Sunday, July 13, 2014

Conflicted nostalgia

Fiction writers don't seem to know what to do with 9/11.

Hell, nobody knows what to do with 9/11, the big bang that so profoundly changed our world, but it really seems like authors got a raw deal. It's obviously something that needs to be commented on, it's clearly important, but it seems like you can't write about it without being jingoistic or railing on conspiracy theories.

Bruce Sterling's novel The Zenith Angle is a book about the tech fallout of 9/11 combined with the bursting bubble of the dot-com boom. Parts of it are incredibly creepy because they seem to so zealously agree with the big bad awfuls that have come after the towers fall and other parts of it seem hyper-aware and resigned to mourning and coping with a paranoid, info-ravenous government.

I'm really not quite sure how to feel about it.

There's a lot of cool tech stuff going on, some of it is even plausible, but it's all a backdrop to the kinds of paranoia and action that are making our world such an icky place to be right now. It's hard to like the main character and it's impossible to like the people he's working for in the light of things like Wikileaks and the Snowden/NSA reveal.

The book was written in 2004 and I'm not sure the novel even knows what it's saying: clearly there's a good deal of hope for technology over martyrs, and just as clearly there's distrust of government bureaucracy, but both of those things are a little disconcerting to reflect on with the eyes of 2014 when technology is being used to observe its users by a government that has largely ditched bureaucracy in favor of small teams of competent people who don't give a shit about privacy rights.

So I just don't know. The book is well written and tells an interesting story that falls apart a little at the end, but it seems hopelessly innocent and dangerously naive looking at it a decade after it was published.

     - Alli

Sterling, Bruce. The Zenith Angle. Del Rey. New York: New York. 2004.

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