The result is that 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.
With his style of narrative and the story itself, Sterling has really managed to capture this sense of frenzy as the characters search for the truth, gathering ideas like pebbles on a beach which they pile up to fortify their political microcosm while they create their vision of a new and improved world. It is a world which undergoes more than one uncomfortable transition, leaving some citizens on the sharp end of a great deal of unpleasantness as the political climate shifts leaving them high and dry.
The writing on its own rattles along splendidly, but complemented by John Coulthart’s incredible propaganda-style artistic renditions, PIRATE UTOPIA takes on the air of a manifesto which would have been bought by the inhabitants of the nearly-real Fuime and clasped close to their chest in reverence.
Alternative history of places that are still relatively recent, particularly ones situated in such politically volatile locations can be hard to pull off, but Sterling’s over the top writing and characters mesh brilliantly with what actually happened to Fuime just after the First World War.
Given the recent political events, there is plenty here to make a reader laugh, while at the same time feel very unsettled, as PIRATE UTOPIA picks its outrageous way through Fuime’s alternate history.
Max Booth III at LIT REACTOR gives the story the Book Shots treatment.
This is a very short book occupied by an impressive cast of characters—most of them grabbed straight from history, although used in ways you might not entirely expect. This is a Futurism novel that looks at the past rather than the future. It’s an alternate history clusterfuck of brilliant, whacky world-building and hilarious, bizarre characters.
When you have an oxymoron for a title, there’s really no way to predict what awaits you, and PIRATE UTOPIA exceeds all expectations. Also, make sure you stick around afterward for the impressive special feature essays and interview with Sterling. They’ll help you make sense of what the hell you just read.
THIERSTEIN.NET appreciates the book as well.
The book kicks off in style, with an introduction to the topic by Warren Ellis: “Futurism, the business of the future, is the act of telling stories of about what’s next”. Of course, the Futurists had their own slant to how they saw things develop, being “drunk on speed, technology, youth, violence, war – the car, the aeroplane, the industrial city”. And, incidentally, being a precursor/influence on Fascism.
This is followed by a Cast of Characters (most of them historically correct), the actual story in 6 chapters, an Afterword by Christopher Brown, an Interview with the Author by Rick Klaw (loads of interesting background in this!), Notes on the the Design by the John Coulthart, and Biographies of all involved (and no, Warren does NOT live in London).
The book is covered in Coulthart’s (himself a World Fantasy Award winner) illustrations – proto communist propaganda/futurist graphics, most of them full page. He references both the futurist artist Fortunato Depero as well as Soviet Constructivism as influences; I found his work impressive and worth savouring – it gives the book a further dimension, and I think that number of those pieces would make rather magnificent wall pieces.
Sterling himself sees this as partly an alternate history of this futuristic enclave (a “speculative counterfactual”), but also as Dieselpunk, or ‘Military Engineering Fiction’.
The whole story really took me back to Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day – this feels like it is filling a minor, outrageous, and transfixing gap in that larger setting and story. Which I’m loving, of course.
Do I have to mention that this is a strong recommendation?
For more info on PIRATE UTOPIA, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and illustrations by John Coulthart