Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Distraction, by Bruce Sterling

Well. Been awhile since I put anything in here, hasn't it? Ah well...

Just read a cracker though; Distraction, by Bruce Sterling. Politics in the post-environmental-holocaust US. Its snappy and funny and at the same time slightly disturbing. Its also more than a little prescient, considering it describes the president of the US using an overseas war to distract people from domestic issues... in 1998, two years before W took office. But W is far from the first leader to use that tactic, so thats not too shocking a guess.

One of the neat if scary ideas in the book is how cheap, easy food and mechanisation makes employment an essentially obsolete concept; very few people have jobs. Thats hardly a novel idea in the scifi genre, but whats cool is how Sterling paints that falling out: since jobs are a luxury, and personal service is one of the few industries left, the society becomes essentially feudal. The few rich support "krewes" of advisors, majordomos, stylists, publicists, drivers, chefs, etc., and it becomes so much of a status symbol that noone will take you seriously without an entourage.

Good stuff; worth a re-read. I'll quote a few favorite quotes:

"America hadn't really been suited for its long and tiresome role as the Last Superpower, the World's Policeman. As a patriotic American, Oscar was quite content to watch other people's military coming home in boxes for a while. The American national character wasn't suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and the Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World's Movie Star. The world's tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world's acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions."

"I am not ranting. I possess a perspective here that you people, who are locked in the ivory basements of your own sub-cultures, simply do not possess."

"'...We'll exchange rings, we'll throw rice. We'll put down roots.'
'We don't have roots. We're network people. We have aerials.'"