Sterling, Bruce 1954–
Sterling, Bruce 1954–
Born April 14, 1954, in Brownsville, TX; son of M.B. (an engineer) and Gloria (a registered nurse) Sterling; married Nancy Adell Baxter, November 20, 1979; children: two daughters. Education: Attended University of Texas at Austin, 1972-76. Politics: "Green."
Texas Legislative Council, Austin, proofreader, 1977-83; writer, 1983—.
American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science Fiction Writers of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Hugo Award for Best Novelette, Mystery Writers of America, 1997, for Bicycle Repairman, and 1999, for Taklamakan; three stories, "Swarm," "Spider Rose," and "Cicada Queen," have been nominated for Hugo and/or Nebula awards.
Involution Ocean (novel), Berkley Publishing (New York, NY), 1977.
The Artificial Kid (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1980.
Schismatrix (novel), Arbor House (New York, NY), 1985.
(Editor and contributor) Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.
Islands in the Net (novel), Arbor House (New York, NY), 1988.
Crystal Express (story collection; includes "Swarm," "Spider Rose," and "Cicada Queen"), illustrated by Rick Lieder, Arkham House, 1989.
(With William Gibson) The Difference Engine (novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.
Globalhead (stories), Mark V. Ziesing (Shingletown, CA), 1992.
Heavy Weather, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Schismatrix Plus, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Holy Fire (novel), Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.
The Artificial Kid, HardWired (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Distraction (novel), Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1998.
A Good Old-fashioned Future (stories), Spectra (New York, NY), 1998.
Zeitgeist, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2000.
The Zenith Angle, Del Rey (New York, NY), 2004.
Visionary in Residence: Stories, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 2006.
(Contributor) Phantasmagoria: Specters of Absence, by José Roca, Independent Curators International (New York, NY), 2007.
Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling, Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2008.
Also author of the novelettes Bicycle Repairman and Taklamakan.
The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (nonfiction), Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Hans Moravec and David Brin) Thinking Robots, an Aware Internet, and Cyberpunk Librarians: The LITA President's Program (collected essays), edited by R. Bruce Miller and Milton T. Wolf, Library and Information Technology Association, 1992.
Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
(Author of introduction) Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island, Signet (New York, NY), 2004.
Shaping Things, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
(Author of introduction) The Art of Alex Gross: Paintings and Other Works, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2007.
Work represented in anthologies, including Universe 13, edited by Terry Carr, 1983; Heatseeker, edited by John Shirley, compiled and with a foreword by Stephen P. Brown, Scream/Press, 1989; Semiotext(e) SF, edited by Rudy Rucker, Peter Lambourne Wilson, and Robert Anton Wilson, Autonomedia, 1990; Universe 1, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Doubleday, 1990; When the Music's Over, edited by Lewis Shiner, Bantam Spectra, 1991; Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations, 2003. Has written extensively online, including blogs and articles. Also contributor of numerous speculative fiction stories to periodicals, including Omni, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Interzone.
Bruce Sterling, dubbed "the most influential SF writer of the 1980s" by Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction writer John Kessel, is one of the creators of "the standard bearer of the cyberpunks, a loosely grouped cadre of science-fiction hotshots who have taken the genre by storm during the past few years," according to Village Voice critic Richard Gehr. The "cyberpunk" movement, described by Sterling as "an unholy alliance of the technical world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy" in his work Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, seeks to examine the benefits, as well as pose the troubling questions, that result when scientific discoveries push the boundaries of human knowledge.
Mirrorshades, edited by Sterling, collects twelve stories, including works by William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and John Shirley, among others. "Gaze into a pair of mirrorshades and what do you see?" asks Gehr. "Yourself, and the world you live in. Slip a pair on and what happens? Instant anonymity, outlaws, police, and thieves. This metaphor is something a culture addict can get behind, and no one has gotten further behind it than Bruce Sterling." Though Gehr praised Sterling's introduction, calling it "a dazzling, eye-opening ride through the modern world," he later cautioned: "The remainder of the book barely justifies its claims." Referring to the final story, "Mozart in Mirrorshades," written by Sterling and Lewis Shiner, Gehr declared that it "drags history's major youth icon kicking and screaming (for joy) into the present, summing up the cyberpunk aesthetic in a torrent of wild action and virtuoso speculation." Gerald Jonas, writing in New York Times Book Review, summarized: "What we find [in the stories] is a science fiction that takes the runaway power of science and technology for granted, that plays paranoia straight and finds comic relief in anarchy, and gives center stage to characters who ask of the future not, ‘What's new under the sun?’ but ‘What's in it for me?’"
Sterling's next work, Islands in the Net, pits protagonist Laura Webster, a resort manager, against a complex web of conspiracy when she discovers her corporate employer's collusion with information pirates in this novel of intrigue set in the near future. In Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Tom Easton explained that "the world is growing ever more tightly linked by computerized data exchanges, summing up to the ‘Net’ of the title, but there are a few places—islands—that parasitize the Net as data pirates (e.g., Grenada, Singapore). There is also Africa, so beset by ecological and political disaster that it is a metaphorical island totally surrounded by the Net, but not part of it."
Roz Kaveney, reviewing Islands in the Net in the Washington Post Book World, stated: "Sterling has a real gift for turning ideas from the science pages of newspapers into entertaining science-fictional conceits." Kaveney further noted: "There is nothing cold or heartless about Sterling's hip portrayal of the early twenty-first century" and termed the novel "a series of gaudy but information-packed tourist maps of a future." Gerald Jonas, in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that Sterling "reveals himself … to be a serious and insightful futurist" and added that although "the always surprising plot jumps around the world," the author "remains in firm control throughout." In the Nation, Erik Davis wrote: "Bruce Sterling does not have Gibson's visual imagination nor his infectious style, but he fleshes out his cyberpunk imaginings with more concentrated thought." "Sterling himself is steeped in cutting-edge technologies," Davis continued, "and the knowledge shows itself." He concluded that the book "is like an intelligent computer simulation of global politics."
Crystal Express comprises twelve stories, including the Nebula and Hugo award nominees "Swarm," "Spider Rose," and "Cicada Queen." Gregory Feeley, in the Washington Post Book World, commented that Sterling's writings are "characterized by intellectual playfulness, a careful, almost mannered style and a flamboyant virtuosity in matters of formal invention." Dan Chow, reviewing the collection in Locus, judged: "If anything is repetitive in Crystal Express, it is the author's remarkable knowledge of his characters and settings, no matter how diverse they might be…. Taken as a whole, they form a meditation greater than the sum of the stories themselves." Chow declared that "the cyberpunk label is far too restrictive for this author" and deemed Sterling a writer "of dazzling range and insight."
The Difference Engine, written with Gibson, is a novel falling into the "alternative history" subgenre of science fiction. The book, observed Paul Delaney in the London Review of Books, "belongs to the thriving Post-modern genre of historical pastiche" and "shuffles the cards of history in order to prove by example the ‘Wiener thesis’ of recent years: that Britain's ambivalent response to the Industrial Revolution has led to its relative economic backwardness today." The "difference engines" are steam-driven computers, threatened by the Modus, a terrorist-wielded computer virus. Delaney summarized the political scenario: "The Industrial Radicals have made Britain a richer and more egalitarian country; but they have also turned their information system into a political weapon…. Herein lies a favourite theme of Gibson and Sterling: the official institutions of a society always work on yesterday's agenda, while the future is being made by an underground of anarchists, criminals and fanatics."
The onset of a new century found Sterling, like many people, pondering what the future could bring. Using the seven ages of humanity outlined in Shakespeare's As You Like It, he explored this topic in Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years, with thoughtful essays that do not try to scare readers to death with horrific predictions. The book was well received. Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan wrote: "Often surprising, always humorous, Sterling's individual slant on what may evolve serves as a visionary overview of the twenty-first century."
Sterling's novel The Zenith Angle uses fiction to look at life in a post-9/11 world. The novel's protagonist, Derek Vandeveer, leaves the private sector to work for the government, trying to keep cyberspace secure. It is a frustrating job as Vandeveer tries to find out who has attacked a top-secret satellite. A Library Journal reviewer hailed the book as "highly recommendable" because it incorporates "up-to-the-minute technology with engaging characters and a clear vision of tomorrow."
Sterling's novel Zeitgeist introduces the character Leggy Starlitz, manager of the trendy all-girl pop band G-7. Leggy's ambitious plan, on the eve of the millennium, is to make a quick fortune by bringing the band on a tour of the Muslim world and then letting the girls all go their separate ways when they return to New York. Sterling includes an eclectic mix of characters, as well as acerbic asides on topics such as the global economy, black marketeering, conditions in former Soviet Bloc countries, and James Bond films, among many others. Describing the book as a "comedy-suspense tale of international intrigue," New York Times Book Review contributor Jon Garelick found the plot weak and the characterizations underdeveloped, but nevertheless praised Sterling as a "sharp-tongued, convincing witness to global disintegration."
Writing in Booklist, Benjamin Segedin called Zeitgeist a "bold, sprawling book" that demonstrates Sterling's ability to deal as brilliantly with present-world subjects as he does with sci-fi themes. Hailing Sterling's "cutting-edge knowledge" about this interconnected world, the critic commended Zeitgeist as a "powerful, poignant, and hilarious" novel of the end of the twentieth century. "Sterling has become our canniest cultural observer," commented Robert K.J. Killheffer in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, "and his eye here … rarely falters. From cynical marketing philosophies to New Age lesbians to the relativistic theories of semiotics and deconstruction, Sterling produces a trippy satire that's as incisive as it is amusing."
The short stories in A Good Old-fashioned Future, according to Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction contributor Elizabeth Hand, show Sterling as a "master of contemporary cultural dissociation" who creates plots that are "succinct and darkly funny." Among the best works in the collection, in Hand's view, are "Taklamakan," a piece about genetic engineering that reaches "a peak of hallucinatory wonder and terror." In another story, "The Littlest Jackal," an international terrorist aspires to control an island state where Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" reflects the true spirit of the culture. "Try to imagine a country where that music truly was the national anthem," the protagonist says. "Where music like that was social reality. That is how I want people to live." Noting that A Good Old-fashioned Future shows Sterling "at his best," Gerald Jonas, writing in the New York Times Book Review, praised Sterling's "knack for imagining futures that feel familiar even as they turn conventional wisdom upside down."
The collection Visionary in Residence: Stories drew mixed reviews. "It's fun," commented SF Site Web site contributor Greg L. Johnson about the story "Luciferace," "but doesn't seem to have anything larger to say." More worthwhile, in Johnson's view, are "The Scab's Progress," written with Paul Di Filippo, and "Junk DNA," written with Rudy Rucker. Patrick Hudson, writing in Zone, also singled out "Junk DNA" for particular praise. The story focuses on the efforts of a biotechnician to create a new type of toy that can be marketed as the latest social fad. Using her own junk DNA, she fashions a biological lump she calls a "Pumpti." As Hudson observed, "Junk DNA" is a "story of low-level opportunism and viral marketing, and Sterling takes a probing look at the world of pop culture and manufactured fads." Strange Horizons Web site reviewer James A. Trimarco, noting that the stories in this collection "reflect the author's growing interest in dialogue with scientists, and, importantly, with the research/design/marketing process that governs how technology is commodified and introduced into society," found that the Pumpti "is a gripping and plausible play on how human psychology modulates the business world: which of us wouldn't fall in love with an object that was literally a chunk of us?" Overall, however, Trimarco considered Visionary in Residence a "mixed bag."
Sterling has also written nonfiction, including The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier and Shaping Things. Sterling describes the latter title as a book that is "about created objects and the environment, which is to say, it's about everything." Objects that were once made by hand, Sterling writes, were later produced by machine. But this process wastes energy and materials. Sterling envisions a future that will include new high-tech objects that will be complexly multifeatured, enhanceable, and sustainable; he calls these objects "spimes." Spimes will be designed on screens and manufactured with digital technology using materials that, according to a book synopsis on the MIT Press Web site, "can be folded back into the production stream of future spimes, challenging all of us to become involved in their production." Spimes are "aware" of environment and location and constantly transmit information about themselves and their environment, which is subsumed into a vast data stream available to anyone.
Cory Doctorow, writing on the Boing Boing Web site, called Shaping Things a "fantastic nonfiction book about the future of industrial design and society, and … the most thought-provoking thing I've read all year." Bul-letin of Applied Computing and Information Technology critic Judith A. Symonds considered the book "a fascinating meta-analysis of modern technosocial discovery in which Sterling analyses where WE (society) have come from in order to understand more about where WE are going."
Sterling once commented that his writing is concerned with "technological literacy, imaginative concentration, visionary intensity, and a global, twenty-first-century point of view. I want to bridge the gap between the two cultures, or at least shout loudly from the bottom of the gulf."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 72, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
McCaffrey, Larry, editor, Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, University of Illinois Press (Bloomington, IL), 1990.
Spinrad, Norman, Science Fiction in the Real World, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1990.
Sterling, Bruce, Shaping Things, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
American Scientist, November 1, 2000, reviews of Distraction and Holy Fire, p. 563.
Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, December, 1988, Tom Easton, review of Islands in the Net, pp. 163-165.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Dennis Winters, review of Heavy Weather, p. 118; October 15, 1996, Benjamin Segedin, review of Holy Fire, p. 408; November 15, 1998, Benjamin Segedin, review of Distraction, p. 574; October 1, 2000, Benjamin Segedin, review of Zeitgeist, p. 323; November 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years, p. 456; March 1, 2006, Regina Schroeder, review of Visionary in Residence: Stories, p. 77.
Bulletin of Applied Computation and Information Technology, December, 2007, Judith A. Symonds, review of Shaping Things.
Compute, November 1, 1991, Darren P. McKeeman, "Hack to the Future," p. 160.
Electronic Learning, September 1, 1994, "Technology Fashion Victims," p. 28.
Entertainment Weekly, January 31, 1992, review of The Difference Engine, p. 54; April 23, 2004, "Sci-fi 101: Guys and Galaxies," p. 86.
Fortune, October 9, 2000, "Bruce Sterling: ‘I Don't See a Lot of Creativity. It's More like a Bass-fishing Channel—all Bass Fishing All the Time,’" p. 258; February 19, 2001, "All about Gadgets and Gizmosity," p. 264.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Tomorrow Now, p. 1373; April 1, 2004, review of The Zenith Angle, p. 304.
Library Journal, October 15, 2000, Jackie Cassada, review of Zeitgeist, p. 108; May 15, 2004, review of The Zenith Angle, p. 118; March 15, 2006, Jackie Cassada, review of Visionary in Residence, p. 67.
Locus, September, 1989, Dan Chow, review of Crystal Express, p. 27.
London Review of Books, August 29, 1991, Paul Delaney, review of The Difference Engine, p. 22.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 1, 1993, John Kessel, review of Globalhead, p. 25; May 1, 1993, John Kessel, review of The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier, p. 25; February 1, 1995, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Heavy Weather, p. 19; September 1, 1999, Elizabeth Hand, review of A Good Old-fashioned Future, p. 30; May 1, 2001, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Zeitgeist, p. 33.
Nation, May 8, 1989, Erik Davis, review of Islands in the Net, p. 636.
New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1987, Gerald Jonas, review of Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, p. 33; October 2, 1988, review of Islands in the Net, p. 30; December 20, 1992, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 18; December 27, 1992, review of Globalhead, p. 22; November 19, 2000, Jon Garelick, review of Zeitgeist.
PC Magazine, May 25, 1993, Angela Gunn, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 71; February 25, 2003, Dan Costa, "Forecasting the Future," p. 26.
Policy Studies Journal, summer, 1998, Steffen W. Schmidt, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 341.
Popular Science, June 1, 2004, Ed Finn, "A Cyberpunk Spin on Captain America," p. 116.
Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 87; September 5, 1994, review of Heavy Weather, p. 97; August 5, 1996, review of Holy Fire, p. 435; November 9, 1998, review of Distraction, p. 60; October 30, 2000, review of Zeitgeist, p. 52; September 23, 2002, review of Tomorrow Now, p. 62-63; April 5, 2004, review of The Zenith Angle, p. 46; February 6, 2006, review of Visionary in Residence, p. 48.
Security Management, March 1, 1993, Howard Keough, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 85.
Texas Monthly, December 1, 1992, Gary Cartwright, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 98; November 1, 2000, Mike Shea, review of Zeitgeist, p. 34; February 1, 2008, "Bruce Sterling," p. 72.
Time, Michael Krantz, December 21, 1998, "Cyberpunk Spinmeister: With Distraction, Bruce Sterling's Fiercely Satirical Take on America's Political Future, a Cult Icon Comes into His Own," p. 66.
Village Voice, February 3, 1987, Richard Gehr, review of Mirrorshades, p. 50; January 17, 1989, "Islands in the Net," p. 58.
Village Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1992, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 5.
Washington Post Book World, June 26, 1988, Roz Kaveny, review of Islands in the Net, p. 10; September 1, 1996, Gregory Feeley, review of Holy Fire.
Weatherwise, April 1, 1995, Jim Reed, review of Heavy Weather.
Whole Earth Review, summer, 1993, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 27; winter, 1988, "Bruce Sterling," p. 11; summer, 1993, Steven Levy, review of The Hacker Crackdown, p. 27.
Ballardian,http://www.ballardian.com/ (June 6, 2008), Chris Nakashima-Brown, "Child of the Diaspora: Sterling on Ballard."
Bewildering Stories,http://www.bewilderingstories.com/ (June 6, 2008), Jerry Wright, review of Visionary in Residence.
Boing Boing,http://www.boingboing.net/ (June 6, 2008), Cory Doctorow, review of Shaping Things.
CNET News.com,http://www.news.com/ (June 6, 2008), Declan McCullagh, "Newsmaker: Big Brother and the Next 50 Years."
Ctheory,http://www.ctheory.net/ (June 6, 2008), Arpad Bak, interview with Sterling.
Cybersociology,http://www.cybersociology.com/ (June 6, 2008), interview with Sterling.
Dispatches from Blogistan,http://www.dispatchesfromblogistan.com/ (June 6, 2008), interview with Sterling.
Edge Foundation Web site,http://www.edge.org/ (August 20, 2004), biography of Bruce Sterling.
GORP Web site,http://away.com/ (August 20, 2004), "Bruce Sterling: The Future of the Outdoors: End of the Trail."
Infinity Plus,http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (June 6, 2008), Nick Gevers, interview with Sterling.
Knowledge Ecology International Web site,http://www.kestudies.org/ (June 6, 2008), interview with Sterling.
MIT Press Web site,http://www.mitpress.mit.edu/ (June 6, 2008), synopsis of Shaping Things.
Reason Online,http://www.reason.com/ (August 20, 2004), Mike Godwin, "Cybergreen: Bruce Sterling on Media, Design, Fiction, and the Future."
Rice University Web Site,http://www.rice.edu/ (August 20, 2004), "Bruce Sterling."
SF Literature,http://www.sflit.com/ (June 6, 2008), Dwight Brown, Lawrence Person, and Michael Sumbera, interview with Sterling.
SF Reader, http://www.sfreader.com/ (June 6, 2008), Sheri Fresonke Harper, review of Schismatrix Plus.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (June 6, 2008), Thomas Myer, interview with Sterling; Steven H. Silver, review of Holy Fire; Greg L. Johnson, review of Visionary in Residence.
Slashdot,http://slashdot.org/ (June 6, 2008), interview with Sterling.
Some Fantastic,http://www.somefantastic.us/ (June 6, 2008), Chris Elliot, review of Visionary in Residence.
Strange Horizons,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (June 6, 2008), James A. Trimarco, review of Visionary in Residence; Nader Alhefnawy, review of Ascendancies: The Best of Bruce Sterling.
Zone,http://www.zone-sf.com/ (June 6, 2008), Tony Lee, review of Distraction; Patrick Hudson, review of Visionary in Residence.