The Caryatids – First Impression


I came across this book via a visit (possibly my first) to BoingBoing, which is apparently Cory Doctorow‘s dumping ground for stuff, which I visited as a result of a recent episode of This Week in Tech that featured Cory as a guest.

I was sold on it by the promise of a post-aplocalyptic tale, a subgenre of science fiction that has never failed to enrapture me, from Larry Niven’s Lucifer’s Hammer (which is really more “apocalyptic”), to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and even Mad Max, I’ve always been a sucker for a good disaster tale, the upheaval of society, an essay on how people might survive in unbelievable scenarios.

The Author

The author, Bruce Sterling, is someone who I’m surprised not to have come across since I read extensively and almost exclusively in the broader SF genre. According to Wikipedia he has played a major role in the evolution of the cyberpunk subgenre, which may account for my lack of familiarity, since I have somehow managed to entirely avoid this genre in literature despite being intimately familiar with most films and anime in it.

First Impression

I’ve read only the first twentysomething pages of this novel, but it has a strong ecological element, which I’m hoping doesn’t become preachy, technobabble that reminds me of Neal Stephenson, but without the frenetic pace or wit and an emerging plotline about cloning, which could prove interesting.
Like most good novels that take a while to “get into”, this one is heavily invested in its own terminology, which I’ve always thought is an ambitious undertaking by a writer since it’s difficult to strike a balance where you draw the reader in rather than alienate them entirely.
According to his wikipedia entry, Sterling is quite fond of his neologisms, which undoubtedly accounts for the style of writing.

Thus far, the story appears as though it will be following the trials and tribulations of one Vera Mihajlovic – the first of several Slavic names that the reader encounters, in addition to the apparently northern European or perhaps Russian setting of the novel’s introduction.
Vera is one of the titular caryatids; if you’re not terribly familiar with Greek architecture, a caryatid is a female sculpted support column, the metaphor being explained in a brief synopsis of Vera’s origin early in the book.

Vera is one of the Acquis, a global civilization (Internet?) made up of the scattered remains of broken nations on a mission to recover the planet and one assumes save the human race from running itself into extinction (Tom Raftery?). They’re developing state of the art technology and using distributed computing (if I said cloud computing would I get buzzword points?) to monitor the environment and plan and execute it’s recovery.

As the book contains no plot blurb, just praise from other authors and Salon (wtf?), I have no idea if this book is going to take a twist or turn interesting in a way that someone without the lofty goals of the modern greeny technologist will appreciate; I can only wait and see how the story develops.

Will wait until I’m further into the book before forming a more solid opinion, but it has my interest piqued.

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