Book Review: Holy Fire (Bruce Sterling 1996)

Note: in this review, I spoil nothing past the first 20-30 pages or so. You can see more reviews and an excerpt of the book here.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I really enjoyed “Holy Fire”. Though it is high-tech, low life in the fashion of cyberpunk, I found the characters much more believable than most cyberpunk books. The characters still have ambitions and hopes and don’t just spend their time dwelling on how awful life is (any more than we do now). The book is set about 100 years in the future, in a society where the very elderly call the shots and society is about collectively minimized risk and efficiency. The main character, Mia, is an elderly woman who partakes in a medical procedure to extend her life, and her subsequent adventures. Mia struggles with the effect on the young of a society dominated by the old and her own risk-averse tendencies. Along the way she meets a lot of fun people.

Before I read “Holy Fire”, I was aware of Bruce Sterling and his reputation as a cyberpunk author. I had read the canonical cyberpunk work “Neuromancer” by Gibson, and I was not impressed. Cyberpunk seemed just like rebranding dystopia. But a friend (check out her well-received science fiction work here) loaned me “Holy Fire” by Bruce Sterling, so I read it.

The book is also populated with cool gadgets that are irrelevant but colorful. Sterling doesn’t dwell on any particular one, and the book is peppered with fun droplets of future tech. There is a dog that has been technologically enhanced to be able to talk, but in the fashion that a dog might. There are cities built of edible bio-materials. There are programmable wigs.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if the book hangs together fully in the end for me. I’m not sure if the tales of Mia add up to say something to me. So perhaps it is not a masterpiece. But I enjoyed it thoroughly the entire time I was reading it, which is a rarity. Also a vivid female protagonist is nice (this was actually why my friend recommended the book). To anyone interested, I would definitely recommend a read.


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