I don’t know how I missed this ten-year old Bruce Sterling novel as I am usually tuned in to his latest stuff. It turns out to be the best book I’ve read in a while! Sterling has one of those overly-fertile minds and stuff spills out of him so fast it can hardly be contained on the page. Sometimes his novels are so energetic and enthusiastic he forgets to finish them and they peter out disappointingly. The ride is usually worth it though, even if the structure of the book is sometimes a little lacking.
In The Caryatids he solved his plot problem with an ‘afterword’ and an ‘epilogue’ which tie together the different threads of the narrative rather neatly and give the story a satisfying conclusion.
The story, as usual, is set in a dystopian near-future and involves clones, orbital colonies, surveillance technology, and a host of other typically Sterlingesque notions. My favorite thing was his description of a state-of-the-art LA freeway system that is robust enough to withstand major earthquakes. It’s not just a bunch of roads but an intelligent, adaptive network. Residents are encouraged to head for the freeways in a natural disaster as they will be the safest spots!
Sterling’s world is dominated by corporations and other private entities as most nation-states have collapsed from the climate crisis. What’s interesting about The Caryatids is its hopeful, encouraging tone. Despite all the disasters people demonstrate remarkable resiliency and continue to be creative in the face of new problems.
The best SF isn’t so much about the future as it is about the times right now. Sterling is tuned in to contemporary trends and twists them around and amplifies them so that we get a better look at them. He’s always stimulating and illuminating and The Caryatids has some of his best stuff and reminded me of his early Shaper/Mechanist works like The Schismatrix.
By the way “caryatids” are female figures in architecture that serve as pillars. They are Greek in origin.