Tuesday 29 October 2013


Given that we now live in an age in which touchscreen read-a-ma-jigs are consumer goods, and that I have a couple that lurk about my life begging for a basic sustenance of wi-fis and power-watts, it seems perverse that I would be reading a tactile as all fuck, hard copy, print edition of Bruce Sterling's Globalhead. The dude is cyberpunk. He is the guy that pointed fingers and named names with Mirrorshades, and there is actual ink on actual pages. I'm practically choking on the ham-fisted irony of it all.

Whatever format you manage to find it in, Globalhead is an above-average collection of above-average short fiction written by this one guy who is far more interesting than he lets on. Bruce Sterling is that certain brand of conman, who has some how managed to convince the world of his own lack of importance, but in reality what he has done is quietly produce an abundance of something exquisite out of the perversely mundane. As my years have ticked on I have occasionally found myself presented with the works that he has deigned worthy to be free, whether they be podcasts, novels, short stories, non-fiction, whatever, and without exception I have found the view on the world with which I am presented Borroughsian in its aptitude for making me reassess what was admittedly a fairly limited outlook on my own reality.

Like Burroughs, he seems to drift around under the surface where even people who have heard of him have often failed to actually ingest anything he has produced himself. For me, for a long time, he was the Mirrorshades guy, and then later the other Difference Engine guy who isn't Gibson, and only later was he a proper entry in my literary vocabulary. Sometime around when I first read The Artificial Kid. I guess, like a lot of people that have written cyberpunk over the years, his greatest crime was that he didn't write Neiromancer, in the same way that Diana Wynne Jones didn't write any of the Harry Potter books. Their names and their output go unrecognised in the wake of the iconic representation of their genre, but in both these cases what you are deprived of is a rich and varied body of work. As Jones is to children's fantasy, Sterling is to an era of science fiction, and you would be hard pressed to find someone in each respective arena who has explored it more thoroughly.

In writing each of the various entries in Globalhead, Sterling has drawn on a truly herculean list of ingredients and influences, and has produced an arcane distillation of the late Twentieth Century that lies heavy with concepts of dangerous nationalism and technological nightmares. Sterling is clearly a man with a gift for the ordering and arrangement of fine words, but what sets him apart from the vast majority of other writers is his strength for variety, making Globalhead the perfect introduction to his body of work.

Beyond whats already mentioned, I highly recomend Zeitgeist, his closing keynote for IDEA 2006 (available free as a podcast), and The Hacker Crackdown, Law and Disorder in the Electronic Frontier, which is available as both a book through iTunes and as an app through the App store, which, as I write these words, am currently trying to download. A lot of his work is far harder to get hold of than it should be, but I'm yet to come across something that wasn't worth the effort.

In the end, I get off on Sterling solely because of the way that he rolls. A lot of authors write a certain way, and that is kind of where it ends. You pick up one of their books and you know what you're investing in, more or less. Where Sterling differs is that for him it's about exploring ideas, and when you read Globalhead, you'll see what I mean. It makes sense that 'Our Neural Chernobyl', 'Storming the Cosmos', 'Jim and Irene' and 'The Sword of Damocles' all come from the same place and are available in the same place.

The image included above is the Bruce Jensen cover for the Bantam paperback edition.

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