Today’s subject, Bruce Sterling’s 2016 novella PIRATE UTOPIA, is something I literally found out about yesterday and spent a few hours reading cover to cover. I’ve never been a big fan of Sterling, so I half-expected the story to set my teeth on edge. Much to my surprise, however, I actually found it to be a rather amusing little romp.
Now, as for why I liked this book, I found Sterling did a marvelous job of depicting the hurly-burly of those revolutionary times, depicting the swagger and the bold personalities of the age with gusto while never failing to remind the reader of their darker sides. It also seemed to be a rather appropriate book to be reading in 2016, when so much of our politics in the West are no longer working as expected, and people from the margins are calling for new solutions to old problems (even though today’s radicals and reactionaries are hardly a patch on those of our great-grandfather’s generation). Finally and most importantly, he had the good sense to end it before the joke ran out of steam or turned into something radically different. It’s a rare skill to have, and an even rarer skill to deploy successfully.
Charlie Harvey on his eponymous site praises the book.
He is back to writing counterfactual alternative histories examining what may have been had things just happened to turn out slightly differently (cf. steampunk bible and Victorian romp THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, cowritten with William Gibson) with what he calls a “dieselpunk” story of post World War One futurism. I found it heavier going than that book, it was by turns literary, a bit silly and even somewhat educational. As well as offbeat and disturbing.
For more info on PIRATE UTOPIA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and illustrations by John Coulthart