Transforming hype into epigrams and forebodings into witty deconstructions of today’s moral panics in a look at the near future.
Cyber-punk guru (The Hacker Crackdown, 1992) and SF novelist (Zeitgeist, 2000, etc.) Sterling makes these seven essays parallel to the famous “seven ages of man” speech of Jacques in As You like It. Around Jacques’s seven—the infant, the student, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon, and, finally mere oblivion—Sterling wraps his themes of genetic engineering, education, warfare, politics, economics, and death. His premise is that we have recently experienced a belle époque that began with the end of the Cold War and was marked by a sudden influx of new technologies and economic growth in the ’90s. The larger question here is whether that epoch will continue or whether it is destined to be doomed by military, political, or economic catastrophe. In answer, Sterling employs a smorgasbord of science facts, New Economics paradigms, and insights from his personal life. “If science fiction has any truly profound insight to offer us, it’s that existence really is weird. Human ideas of ‘normality’ are always merely local and temporal,” he writes at one point, providing us with a good standard by which to judge him: The weirder the chapters, the better they are. The first, which envisions an industrial use of bacteria that goes well beyond the medical, is a tour de force, as is the chapter on the Lover, which, contrary to expectations, is about the love of objects—fetishism as the driving force of design. The chapters on networks and the New Economics have a more retro-futuristic feel: this is the world envisioned in Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree and already sounds obsolete.
Well above ephemeral trend-spotting, Sterling’s high-IQ futurism is sure to be devoured by hackers and the remaining Silicon Valley CEOs.