Schismatrix plus, by Bruce Sterling

Schismatrix plus Book Cover Schismatrix plus
Bruce Sterling
Science fiction, cyberpunk
Open Road Media
Dec 30 2014 (first published 1995)

Schismatrix plus is one short novel (or novella?) called Schismatrix, followed by a handful of short stories that fit into Sterling's shaper/mechanist universe.   The shapers and mechanists of this classic cyberpunk vision are, of course, the humans who go for biological engineering, and the humans who opt for technological enhancement instead. They tend to violently dislike each other. For some reason.

...Yeah.  In the short novel,  I really struggled to find out what anyone's motivations were for anything at all.  I didn't even know why the protagonist, Lindsay, did most of the things he did.  Even at the end of the book, I don't actually know anything about him as a character - sure, he was described to have a romantic relationship and an arch nemesis kind of relationship, with other characters I don't understand anything about, except their names keep appearing, which implies they are supposed to function as characters.

If I sound frustrated - it's because I am.  While I really like cyberpunk, especially when it goes bananas and embraces aliens and terraforming,  I really, really struggled with this novel.  I can't remember the last time a book took me this long to read - I just kept putting it away because my brain was exhausted by frantically searching for whatever I felt I must be missing, some kind of key to turn this into a coherent story.  Something structured underneath all the shiny scenery.  But nope.   Obviously, Sterling's prose and I are not a good match.  Except, of course, for the fact that the short stories at the end are a wholly different experience.

I was flabberghasted. The stories are neat! Coherent and snappy and funny. They have a tone and voice I didn't find even a hint of in the novel.

My favourites were The Swarm, with its very alien aliens and very ugly humans,   and Spider Rose, for being terribly weird, but in a way that came together very well in the end.  It also made me much more interested in the alien investors.

My recommendation for this book would be to skip straight for the short stories and avoid the headache of a novel.  Unless, of course, you're a reader who doesn't mind being taken on a tour of look at all these cool things  without a single tangible character for company.

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