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November 2, 2005

Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling

Posted by barry

Bruce Sterling: Holy FIre

Holy Fire (

Holy Fire (

Holy Fire (Powell's Books - new or secondhand)

h o l y f e c k !
Last month, I found myself several times guilty of the somewhat unsavoury practice of engaging in brief conversation with prominent authors, whilst hiding my embarrassment at not having totally immersed myself in their literature. One such example was Mr. Bruce Sterling, the man behind the legendary Dead Media Project.

I had read various articles by him, and had soldiered through the disappointing Difference Engine, co-written with William Gibson, but after having witnessed Sterling speak in his caustic yet endearing style at South By South West, I purchased a copy of 'Holy Fire'.

I couldn't put it down. A literate greyhound on amphetamines, I imbibed the pages until I reached that curious dissatisfaction of having finished a good book too fast, instead of giving it the mastication it deserves.

In 'Holy Fire', Sterling amplifies and projects into the future our current obsessions with healthcare and longevity, setting his story in the late 21st century. The twenty-something generations of today, in a desperate, almost unconscious bid for immortality, are alive, and in their one-hundred and twenties. Fifteen percent of the world's population work in the healthcare industry, but most of the wealth is owned by the wrinkly dinosaurs - none of it has filtered down to the younger generations. Many of the younguns, conscious and sceptical of the longevity denied of them, ignore the high castles of the elderly, content to engage in lives laden with more fulfilling, hedonistic pursuits.

At 94, Mia Zimmerman has a few years left on this mortal coil, literally suffering, as she is, from the posthuman condition. After visiting a dying ex-boyfriend's conapt (and his wonderful talking dog, Plato), and encountering a few more human catalysts, she realises that *she has not lived*, and sets out to do so. She undergoes experimental biomedical treatment, a rebuilding of her flesh to emerge as a 94 year old woman -- with the body of a 20 year old.

Understandably, this radical change has serious mental side-affects, and fueled by her ambition *to live*, Mia absconds from her guinea pig existence, finding herself on a flight to Frankfurt, the beginning of a crazy carefree stampede through 21st-century *living city* of Stuttgart, consorting with vagabonds and gypsies in Munich, modeling in Venice and Rome, whilst living and loving in Prague.

It was a relief that Sterling should implement a similar subcutaneous form of technofuturistic aesthetic to authors with whom I was already familiar, such as William Gibson (Virtual Light, Idoru) and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age). The days of 'putting wires in our heads' has been consigned to the nineties (I argue that we're already sort of in the next decade), as he weaves high technology into the patchwork culture of central and eastern Europe, the virtual world becoming a seamless new dimension interchangeable from the café and pivnice world of 'Praha'.

Rather than fetishising hypothetical technology, he tells the *story* using the tools of technology, Mia - or Maya, as she becomes, a beautiful, ruthless, scruffy, moneyless nobody, in possession of one of the most palatial virtual worlds in existence - left to her by the by her deceased ex-lover (she didn't want the talking dog).

A beautiful, meta-contemporary publication.

(Review by Daev)

Review originally published in Ept

Other articles about Bruce Sterling:

Bruce Sterling: Furoshiki Revisted
Almost a decade ago ago, cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling put forward a vision of a multi-purpose, wearable computer. He dubbed it 'Computer as Furoshiki'. Blather's Dave Walsh asks him if the fabric PC is any closer to reality

Sterling Work
Dave Walsh talks to Bruce Sterling about the Dead Media Project and Viridian Design Movement

Posted by barry at November 2, 2005 6:50 PM

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