three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The CaryatidsBruce Sterling, who, along with William Gibson, spearheaded the cyberpunk movement in the 1970s, has published consistently over the last three decades. His fiction includes Heavy Weather, The Zenith Angle, Zeitgeist, and Schismatrix Plus. The Caryatids is Sterling’s first novel in five years.

The Story: In 2060, the world has been split into three factions: the Dispensation, a post-Hollywood conglomeration of Greens based in Los Angeles and trading on entertainment and capitalism; the Aquis, an environmental group whose dream is to turn a neurological network into a Utopia; and China, the lone nation-state, whose civil rights record has only gotten worse with time. The Caryatids are the daughters—clones—of a Balkan war criminal. Each superpower claims one of the daughters, while another, Biserka, is an equal opportunity terrorist. The sisters, who hate their "mother" and each other, must unite to save the world from ecological chaos.
Del Rey. 295 pages. $25. ISBN: 0345460626

Boing Boing 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This is it, my book of the year for 2009. … Bruce Sterling has been one of the most important and challenging writers in science fiction since 1977—and 32 years later, his books are progressively better, smarter and more important. Run, don’t walk." Cory Doctorow

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The Caryatids is a brave book, one that dances at the edge of despair and somehow never topples over the brink. It may be a novel that perfectly captures the tenor of these uncertain times." Michael Berry

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"An oddly zestful story of four human clones seeking a livelihood on an Earth menaced by rising seas, raging windstorms and fragmenting political structures, this book was well worth the wait. … The book’s first three sections are each told from a different clone’s viewpoint, ending with that heroine in a cliffhanger as fraught with danger as the current climatic crisis." Nisi Shawl

Sci Fi Wire 1.5 of 5 Stars
"I think this novel is a farce about the end of civilization as seen through the eyes of a squabbling Dallas of clones; or it may simply be a mess of a book about the mess of the world. The fact that its author cannot be detected cracking a smile anywhere in pages does not bode well for an understanding of The Caryatids." John Clute

Critical Summary

Books of Big Ideas often polarize reviewers, and Bruce Sterling’s latest novel is no exception. Either the best SF book of this or any other year (Cory Doctorow) or "a mess of a book about the mess of the world" (John Clute), The Caryatids, at the very least, illustrates Sterling’s ability to raise voices (in praise or protest) 30 years after he laid the groundwork for the cyberpunk movement, without which contemporary SF would be a much rockier—and much less diverse—landscape. Sterling’s complex, controversial vision of our future invites comparison to Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash) and William Gibson (Neuromancer). Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling always has something important to say, and The Caryatids is worth a look.