16 Down, 36 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Bruce Sterling’s Zeitgeist is one of those pre-Y2K creatures, rife with imagined paranoia and snide indictments of post-modern pop culture. Our protagonist Leggy Starlitz manages the G7 girl band, an obvious analogue for the Spice Girls, where the stars are known only as the French One, the American One, and so on. Certainly more dignified than Scary Spice or Posh Spice, methinks. The fact that they’re (mostly) talentless doesn’t stop them from selling millions of G7 merchandise to the world’s prepubescent population.

The band however, are only a tiny bit of what Leggy is all about. Abound with Turkish aristocrats, Russian junkie philosophers and lesbian eco-hippies, Bruce Sterling jampacks our brains with information, obviously using the extremely verbose Leggy as his mouthpiece, troubleshooting with the best and worst of the criminal underworld and military black ops before veering off into the surreal when Leggy comes across his long-lost daughter, Zeta.

On hindsight, the whole Y2K paranoia seems laughable now, but Sterling manages a twist on it, marking the era not so much with a technological but a metaphysical bent. Sterling (as Leggy) maintains that the 20th century is run on rails by a master narrative, signified especially by an unprecedented creation of a sun, or rather, the atomic bomb. While Leggy is the epitome of 20th century human ambition and invention, it’s Zeta who will be his successor in the 21st, but in an entirely new narrative untethered by the now obsolete atomic age.

While Bruce Sterling is full of superlative ideas as usual, he does tend towards verbal diarrhoea. Zeitgeist really has no plot to speak of, just a series of theories strung along by Leggy on his traipsing around the hidden places of the world. However, a sense of datedness notwithstanding, Bruce Sterling is still a prophet of the highest order today, it’s interesting to see how he navigates meaning of Y2K in the novel, and relate that to his idea of the new world order today. Check out his non-fiction books, I generally find them to be better reading than his sometimes overblown attempts at fiction.

(ISBN No: 0553576410) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakanomics.


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