February 24, 2005

Crystal Express by Bruce Sterling

This is an assorted collection of short fiction by Sterling. The stories are organized into three groups based on a loosely unifying themes.

The first five stories are set in the Shaper/Mechanist science-fiction universe created by Sterling which was also the setting for his long novella "Schismatrix". In this universe, humanity has divided into two factions: The Shapers have "reshaped" themselves through genetic engineering, adopting such enhancements as superior intelligence, longevity and odor-free perspiration. The Mechanists, on the other hand, prefer to gradually replace their mortal flesh with prosthetic limbs and artificial organs. Both factions have colonized the solar system and most of the actions takes place off-earth on the various orbital conglomerates.

These stories were recently published along with this novella in a single collection called "Schismatrix Plus", so if you are only interested in the Shaper/Mechanist stories that is a better value. In this set of stories, "Swarm" and "Spider Rose" are the most ingenious and are placed right in the beginning (you might find more a more detailed description of these stories in the separate review of "Schismatrix Plus"). "Cicada Queen", "Sunken Gardens" and "Twenty Evocations" gain value by being placed in a thematic collection like this one. By themselves, they would not be as interesting to read.

The next three stories are not in set in the Shaper/Mechanist universe: "Green Days in Brunei" is the most successful as a slice of life adventure based in the future of an isolated, monarchist and not-so-rich-anymore Brunei. "Spook" has some fun with futuristic assassination devices but is a bit too trite to be interesting. "The Beautiful and the Sublime" has some half-hearted ideas about the end of science wrapped in a comedy of manners set in a future aristocratic society which mostly missed its mark for me.

The three fantasy stories that close out the collection are not as compelling (Bruce Sterling never really wholeheartedly branched out into fantasy writing. Update: but his recent "The Blemmye's Strategy" is quite appealing). In fact, while they are labeled as such, they are not really fantasy stories in the genre sense. "Telliamed" could have been entirely a science-fiction story in terms of the ideas it represents, but the devices used are clearly fantastic. "The Little Magic Shop" contains a common device of eternal youth and adds little new to the old ideas. "Flowers of Edo" refers to the various fires that devastated parts of Tokyo (back when it was called Edo) and it is successful as an amusing and insightful look at some intriguing characters including a look at early pulp `manga' illustrations like `Kasamori Osen Carved Alive by Her Stepfather'. And finally, "Dinner in Audoghast" is a well-written slice of life set in a doomed city in North Africa which is visited by an unlikely soothsayer.

%T Crystal Express
%A Bruce Sterling
%I Ace Books
%D 1989
%G ISBN: 0441124232 (pb)
%P 278
%K science-fiction

Date written: 2000/09/11

Posted by anoop at February 24, 2005 12:01 AM