Just finished Bruce Sterling’s new novel PIRATE UTOPIA and it ended up being more than expected. I went into it naively expecting a post-modern, pre-millennium cyberpunkish politics romp. I instead received an absurdist realism novel, an alternative history constantly balancing romantic ideals, their execution and its evolution. It’s a book rich with surreal exaggeration and fantasy but using that to explore the more realistic and bleak practicalities of anarchism, communism and fascism – and democracy.
Ideals and actions are presented alongside each other constantly and both shift across the course of the story in interesting ways, as a sad exposition on how these things typically progress when people act as they do. It’s not a gradually sliding progress bar so much as Sterling slipping the characters and their organizations along the slippery, evolving surface of a self-justifying Moebius strip of power and violence. It’s hard to tell how or where one side became the other. A seamless transition in which all eyes are still on dragging the future towards them by way of the gravity of their personalities, but they’ve had time to polish their boots now and they’re the ones in control of the artillery on the hill.
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. It also comes with a great and timely introduction by Warren Ellis that came out before the election but seems spot-on after, and some supplemental materials at the end that explored Sterling’s writing of the book. This latter appealed directly to the process voyeur in me and I’d love to see it in more works.
PIRATE UTOPIA: Highly Recommended Reading.
Andrew Wheeler at THE ANTICK MUSINGS OF G.B.H. HORNSWOGGLER, GENT. previews the book.
I’ll start off, as usual, with the non-Yen books – first up is a new novella from Bruce Sterling, PIRATE UTOPIA. Chairman Bruce hasn’t been as active in fiction this last decade – with THE CARYATIDS in 2009, something I never heard of before named LOVE IS STRANGE in 2012, and now this book – but I hope this signals that he’s back; we could use the old Sterling from the ‘80s and ’90s to make sense of our new world. PIRATE UTOPIA comes to us from Tachyon, and is some kind of oddball historical SF, possibly steampunk – it’s set right after WW I, in the new futurist-dominated nation of Carnaro (which I keep reading as “Camaro”), and seems to be about their power struggles as they try to build a new nation with the aid of American visitors H.P. Lovecraft and Houdini.
For more info on PIRATE UTOPIA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and illustrations by John Coulthart