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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
The closing years of the 20th century were good ones for Bruce Sterling. Beginning in 1994, he published a series of memorable, idiosyncratic novels (Heavy Weather, Holy Fire, Distraction) that brilliantly reflected the political, social, and technological trends of a turbulent era. Sterling closed out a productive decade with Zeitgeist, a visionary portrait of a balkanized world that is slouching, uneasily, toward the millennium.
Zeitgeist begins in Turkish Cyprus in 1999. Its "hero" is Leggy Starlitz, peripatetic entrepreneur and recurring Sterling character. Leggy, for once, is in the money, having discovered and exploited the basic principle of modern marketing: Tell the people what they want, then sell it to them. What Leggy is selling is a prefabricated, all-girl pop group called G-7. G-7 has neither talent nor musical ambition but serves as the basis for a massive, ancillary marketing campaign that sells toys, clothes, and overpriced accessories to impressionable teenagers everywhere. It is also the first pop group with a built-in expiration date. Leggy plans to dissolve the enterprise on or before January 1, 2000, at which point the "master narrative" -- the zeitgeist itself -- will, according to Leggy, assume a new and unpredictable form.
Leggy's scam goes belly-up when his partner, a Turkish zealot named Mehmet Ozbey, assumes control of G-7. Mehmet plans to use the group as a weapon in the "cultural war" against the entrenched fundamentalists of the Moslem world. At about the same time, Leggy encounters Zeta, the 11-year-old daughter he has never known. Trading one set of responsibilities for another, Leggy slowly transforms himself from an opportunistic hustler into something he has never been before: a father.
The bulk of the ensuing narrative is a patented, plotless Sterling tour of a fractured contemporary landscape. Leggy and Zeta travel together from Cyprus to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Mexico, from Mexico to Istanbul, encountering a colorful variety of crooks, con men, schemers and believers along the way. Blending satire and documentary realism with an occasional touch of the fantastic (such as a visit from the ghost of Leggy's father, an enigmatic spirit who speaks in perfect palindromes), Zeitgeist looks backward toward a vile, violent century marked by death camps and genocidal initiatives, and forward toward a world shaped by a different kind of "narrative," a narrative in which "the children stop screaming" and "the pain and the terror goes away." The result is a shrewd, funny, endlessly entertaining novel that is essential reading for anyone concerned with the forces that have shaped the modern world, and for anyone interested in speculative fiction at its most intelligent, developed, and assured.||||||||
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).