great Books to Round Out 2016
An io9 16 Must-Read Science Fiction and Fantasy Books for November
A Speculition Best of 2016
A Village Voice Must-Read
2016 Locus Recommended Reading List

The CBC Sunday Times “Seven Books Cory Doctorow Loves”


[STARRED REVIEW] “Cyberpunk progenitor Sterling’s alternate history novella is bizarre, chock-full of famous people in improbable situations, and wildly entertaining, even when the world-building seems to go a little off the rails. Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of the recently ended Great War and forever changed by it, is the head engineer of the titular utopia, the Italian free state of Fiume. He and his compatriots build flying boats and fight communism while dealing with American secret agents, including Harry Houdini and Howard Lovecraft (who’s now working as Houdini’s publicity agent after going into advertising). Hitler died saving another man’s life in a bar fight, Wilson was poisoned, and Mussolini’s been disabled by a pair of bullets aimed “where a man least likes to be shot,” so the Europe in which Secondari is attempting to create his radio-controlled airborne torpedoes and other gizmos is already massively different from ours. An introduction by Warren Ellis and an interview with Sterling sandwich the novel, both bearing an air of false gravitas, but the actual story is wacky and fun what-if-ing at its finest.”
Publishers Weekly

[STARRED REVIEW] “Noted sci-fi maven and futurologist Sterling (Love Is Strange, 2012, etc.) takes a side turn in the slipstream in this offbeat, sometimes-puzzling work of dieselpunk-y alternative history. Resident in Turin, hometown of Calvino, for a dozen years, Sterling has long been experimenting with what the Italians call fantascienza, a mashup of history and speculation that’s not quite science fiction but is kin to it. Take, for example, the fact that Harry Houdini once worked for the Secret Service, add to it the fact that H.P. Lovecraft once worked for Houdini, and ecco: why not posit Lovecraft as a particularly American kind of spook, “not that old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger, European style of spy,” who trundles out to Fiume to see what’s what in the birthplace of Italian futurism-turned-fascism? Lovecraft is just one of the historical figures who flits across Sterling’s pages, which bear suitably futuristic artwork, quite wonderful, by British illustrator John Coulthart. Among the others are Woodrow Wilson and Adolf Hitler, to say nothing of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. “Seen from upstream, most previous times seem mad,” notes graphic novelist Warren Ellis in a brief introduction, but the Futurist project seems particularly nutty from this distance; personified by Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of World War I who leads the outlaw coalition called the Strike of the Hand Committee in the “pirate utopia” of the soi disant Republic of Carnaro, its first task is to build some torpedoes and then turn them into “radio-controlled, airborne Futurist torpedoes,” not the easiest thing considering the technological limitations of the time. A leader of the “Desperates,” who “came from anywhere where life was hard, but honor was still bright,” Secondari and The Prophet—D’Annunzio, that is—recognize no such limitations and discard anything that doesn’t push toward the future. So why not a flying pontoon boat with which to sail off to Chicago, and why not a partnership with Houdini to combat world communism? A kind of Ragtime for our time: provocative, exotic, and very entertaining.”
Kirkus, starred review

“A fantastic, comical, alternate historical dieselpunk affair . . . filled with astonishing characters, fine dialogue, and an abundance of ideas and is packaged with John Coulthart’s cool Futurist-Constructivist-inspired graphics, an introduction by graphic novelist Warren Ellis, and an interview with the author.”

“VERDICT: The fused edge between alternative history and historical fact elevates this shorter work by cyberpunk pioneer Sterling (Love Is Strange).”
Library Journal

“Fritz Lang directing Buckaroo Banzai.”

  “Pirate Utopia is Sterling in serious entertainment mode, mashing up the real and fictional with Robert Coover-like intensity and geeky joy.”
Austin Statesman

 Pirate Utopia features all the best hallmarks of veteran Bruce Sterling’s style—insane gadgets, deep world-building, a ridiculous cast of colorful characters, extrapolation from existing history, and a warped sense of humor.”
Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog

“Quite brilliant.”
—Michael Swanwick, author of The Dragons of Babel

“Between 1920 and 1924, the Free State of Fiume was a real-world “pirate utopia,” an ungoverned place of blazing futurism, military triumphalism, transgression, sex, art, dada, and high weirdness. In Bruce Sterling’s equally blazing dieselpunk novella Pirate Utopia, the author turns the same wry and gimlet eye that found the keen edges for steampunk’s seminal The Difference Engine to the strange business of futurism.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boingboing

Pirate Utopia is a rollicking, full-bodied, intelligent satire of a country that might have been a world player, had not events conspired against it in real life.”
Strange Alliances

“An alternate history clusterfuck of brilliant, whacky world-building and hilarious, bizarre characters.”

“In Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling has brought off a minor miracle, an allegory on our present geopolitical danza di morte that doesn’t feel remotely allegorical but instead stays true to its dieselpunk setting: a skewed Fiume crawling with Italian Futurists, Balkan anarcho-syndicalists, and demented Gernsbackian visionaries of all stripes and genders, their adventures documented through hilarious deadpan prose and John Coulthart’s dazzling graphics.”
—James Morrow, author of The Philosopher’s Apprentice and The Madonna and the Starship

“A wild satire about serious issues. Sterling’s wonder-romp is perfectly matched by Coulthart’s superb designs. The best of their brilliant generation, Sterling and his collaborator have produced a book to treasure. Bravo!”
—Michael Moorcock, author of the Elric of Melniboné series and The Whispering Swarm

“Spiky, provocative, drenched in his trademark wit, Sterling delivers us a brilliant and surprising jolt of vividly rendered counter-factualism.”
—Alastair Reynolds, author of Revenger and the Revelation Space series

“Bruce Sterling maintains that J. G. Ballard was the most accurate and brilliant prophet ever to arise from the ranks of science fiction. I have to disagree, and hereby nominate Sterling himself for that honor. Although his newest, Pirate Utopia, a rigorously gonzo counterfactual, is not one of the thickly detailed futures he has often previously imagined, it nonetheless captures the feelings and vectors and strange attractors of the present day in a most startling and entertaining fashion. As politics, culture and individual lifestyles warp and mutate and shatter around us, dynamic individuals learn how to assemble new and more satisfying outlaw lives from the shards. Sterling’s intimate acquaintance with modern Europe powers this compact powerhouse of a book, and his insights into the human soul enliven the vivid, heterogeneous cast. Using the powers consecrated by my ethnicity, I hereby dub Sterling an honorary Italian, and a worthy successor to our Futurist heritage!”
—Paul Di Filippo, author of A Palazzo in the Stars

“A splendidly illustrated Futurist romp, reminiscent of the comedic elements in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Pirate Utopia riffs on real, recondite modern history to truly bizarre effect.”
—Gwyneth Jones, author of Life and The Grasshopper’s Child

“I don’t know why a little weirdo like me is blurbing a demigod like Bruce Sterling, but listen, little weirdos: the Pirate Utopia is calling for you! Build the future before it gets built for you; read this book.”
—Nick Mamatas, author of Sensation and I Am Providence

 “Imagine if Hunter S. Thompson traveled in time to the Great War in order to write The Futurist Manifesto and you’d come a little closer to envisioning the surreal, madcap—and yet almost entirely factual! —adventure that is Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia. It is sly, smart, and subversive—and also very, very funny.”
—Lavie Tidhar, author of Central Station and A Man Lies Dreaming

“Satirically glamorous, Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia captures a comically refined view of the proceedings as only Bruce Sterling can…delightful…engaging…a visual treat.”

Pirate Utopia may seem to be about an ancient and almost forgotten struggle between Italy and Yugoslavia, but its themes are as relevant as this year’s presidential politics.”

Pirate Utopia’s a short, fun read that doesn’t alternate between stark and wacky but manages to hold their continuing tension in exquisite and exacting fashion.  Highly recommended.”
Neuro Vagrant

“With an introduction by Warren Ellis, Rick Klaw’s interview with the author, and John Coulthart’s awe-inspiring illustrations based on the work of designer and Futurist manifesto co-author Fortunato Depero, Pirate Utopia is an artistic triumph.”
See the Elephant

“…a surprisingly timely tale…”
Locus, Year in Review

“If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, check out this provocative venture by a writer who isn’t afraid to push the envelope.”
Asimov’s SF

“This small but exquisite volume packs a lot of power for its size. Lovers of artful books won’t want to miss it.”
—Karen Haber, Locus

“Absolutely get this book.”
The Warbler

“Rich with surreal exaggeration and fantasy . . . Highly recommended.”


Bruce Sterling (Schismatrix, The Zenith Angle, Zeitgeist) is an internationally-bestselling author, journalist, editor, columnist, and critic. He is perhaps best known for his ten visionary science fiction novels, as a founder of the cyberpunk movement, and as the editor of the quintessential cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades. His much-heralded nonfiction includes The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, and The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things. A renowned expert on technology, Sterling has appeared on ABC’s Nightline, the BBC’s The Late Show, MTV, andTechTV, and in Wired where he is a featured blogger, as well as in Time, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Fortune, Nature, La Stampa, La Repubblica, and many other venues. Sterling splits his time among the cities of Austin, Turin, and Belgrade.

Warren Ellis (Introduction) is the internationally-bestselling author of the graphic novels Transmetropolitan, Fell, Red, and Planetary, and the novels Gun Machine and Crooked Little Vein. His graphic novel Iron Man Extermis was the basis for the blockbuster Iron Man 3 movie. He has written for Vice and Wired UK and is currently at work on various projects. Ellis lives in London.

John Coulthart (Cover art and interior illustrations) is the World Fantasy Award-winning illustrator and designer of the iconic Steampunk anthology series, the The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, Lovecraft’s Monsters, and Clive Barker’s A–Z of Horror. He was the Artist Guest of Honour at Ars Necronomica 2015. He lives in Manchester, England.

World Fantasy Award nominee Christopher Brown’s novel Tropic of Kansas, about Americans trying to create their own liberated city-states, is forthcoming from Harper Voyager in 2017. His other fiction and criticism can be found at christopherbrown.com. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he also practices technology law.

Mojo Press co-founder Rick Klaw is an editor, pop culture historian, reviewer, social media maven, and optimistic curmudgeon. His most recent editorial projects include The Apes of Wrath, Rayguns Over Texas, Hap and Leonard, and Hap and Leonard Ride Again. He lives in Austin, Texas.


Praise for Bruce Sterling

“He understands technology’s present and future better than anyone in the field.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother

“And if you miss the sensation of having science fiction stretch your brainmeat a bit, of those powerful and irreversible up-endings of the way you see certain things, and you’re not aware of Bruce Sterling? Go find him.”
Strange Horizons

“[H]is highly caffeinated energy is hard to resist.”
Publishers Weekly

“Bruce Sterling has managed to pen a delivery vessel for a futuristic, anarchistic dystopian idea of human potential.”
New York Journal of Books

“Science fiction that makes the rest of near-future SF look toylike by comparison. It’s as if Sterling is the only writer paying attention to what’s happening in the real world.”

“Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling always has something important to say. . . .”
Booksmark Magazine

“Bruce Sterling remains one of the key SF writers”

Praise for the works of Bruce Sterling

New York Times Book Review on The Difference Engine (with William Gibson)

“Climb aboard Sterling’s speculative roller coaster; a dazzling, eye opening ride through the modern world….”
Village Voice on Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology

“A haunting and lyrical triumph”
Time, on Holy Fire

“A comedic thriller for the Homeland Security era.”
Entertainment Weekly on The Zenith Angle

“An arresting slice of future history”
Kirkus on Schismatrix Plus

“A tour de force”
—Benjamin Rosenbaum, author of The Ant King and Other Stories on The Caryatids

“A gem.”
Chicago Sun-Times on Zeitgeist

“Written with humor and intelligence, this book is highly recommended.”
Library Journal

Visit the Bruce Sterling website.


The Pirate Cinema

I. Occupied Fiume, January 1920

To celebrate his new, improved torpedo, the engineer took his pirates to the movies.

The spectacles in Futurist Fiume amazed the pirates. They'd never seen motion pictures.

The engineer's pirates were refugees and criminals. They felt rather shy about leaving their safe haven in the engineer's Torpedo Factory. To encourage themselves, they sang a Croatian sea ditty and whistled loudly at the passing girls.

Using his cane, the engineer wobbled along in the wake of his nine pirate crewmen. His female companion helped him over a tangled mess of harbor rope. Frau Blanka Piffer was a native of Fiume. She served as the engineer's business manager, interpreter, and purchasing agent.

The pirates left the dockside, with its dense mass of cranes, quays and railway tracks. Downtown Fiume had a stone broadway with tall, peculiar gas-lamps. The church and the clock tower were the tallest buildings in the town.

The Croatian pirates were vividly conspicuous. All nine of them wore women's stolen fur overcoats, cinched by thick leather army belts festooned with daggers, pistols, and hand grenades.

As the pirates swaggered by, the dames of Fiume fled inside the dress-shops. The gentlemen dropped their newspapers and abandoned their sidewalk cafes. Children hid themselves behind the horse-carts and fruit-stands. Even stray dogs ran off.