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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bruce Sterling, in full hipster snark mode

Bruce Sterling. Photo by Pablo Balbontin Arenas, published under a GNU Free Documentation License.

Bruce Sterling is an excellent science fiction writer (I particularly like the novel Islands in the Net, which I'll always think should have won a Hugo), and also a gifted essayist. Apparently his talents don't extend to literary criticism, at least when he's in hipster snark mode.

Check out Sterling, back in 1992, weighing in on the merits of Illuminatus! and The Illuminati by Larry Burkett, a novel put out by a religious publisher which without a trace of irony warns about the diabolical alliance between liberal Democrats and the dread secret society of the book's title. Sterling does a comparison and contrast piece. Guess which work Sterling prefers:

I recommend this novel highly.  Larry Burkett's ILLUMINATI has already sold some 100,000 copies through Christian bookstores, and it seems to me to have tremendous crossover potential for hundreds of chuckling cyberpunk cynics.   To my eye it's a lot more mind-blowing than any of Wilson's books.

And to MY eye, Sterling seems to value too highly whether the late Mr. Burkett's tome gives Sterling something to snigger about.

Here is a quote from the first review listed in the "Top Customer Reviews" section of Amazon's page for Burkett's novel. "It is clearly obvious that many of those who have posted a review of this book do not understand how the Illuminati operates or they want to keep people from buying this book to keep them in the dark. I encourage you to first do some research on the Illuminati (particularly in relation to 9/11)and then read this book. The book is mind blowing and highly suspensefully from beginning to end. Keep in mind it is a novel and does not clearly lay out information about the Illuminati it simply use brilliant characters to depict how the Illuminati operates. You must read this book if you want to know the truth and as you read it think about the world we live in and what is going on today."

No doubt to Sterling's mind, people such as the reviewer, who think that Burkett's novel reveals deep truths "about the world we live in and what is going on today," are only part of the fun. It's part of the joy of being a "chuckling cyberpunk cynic."

I'll note that Illuminatus! clearly shows compassion for people trying to make sense of a complex world; the characters are doing their best, but some of them fall short. The message, over and over again, is that everyone is trying to figure out what is going on, and it's no easy task. 

Thanks to Jesse Walker, for helping me find Sterling's piece.



John M. said...

I've enjoyed Gibson and Sterling's novels in the past but after engaging with their online efforts, I find that I can't read them anymore. They are annoyingly snarky and way too cool for school. Neither of them can hold a candle to Robert Anton Wilson.

This sentiment also applies to writers like David Brin, Rudy Rucker, Warren Ellis, Cory Doctorow and just about anyone tied in with the (ugh puke) Boing Boing mafia.

Nowadays, I tend to avoid reading the blogs of authors I like for fear that they wi1l be total jerks. I'm so glad that Neal Stephenson doesn't have a blog.

John M. said...

Oh yeah, forgot to mention John Scalzi, too.

And by the way Tom, I've been meaning to tell you this for years-- you will never be in with the Boing Boing crowd. Your libertarian leanings will forever keep you on the outside of that bubble. No loss, way I see it.

Keep up with the excellent work and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Oz Fritz said...

I read the blog. It sounds like Sterling doesn't understand Illuminatus! at all; makes it sound like nothing more than a fashion statement. What a crock of b.s., pun intended. He seems to prefer sensationalism over intelligence with the comparison between the two books. I've read a little of Sterling, but never developed an appreciation.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@John: Thanks for the kind comments, and happy Thanksgiving to you, too. It's possible that Neal Stephenson, one of my favorite writers, would still come across OK if he had a blog. I did read a collection of his nonfiction, "Some Remarks," and quite enjoyed it. Another of my favorite writers, Jack Vance, consciously avoided revealing much about himself for most of his life, preferring to be judged by his work.

I quite like the Boing Boing crowd, particularly Mark Frauenfelder and Cory Doctorow. If they might not like all of my politics, that's OK. Cory and I agree a lot on Internet civil liberties.

@Oz, we are on the same page as regards Sterling writing about RAW, but as I wrote in my posting, I think Sterling is a fine science fiction writer. I want to get around to re-reading "Islands in the Net," but I suspect I was write in thinking it's a fine book.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Oops, meant to say "I was right." That's what you get, trying to type comments late at night when I'm tired.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a little late, but do you guys seriously not get that Sterling was being ironic?

"To my eye it's a lot more mind-blowing than any of Wilson's books."