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Bruce Sterling - SchismatrixSchismatrix by Bruce Sterling is a book I had put aside as “Cyberpunk” (written in the mid-80’s? check. “Matrix” in title? check) to be read later. Tell you what – it’s not. Instead it’s a classic (in the best of meanings) Sterling story describing the life and development of a protagonist (Abelard Malcolm Tyler Lindsay, thanks for asking), this time against the backdrop of humanity’s development as a race (cue endless wars and fads that come and go).

The setting is a familiar one – humanity has made the jump from earth into space, has spread across circumlunar space, and has stalled at this point. Instead of spreading further it has broken into fragments and splinters, and has started fighting amongst its factions again.
The main development topic (again a classic Sterling interest) is life extension and the way humanity modifies itself. There are two warring factions – firstly the Shapers, who modify their bodies and minds through genetic engineering and biological-symbiotic techniques involving micro-organisms; and secondly the mechs, who extend their lifetime and change their bodies through bio-mechanical and cybernetic means. The ongoing conflict between these two main philosophies drives humanity’s development to higher forms of organizations and awareness.
Add aliens that are either completely incomprehensible and/or totally disinterested in humanity (a very realistic touch IMHO), and you’ve got the perfect setting for the last Sterling speciality to manifest in this novel: Societies, and their structures and organizations.

I’m not gonna tell you what happens in the long run, and which different settings and organizational forms the book goes through. But if you’re interested in any of these topics then this is an excellent book to (re-)read, the social settings and the descriptions of the various biological and technical means of life extension alone are worth the price of a copy.
But just for illustration, here’s a highlight for me: a nation state, evolved from a mining operations on a major asteroid who had been granted independence during it’s heyday, has dwindled to nearly nothing, and made the best of the new situation. “…they were, however, in full legal control of a national government, with its entire apparat of foreign relations and diplomatic protocol. They could grant citizenship, coin money, issue letters of marque, sign treatises, negotiate arms control agreements. There might be only a dozen of them, but that was irrelevant. They still had their House, their Senate, their legal precedents, and their ideology. The therefore redefined Fortuna, their national territory, as the boundaries of their last surviving spacecraft, the Red Consensus. Thus equipped with a mobile nation, they were able to legally annex other people’s property into their national boundaries. This was not theft. Nations are not capable of theft, a legal fact of great convenience to the ideologues of the FMD. Protests were forwarded to the Fortuna legal system, which was computerized and of formidable intricacy.”

An interesting, entertaining, thought provoking book. We need more of those.

More Bruce Sterling

Title: Schismatrix
Author: Bruce Sterling
Reviewer: Markus
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 1986
Review Date: Sept 05
ISBN: 0140081356
Price: UKP 2.99
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF


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