August 22, 2004

The Zenith Angle, Bruce Sterling

Awfully tired, for a Sterling novel. Sterling's past form on adulation of youth doesn't leave him much room for world-weariness, but a novel written after 9/11 and after the Net-stocks crash had to have some, and it warps the fabric.

I was surprised that the best writing was like weak Neal Stephenson, specifically, the flat-affect no-subjectivity-here juxtaposition of quotidian details; when good, an irreversible change in perspective; when weak, like clumsy product placement in a movie. I don't remember that as a Sterling technique. I remember his making up lots of new weird details and world-building with those. Now I don't know if I want to reread the Sterling novels I liked; what if they all seem to be leading to this one?

I was more surprised, or maybe dismayed, that the main character becomes so outright evil in the course of the novel and I'm not sure he recognizes it, or even that the narration does. I can't tell if his having beaten up another agent, thus glorifying his nerd-dom by the standards of a high-school bully, is supposed to distract us (or him) from noticing that he's destroyed his scientist wife's life work and lied to her about it and is set to use her next job as cover. Appeasing high-school critics by violating both scientific and marital mores is a stupid tradeoff.

Maybe in a lit'ry way this reflects the death of moral judgements, or absolutes, etc, in modern geopolitics. I didn't really get that out of the book, not that it's anything I'm eager to find.

ISBN: 0345460618

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