Caryatids [NOOK Book]


Alongside William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling stands at the forefront of a select group of writers whose pitch-perfect grasp of the cultural and scientific zeitgeist endows their works of speculative near-future fiction with uncanny verisimilitude. To read a novel by Sterling is to receive a dispatch from a time traveler. Now, with The Caryatids, Sterling has written a stunning testament of faith in the power of human intellect, ...
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Alongside William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling stands at the forefront of a select group of writers whose pitch-perfect grasp of the cultural and scientific zeitgeist endows their works of speculative near-future fiction with uncanny verisimilitude. To read a novel by Sterling is to receive a dispatch from a time traveler. Now, with The Caryatids, Sterling has written a stunning testament of faith in the power of human intellect, creativity, and spirit to overcome any obstacle–even the obstacles we carry inside ourselves.

The world of 2060 is divided into three spheres of influence, each fighting with the others over the resources of fallen nations and an environment degraded almost to the point of no return. There is the Dispensation, centered in Los Angeles, where entertainment and capitalism have fused with the highest of high-tech. There is the Acquis, a Green-centered collective that uses invasive neurological technology to create a networked utopia. And there is China, the sole surviving nation-state, a dinosaur that has prospered only by pitilessly pruning its own population. Products of this monstrous world, the daughters of a monstrous mother, and–according to some–monsters themselves, are the Caryatids: the four surviving female clones of a mad Balkan genius and wanted war criminal now ensconced, safely beyond extradition, on an orbiting space station. Radmila is a Dispensation star determined to forget her past by building a glittering, impregnable future. Vera is an Acquis functionary dedicated to reclaiming their home, the Croatian island of Mljet, from catastrophic pollution. Sonja is a medical specialist in China renowned for selflessly risking herself to help others. And Biserka is a one-woman terrorist network. The four “sisters” are united only by their hatred for their “mother”–and for one another.

When evidence surfaces of a coming environmental cataclysm, the Dispensation sends its greatest statesman–or salesman–John Montgomery Montalban, husband of Radmila, and lover of Vera and Sonja, to gather the Caryatids together in an audacious plan to save the world.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Reviewed byGreg Bear

Caryatids, in Greek architecture, are stone women who support massive buildings. The Caryatids of Bruce Sterling's shimmering new novel-Vera, Radmila and Sonja-support the weight of a near-future world. They are the last of seven clone sisters created by a mother accused of Balkan war crimes, now exiled in orbit. We're 50-some years into the future, and the planet is split into an international, symbiotic competition between the hypernetworked Acquis, who train distressed, abandoned children into tight-knit cadres of activists, and the Dispensation, more sedate, mannered and cosmo-business in its orientation.

Vera works with an Acquis team remediating the Croatian island of Mljet, laid waste by toxic dumping and the rising waters of global warming. The Acquis technology is extreme but humanly adapted: the users wear bonewear (amplified skeletal suits that allow tremendous feats of speed and strength) and spex (laser-equipped eyeshades that hook their wearers into a postencyclopedic wonderworld of information.

In a beautifully realized and Huxleyan Los Angeles, Radmila has fit too snugly into a Dispensation Family, but California is being squeezed between a geological devil and the surging deep blue sea. The Family sees these changes in terms of economic potential, and they track real estate values by the second: Norwalk is glamorous; beach property is cheap.

Sonja, dotted with the shrapnel of her own self-destructive past, performs medical and social work in the middle of a constantly rebirthing China. Due to female infanticide, there are far more men than women in China-the reverse ofRussia, where men die young-and Sonja hooks up with a Gobi jihadist who indulges both her sexual appetites and her political ambitions.

Sterling's language is kaleidoscopic. We swim into a chapter, and his ideas and language flash and dance like sunlight off the Adriatic, then coalesce in a moment of plot; the effect is unsettling, but suited to the world he reveals spark by hammered spark. Dispersed around the world, the sisters mirror Earth's difficulties: traumatized by their origin, they hate each other. Their solutions may be Earth's solutions as well.

In John Brunner's 1968 masterpiece, Stand on Zanzibar, excerpts from fictional author Chad C. Mulligan's "The Hipcrime Vocab" provide sharp, street-smart and world-wise commentary on the culture of 2010. Bruce Sterling is the closest we've come to Mulligan in the actual 21st century. His international perspective is rare in science fiction, which often suffers from Amerocentric bias. A new novel from Sterling is a guarantee of something wild and tasty, and The Caryatids amply fulfills that promise. (Mar.)

Greg Bear's latest science fiction novel,City at the End of Time, was published by Del Rey in August.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In a world suffering from extreme global warming, three cloned sisters, collectively known as the Caryatids, have the ability to sense patterns and propose solutions, some of which make use of technology not yet fully developed. Their only drawback: a mutual dislike for one another. One of cyberpunk fiction's brightest stars, Hugo Award winner Sterling (The Zenith Angle) captures the urgency of a world in trouble and the siblings who must learn to work together to save it. Rhythmic prose and kinetic storytelling mark this cautionary tale, which belongs in most libraries.

—Jackie Cassada
From the Publisher
“Sterling proves again that he understands technology’s present and future better than anyone in the field—and that he’s able to spin a gripping, compelling, mind-opening yarn whose sweep and majesty encompass all that humanity has to fear and hope for in the coming century. This isn’t just a novel, it’s a road map to humanity’s peaceful reconciliation with our mad, out-of-control technology.”—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother

“A tour de force . . . Of all the horde of SF novels about clones written since that trope was pulled mewling from its artificial womb, The Caryatids is the first one that nails it.”—Benjamin Rosenbaum, author of The Ant King and Other Stories

Praise for The Zenith Angle

“Gleeful, shrewd, speculative, cynical, closely observed . . . The Zenith Angle offers wisdom and solace, thrills and laughter.”—Washington Post

“A comedic thriller for the Homeland Security era.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Not so much ripped straight from the headlines as it is an effort to process the blood, guts and greed of the new millennium . . . The entire novel is a setup for an extraordinary rant that reads as if the author had just taken over the podium at a hackers’ conference, fueled with tequila, frothing from ever pore.”—Salon

The Barnes & Noble Review
Here are a few characteristic, albeit somewhat tendentiously chosen facts about the year 1984, courtesy of the invaluable tagging function of Wikipedia.
  • Ronald Reagan held the office of president of the USA.
  • The Soviet Union still flourished.
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger made its fourth flight into orbit.
  • Moviegoers enjoyed Police Academy, Footloose, and The Karate Kid.
  • Music lovers welcomed new vinyl albums from Hall & Oates, Wham!, the Cars, and Culture Club.
  • William Gibson's debut novel, Neuromancer, was published as a paperback original, launching the cyberpunk movement.
Twenty-five years later, Reagan, the Soviet Union, and the Challenger craft and its final crew are all dead. The policies of the first two political entities named above have been, to greater or lesser degree, thoroughly discredited, while the obsolescent Space Shuttle program is almost fully phased out. The movies and albums cited, while perhaps still watchable and listenable, have spawned no recent progeny or movements, have not become touchstones, and look and sound positively antique.

But William Gibson is still writing, perhaps better than ever, with Neuromancer remaining in print and being taught in many schools. The movement Gibson helped to create and publicize stands tall alongside a legacy of fulfilled prophecy and ground-breaking artistic achievement. The movement has been taken up by a new generation of writers, at least the third generation of cyberpunks, if not the fourth, and cyberpunk's tenets and styles, attitudes and tropes have been to a great extent absorbed into all science fiction as foundational material -- futuristic wallpaper, if you will.

Cyberpunk's style and outlook continue to exert an extra-literary influence in the culture at large, even among those unfamiliar with the core texts. The landscape of 2009 has become to a large extent the same wired, information-saturated, absurdist, multicultural, hardscrabble future predicted in Neuromancer and other cyberpunk works. My very use of Wikipedia to launch this article is, in fact, a thoroughly Gibsonian moment.

Twenty-five years onward from Neuromancer, then, the worth, prescience and general ambiance of cyberpunk seem utterly well known and widely distributed. But what goes somewhat overlooked in this success is that almost all the original practitioners -- including, if truth be told, the writer of this essay, whose name can be found among the annointed in the canonical Mirrorshades anthology -- are still productive, having adapted their work to post-cyberpunk realities in both the literary marketplace and the culture at large. Here, then, is a look at three recent offerings by first-generation cyberpunks.

John Shirley was always among the most politically engaged of cyberpunks, with a raw Huey Long urgency to his rock'n'roll-infused jeremiads. His Eclipse Trilogy (1985-90) postulated a right-wing fascist takeover of Europe, a Thatcherist fate that seemed likely at the time. So it seems a trifle odd at first to find him concentrating of late on supernatural fantasy, a genre often characterized by an airy-fairy disconnectedness from realpolitik. But readers of his newest, Bleak History, will discover Shirley still raging against the machine. (Oddly enough, another first-gen cyberpunk, Richard Kadrey, has simultaneously ventured into this same territory with his novel, Sandman Slim.)

The abusive power structure in this scenario is a US government black-budget organization called Central Containment Authority. Central Containment knows a secret: that magic is real, a kind of unexplored physics. They wish to bring all magic users under government control, ostensibly to prevent any kind of supernatural Chernobyl. But a corrupt president and a pawned general, utilizing a day-after-tomorrow terrorist attack as excuse, are more concerned with their megalomaniacal personal goals.

Our hero is Gabriel Bleak, member of the Shadow Community. As one of the most powerful wizards around, Bleak is being chased by CCA. His reluctant but oftentimes lethal response assumes a personal dimension when he discovers that his long-lost brother Sean has been co-opted by the CCA. Will assistance both mystical and practical from government agent Loraine Sarikosca, Bleak's "soul mate," be enough to turn the tide in favor of the rogues? And how does a mysterious artifact buried at the North Pole tie in?

With its conspiracies and factions and secret histories, Shirley's novel partakes of a Pynchonesque vibe. That particular postmodernist was always a model for cyberpunk. Additionally, Shirley precisely fulfills the capsule description of cyberpunk -- "low lifes and high tech" -- if we accept his equation of "magic equals technology." He abets this view by couching the supernatural in cyber terms: "Familiars...are like a computer program, that we put out to run in the Hidden." And don't forget the precedent of the AI loas that inhabited Gibson's cyberspace.

Shirley's novel will ultimately remind readers of Mike Mignola's Hellboy mythos. Although not generally included in the main lineage of cyberpunk, Hellboy, who debuted in 1991, has always struck me as owing much of his literary genome to the cyberpunk vision, a kind of lateral descendant. So it's intriguing to see one of Hellboy's godfathers blithely and gracefully waltzing with that particular mutant offspring.

From the start of the cyberpunk movement, Rudy Rucker's fiction has focused on complexity and on speculative, cutting-edge strangeness. And on gonzo behavior and style. Can't forget that last essential. His early critical theorizing about the nature of cyberpunk emphasized its bandwidth and bold inclusivity: fat pipes filled with mucho weirdness. The intersection of Rucker's interests with the generic Blade Runner future would typically involve brain-eating robots or sex spheres from alternate dimensions. The motto of the mega-popular blog Boing Boing, itself a cyberpunk affiliate of sorts, "A directory of wonderful things," might very well be applied to Rucker's fiction.

His latest, Hylozoic, a sequel to Postsingular (2007), ramps up the strangeness to new levels.

In the previous novel, Earth underwent a sea change known as Lazy Eight Day. Compacted dimensions of spacetime became unfurled, giving humans godlike powers of telepathy and teleportation and matter control. Matter, moreover, became sentient -- the new title is the defining adjective for this condition -- with every atom and composite entity possessing at least a rudimentary mind, right up to Gaia, the supreme instantiation of the whole planet. Humanity now consists of post-scarcity slackers and those denialists who stubbornly pursue the old ways of living. Our heroes are husband-and-wife media stars Thuy and Jayjay, and the autistic savant child of friends, Chu. The three, with a little help from a transdimensional Hieronymous Bosch, will combat a dual alien invasion from the Peng and the Hrull, who are intent on colonizing our world.

Rucker's amiable, antic apocalypse is full of loose-limbed Beatnik/Firesign Theatre/Warner Brothers cartoon goofiness. His rigorous extrapolation of quantum strangeness veers deeply into that territory identified by Arthur C. Clarke, where technology becomes magic, but Rucker plays square with the reader by imposing sharp boundaries of digital logic that encourage genuine narrative peril and suspense. His dialogue-heavy style lends a cinematic immediacy to the action. And just as cyberpunks were always happy to acknowledge ancestors such as Samuel Delany and Alfred Bester, so Rucker tips his hat to the comic genius of Robert Sheckley.

What's most energizing about the novel is how precisely it mirrors and valorizes our current condition. As all our revered and immemorial fiscal and cultural systems collapse about us, some of us stick our heads in the sand, but others creatively surf the chaos straight into the optimistic future SF has always held dearest.

Back in the day, we all called Bruce Sterling "Chairman Bruce." As chief ideological helmsman and theoretician of the cyberpunks, he juggled the cognitively dissonant tasks of enforcing the party line and simultaneously encouraging a thousand flowers of hip speculative fiction to bloom. He always handled the job with sardonic wit and ingenious prescriptions. And of course, his own artful prose and conceptual brilliance precisely exemplified just what needed to be done to drag science fiction kicking and screaming into the postmodern era.

Almost from his first published work, Sterling deployed a formidable, fully honed toolkit which he continues to draw from down to the present. Assembling journalistic hot-button topics and bleeding-edge scientific research with an avant-gardist's sensibility and a historian's acumen, he manifested razor-sharp fictions that combined Heinlein-level verisimilitude with brain-boggling Big Ideas. If his characters sometimes seemed antiseptic -- well, he's improved even on that deficiency, as any reader of his newest novel, The Caryatids, will swiftly observe. For underneath its scintillating, glittering futurist overlay, the book is all about character.

The caryatids are seven female clones of a criminal woman, a "Balkan Lady Macbeth" named Yelisaveta Mihajlovic. In the year 2065, only four clones survive: Biserka, Sonja, Mila and Vera. Despite identical genomes, each woman boasts a unique personality: criminal, soldier, artist, worker. And it is through these four finely formed female filters that Sterling will shine a piercing light on his broken-backed future, a climate-disaster world where billions have died but where humanity's future is still full of glorious potential -- if the species survives at all. Two rival globally distributed entities, the Dispensationists and the Acquis, as well as the last remaining nation-state, China, compete to impose their vision of proper living on the world, providing the impetus for a slambang thriller of a plot.

Sterling has imaginatively inhabited every finely polished inch of his subcreation, from the desert plains of Mongolia to a drowning, burning Los Angeles. His technological extrapolations are matched only by his sociological insights. His portrait of the caryatids is authentic and deep, serving as both anchor and sail for the vessel of his story.

Warmhearted, big-spirited, grimly humorous, cynical yet hopeful, resembling Ursula LeGuin's famous "Nine Lives" retooled into a rap song by M.I.A., then condensed into a Twitter feed to amuse Somali pirates, Sterling's newest proves that when a cyberpunk is once truly plugged into the zeitgeist, the mere passage of twenty-five years does nothing to degrade his performance, relevance or wisdom. --Paul DiFilippo

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul DiFilippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award -- all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345512710
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 932,456
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Bruce Sterling is the author of ten novels, three of which were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. The Difference Engine, co-written with William Gibson, was a national bestseller. He has also published four short-story collections and four nonfiction books. He has written for many magazines, including Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Technology Review, and Wired, where he has been a contributing editor since its inception. He has won two Hugo Awards for his short fiction. Sterling lives in Austin, Texas.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Poisons, pumped down here at enormous pressure, had oozed deep into the water table. The seamy stone was warped and twisted. All around her, toxin miners scuttled like crabs.

The toxin miners pried the poisoned rock apart, slurped up toxins with busy hoses, then deftly reassembled the stifling walls in a jigsaw mess of glue. In their exoskeletons and filter suits, the miners looked like construction cranes wrapped in trash bags.

The miners were used to their work and superbly good at it. They measured their progress in meters per day. They were subterranean bricklayers. Cracking blocks and stacking blocks: that was their very being.

Vera thought longingly of glorious light and air at the island’s sunny surface, which, from the cramped and filthy depths of this mine, seemed as distant as the surface of Mars. Vera had made it a matter of personal principle to know every kind of labor on the island: forestry, reef restoration, the census of species . . .

These miners had the foulest, vilest redemption work she’d ever seen. The workers were a gang of grimy, knobby ghosts, recycling sewage inside a locked stone closet.

Her helmeted head rang with a sudden buzz of seismic sensors, as if her graceless filter suit were filled with bees. Tautly braced within their shrouds and boneware, the miners studied the tortured rock through their helmet faceplates. They muttered helpful advice at each other.

Vera loaded the mine’s graphic server. She tapped into the augment that the miners were sharing.

Instantly, the dark wet rock of the mine burst into planes of brilliant color-coding: cherry red, amber yellow, veins of emerald green . . . A dazzling graphic front end for this hellhole.

Using their gauntlets, the miners drilled thumb-sized pits into the dirty rock. They plucked color-coded blasting caps from damp-stained satchels at their waists. They tamped in charges. Within a minute came the blast. Vera, sealed within her suit and padded helmet, felt her teeth clack in her head.

With a groan and squeak of their boneware, the miners wrestled out a cracked slab the size of a coffin.

A stew of effluent gushed forth. The bowels of the Earth oozed false-color gushes of scarlet and maroon.

“You can help me now,” Karen beckoned.

Vera chased the software from her faceplate with a shake of her head. Vera’s sensorweb offered sturdy tech support to anyone who might redeem the island, but the mediation down this mine was in a terrible state. These miners were plumbing the island’s bowels with bombs and picks, but when it came to running their everyware, they never synchronized the applications, they never optimized the servers, they never once emptied the caches of the client engines. Why were people like that?

Badly encumbered by her filter shroud, Vera clambered to Karen’s side through a cobweb of safety supports. The carbon-fiber safety webs looked as useless as dirty gossamer. Strain monitors glowed all over them, a spectral host of underground glowworms.

Vera found her voice. “What do you need me to do?”

“Put both your hands up.

Here. And over there. Right. Hold all that up.” Vera stood obediently. Her exoskeleton locked her body tight against the ceiling.

Karen’s boneware creaked as she hefted her power drill. She studied the rock’s warping grain through the mediation of her faceplate, whistling a little through her teeth. Then she probed at a dripping seam. “This part’s nasty,” she warned.

Her drill spewed a tornado of noise. Vera’s guts, lungs, and muscles shook with the racket. It got much worse as Karen dug, jammed, and twisted. Within her boneware, Vera’s flesh turned to jelly.

Karen handled her massive drill with a dainty attention to detail, as if its long whirring bit were a chopstick.

Gouts of flying rock dust pattered off Vera’s helmet. She twisted her neck and felt the helmet’s cranial sensors dig into her scalp.

Two miners slogged past her as she stood there locked in place, hauling their hoses and power cables, as if they were trailing spilled guts. They never seemed to tire.

Stuck in her posture of cramped martyrdom to duty, Vera sourly enjoyed a long, dark spell of self-contemplation.

Like an utter idiot, she had allowed herself to be crammed into this black, evil place . . . No, in a bold gust of crusading passion, she had grabbed her sensor kit and charged headlong down into this mine to tackle the island’s worst depths. Why? To win some glow of deeper professional glory, or maybe one word of praise from her boss?

How could she have been that stupid, that naive? Herbert was never coming down here into a toxin mine. Herbert was a professional. Herbert had big plans to fulfill.

Herbert was a career Acquis environmental engineer, with twenty years of service to his credit. Vera also wore the Acquis uniform, but, as a career Acquis officer, Vera was her own worst enemy. When would she learn to stop poking in her beak like a magpie, trying to weave her sensor-webbing over the whole Earth? Any engineer who ran a sensorweb always thought she was the tech support for everything and everybody. “Ubiquitous, pervasive, and ambient”—all those fine words just meant that she would never be able to leave anything alone.

No amount of everyware and mediation could disguise the fact that this mine was a madhouse. The ugly darkness here, the grit, the banging, grinding, and blasting, the sullen heat, the seething damp: and the whole place was literally full of poison! She was breathing through micropored plastic, one filmy layer away from tainted suffocation.

Stuck in her rigid posture of support, Vera gazed angrily through the rounded corners of her helmet faceplate. Nobody else down in this mine seemed at all bothered by the deadly hazards surrounding them.

Was she living an entirely private nightmare, was she insane? Maybe she had been crazy since childhood. Anyone who learned about her childhood always thought as much.

Or maybe her perspectives were higher and broader and finer, maybe she simply understood life better than these dirty morons. Stinging sweat dripped over Vera’s eyebrows. Yes, this ugly mayhem was the stuff of life for the tunnel rats. They had followed their bliss down here. This hell was their homeland. Fresh air, fresh water, golden sunlight, these were alien concepts for them. These cavemen were going to settle down here permanently, burrowing into the poisonous wet and stink like bony salamanders. They would have children, born without eyes. . .

“Stay alert,” Karen warned her. Vera tried, without success, to shrug in her locked exoskeleton. “Work faster, then.”

“Don’t you hustle me,” said Karen merrily. “I’m an artist.” “Let’s get this over with.”

“This is not the kind of work you can hurry,” said Karen. “Besides, I love my drill, but they built it kinda girly and underpowered.”

“Then let me do the drilling. You can hold this roof up.”

“Vera, I know what I’m doing.” With a toss of her head, Karen lit up her bodyware. A halo of glory appeared around her, a mediated golden glow.

This won her the debate. Karen was the expert, for she was very glorious down here. Karen was glorious because she worked so hard and knew so much, and she was so beloved for that. The other miners in this pit, those five grumbling and inarticulate cavemen banging their rocks and trailing their long hoses—they adored Karen’s company. Karen’s presence down here gave their mine a warm emotional sunlight. Karen was their glorious, golden little star.

There was something deeply loathsome about Karen’s cheery affection for her labor and her coworkers. Sagging within her locked boneware, Vera blinked and gaze-tracked her way through a nest of menu options.

Look at that: Karen had abused the mine’s mediation. She had tagged the rocky cave walls with virtual wisecracks and graffiti, plus a tacky host of cute icons and stencils. Could anything be more hateful? ]

A shuddering moan came from the rock overhead. Black ooze cascaded out and splashed the shrouds around their legs.

Karen cut the drill. Vera’s stricken ribs and spine finally stopped shaking.

“That happens down here sometimes,” Karen told her, her voice giddy in the limpid trickling of poisoned water. “Don’t be scared.

” Vera was petrified. “Scared of what? What happens down here?”

“Just keep your hands braced on that big vein of dolomite,” Karen told her, the lucid voice of good sense and reason.

“We’ve got plenty of safety sensors. This whole mine is crawling with smart dust.”

“Are you telling me that this stupid rock is moving?”

“Yeah. It moves a little. Because we’re draining it. It has to subside.”

“What if it falls right on top of us?”

“You’re holding it up,” Karen pointed out. She wiped her helmet’s exterior faceplate with a dainty little sponge on a stick. “I just hit a good nasty wet spot! I can practically smell that!”

“But what if this whole mine falls in on us? That would smash us like bugs!”

Karen sneezed. All cross-eyed, she looked sadly at the spray across the bottom of her faceplate. “Well, that won’t happen.”

“How do you know that?”

“It won’t happen. It’s a judgment call.” This was not an answer Vera wanted to hear. The whole point of installing and running a sensorweb was to avoid human “judgment calls.” Only idiots used guesswork when a sensorweb was available.

For instance, pumping toxins down here in the first place: that was some idiot’s “judgment call.”

Some fool had judged that it was much easier to hide an environmental crime than it was to pay to be clean. Then the Acquis had arrived with their sensorweb and their mediation, so everybody knew everything about the woe and horror on this island. The hidden criminality was part of the public record, suddenly. They were mining the crime. There was crime all around them.

A nasty fit of nerves gathered steam within Vera. She hadn’t had one of these fits of nerves in months. She had thought she was well and truly over her fits of nerves. She’d been sure she would never have a fit of nerves while wearing an Acquis neural helmet.

“Let me use the drill,” Vera pleaded. “This drill needs a special touch.”

“Let me do it.”

“You volunteered for mine work,” said Karen. “That doesn’t make you good at it. Not yet.”

‘We learn by doing,’ ” Vera quoted stiffly, and that was a very correct, Acquis-style thing to say. So Karen shrugged and splashed out of the way. Karen braced herself against the stony roof.

Vera wrapped her arms around the rugged contours of the drill. Her boneware shifted at the hips and knees as she raised the drill’s tip overhead. She pressed the trigger.

The drill whirled wildly in her arms and jammed. All the lights in the mine went out.

Vera’s exoskeleton, instantly, locked tight around her flesh. She was stuck to the drill as if nailed to it.

“I’m stuck,” she announced. “And it’s dark.”

“Yeah, we’re all stuck here now,” said Karen, in the sullen blackness. Toxic water dripped musically.

“I can’t move! I can’t see my own hands. I can’t even see my mediation!”

“That’s because you just blew out the power, Vera. Freezing the system is a safety procedure.

” An angry, muffled shout came from another miner. “Okay, what idiot pulled that stunt?” Vera heard the miner sloshing toward them through the darkness.

“I did that!” Vera shouted. In the Acquis, it was always best to take responsibility at once. “That was my fault! I’ll do better.”

“Oh. So it was you? You, the newbie?”

Karen was indignant. “Gregor, don’t you dare call Vera a ‘newbie.’ This is Vera Mihajlovic! Compared to her, you’re the newbie.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I still have charge left in my capacitors.”

Karen sighed aloud in the wet darkness. “Just go and reboot us, Gregor. We’ve all got a schedule to meet.”

“Please help me,” Vera begged him. “I’m stuck here, I can’t move!”

“You’ll have to wait for a miracle, stupid,” said Gregor, and he left them there, rigid in the darkness.

“You made Gregor angry,” Karen assessed. “Gregor’s our very best rock man, but he’s not exactly a people person.”

Vera heaved uselessly against the silent pads and straps of her dead exoskeleton. Her boneware, which gave her such strength, grace, lightness, power, had become her intimate prison.

“Who designed all this?” she shrieked. “We should have power backups! We should have fuel cells!”

“Be glad that we can still hear each other talking.” Karen’s voice sounded flat and muffled though her helmet and shroud. “It’s too hot down here to run any fuel cells. Gregor will reboot us. He can do it, he’s good. You just wait and see.

” A long, evil moment passed. Panic rose and clutched the dry lining of Vera’s throat. “This is horrible!”

“Yes,” said Karen mournfully, “I guess it is, pretty much.”

“I can’t stand it!”

“Well, we just have to stand it, Vera. We can’t do anything but stand here.

” Claustrophobic terror washed through Vera’s beating heart.

“I can’t do it,” she said. “I can’t bear any more.”

“I’m not scared,” Karen told her. “I used to be very scared every time I came down here. But emotion is a neural state. A neural state can’t touch you. I’m never afraid like I used to be. Sometimes I have fear-thoughts, but my fear-thoughts are not me.”

“I’ll scream!”

Karen’s voice was full of limpid sympathy. “You can scream, then. Do it. I’m here for you.”

Seen from the airy hilltop, Mljet was a tattered flag, all bays, peninsulas, and scattered islets. The island’s scalloped shores held stains in their nooks and corners: the algae blooms.

The rising Adriatic, carrying salt, had killed a dry brown skirt-fringe of the island’s trees.

The island’s blanket of pines and oaks was torn by clear-cut logging, scarred black with forest fires.

And if the golden shore of this beautiful place had suffered, the island’s interior was worse. Mljet’s angry creeks had collapsed the island’s bridges as if they’d been kneecapped with pistols. Up in the rocky hills, small, abandoned villages silently flaked their paint.

Year by year, leaning walls and rust-red roofs were torn apart by towering houseplants gone feral. The island’s rotting vineyards were alive with buzzing flies and beetles, clouded with crows.

A host of flowers had always adorned this sunny place. There were far more flowers in these years of the climate crisis. Harsh, neck-high thickets of rotting flowers, feeding scary, billowing clouds of angry bees.

Such was her home. From the peak of the island, where she stood, throat raw, flesh trembling, mind in a whirl, she could see that the island was transforming. She could hear that, smell it, taste it in the wind. She was changing it.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Customer Reviews

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( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    Not one of Sterling's best

    Set in an interesting post-crisi world, but disjointed and unfulfilling, especially compared to classics like Heavy Weather or Diatractions

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  • Posted December 13, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    This is a superb cautionary science fiction thriller

    In 2060 the world has changed from nations competing for resources into three major groups fighting one another for supremacy of an earth beyond the brink of pandemic collapse. Each wants control of the dwindling resources once coveted by countries. Headquartered in Los Angeles is the Dispensation based on the amalgamation of money, entertainment and high tech. The Green crowd Acquis still hopes to build a utopia on the dying planet. Finally the only nation still breathing, China survives by destroying its people as expendable pawns. <BR/><BR/>In addition to the geo-political-corporate rivals, there also exist three Caryatids female clones of a Balkan war criminal living on a space station and their brother. The Dispensation control Radmila tries everything to ignore her roots. The Acquis own Vera who wants to save her birthplace Mljet Island, Croatia. In China Sonja is a highly regarded medical expert who risks her life to help others. Finally there is also their brother Djordje the businessman. With the globe nearing its final death, Dispensation¿s John Montgomery Montalban, husband to Radmila and lover of Vera and Sonja, tries to unite the Caryatid women in a desperate Hail Mary plan. His problem is that the female clones hate one another almost as much as they loathe their orbiting mother. <BR/><BR/>This is a superb cautionary science fiction thriller that makes the case that even a super-person or three is not enough to clean up mankind¿s path of environmental destruction as long as world leaders and complacent people prefer to bushwhack with alibis any efforts to turn around the trends. The wannabe hero has a superego that has him believe only he can broker the deal to save the world. Fascinatingly the titled females share much in common as clones and with their hatred, but each is different in outlook bringing uniqueness to the mix. Although the story line in some ways feels like three novellas (each female¿s tale) tied together with a save the world in spite of humanity overarching theme, fans will relish this post-apocalyptic dying earth saga.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

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