Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I think this wants to be several stories

The first thing I ever read by Bruce Sterling was his collaboration with William Gibson, The Difference Engine. While The Difference Engine is sort of a novel it's really composed of a series of vignettes of varying length and I think that might have worked for The Artificial Kid as well. Arti and his world of combat artistry are cool but they're more of a backdrop for the stories of other characters than they are a setting. Unfortunately it seems like there's a lot missing from the novel as a whole - I found myself a lot more interested in other characters and other places than the central parts of the novel.

I can't really tell if that miasma of characters and stories was intentional or not, which I'll admit bothers me. There's a lot of really cool shit going on but most of it is outside of the purview of the story - there's a revolution going on and lots of big, angry fights while we're stuck on a smelly, dangerous island; all the action is related to Arti instead of acted by him - he's supposed to be this incredible badass fighter but all we ever see him do is throw an academic out the window, lose a fight to four other guys, knock out unsuspecting people, and do lots of drugs. Everything we read is filtered through him and he never really does much and Arti is not only somewhat repugnant as a filter, he's also a dirty lens - it would be a lot more interesting to hear things from the perspective of Moses Moses, to whom the entire world is new and confusing.

I just don't think the book as a whole hangs together that well. There are maybe five really good stories here that would have been great as part of a collection but are kind of boring as the central matter of a novel. The language is solid, though, and the writing isn't offensively cliched so it's not like you shouldn't read the book - but you're well justified if you read it and wish that it gave you a little more.

     - Alli

Sterling, Bruce. The Artificial Kid. Wired. San Francisco: California. 1997. (1980)

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