Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Received: Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

Pirate UtopiaSo while I was absent from blogging, life moved on...other projects were completed, books were received....

One such book is Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia, a beautifully crafted hardcover from Tachyon Publications.

In addition to the *starred* Publishers Weekly review I posted on October 16 last year, here are excerpts from a few more reviews:

1. From author Michael Swanwick's blog Flogging Babel:
Bruce Sterling has always had a complicated relationship with science fiction. He has a particular brilliance for writing the stuff and a noted loathing for its conventions. This explains much about Pirate Utopia, which is almost not SF and yet should prove eminently satisfactory to genre readers.

The Free State of Fiume was a real thing. Fiume was a port city which was seized by troops led by the Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. Very briefly, it became an attempted Futurist utopia.

The novella explores this strange phenomenon through the lens of the single worst member of the new government, exposing along the way the seductively poisonous appeal of fascism. At the end, after the inevitable has played out, Harry Houdini appears with two alt-historical pulp writers to implicate science fiction and fantasy literature in the whole mess.

It really is quite brilliant.

2. From Locus magazine's review by Gary K. Wolfe:
One can be reasonably suspicious of a novella whose alternate history is so obscure, contorted, and bordering on the absurd that it needs appendices to help us draw the connections, but the overall effect of Pirate Utopia is more chilling than comical...

The idea of a brutality as policy crops up repeatedly in the many discussions that make up the intellectual heart of the story, and you can't help but read forward a century or so to see how such ideas persist even today. In his interview with [Rick] Klaw, Sterling relates his tale to Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here and notes that, as Lewis said, fascism in the US "would arrive wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross under American circumstances." Pirate Utopia may seem to be about an ancient and almost forgotten struggle between Italy and Yugoslavia, but its themes are as relevant as this year's presidential politics.

3. From author Cory Doctorow on boingboing.net:
Sterling's Pirate Utopia captures both the excitement and the shabbiness of Futurism and fascism, the sense of trembling anticipation and the terror of merciless technocratic rule where corruption is considered efficient and meritocratic. For all that this is a very cerebral story -- much of the prose is distant and precise, like a Futurist's oiled machine stamping out words -- Sterling masterfully winds in all manner of blood and love and sorrow into the story, not to mention the odd belly-laugh.

This novella is a beautiful object, with the most amazing super-modernist black and white interior illustrations and a cover that beggars belief.

4. And lastly (though there are many more very fine reviews available on this novella) from Max Booth III on LitReactor:
This is a very short book occupied by an impressive cast of characters—most of them grabbed straight from history, although used in ways you might not entirely expect. This is a Futurism novel that looks at the past rather than the future. It's an alternate history clusterfuck of brilliant, whacky world-building and hilarious, bizarre characters. I am not going to discuss the plot, but I will tell you that, in the world of Pirate Utopia, Hitler passed away while saving someone's life in a bar, Lovecraft works not only for Houdini, but is also a member of the U.S. spy delegation—oh, and Mussolini has evidently been shot in the cock, which is of course wonderful. This is a book about piracy and Futurism. Building a world while stealing everything in it. When you have an oxymoron for a title, there's really no way to predict what awaits you, and Pirate Utopia exceeds all expectations. Also, make sure you stick around afterward for the impressive special feature essays and interview with Sterling. They'll help you make sense of what the hell you just read.


In his review, Cory Doctorow refers to the "most amazing super-modernist black and white interior illustrations and a cover that beggars belief." [Note: other reviewers have mentioned the artwork as well, but I simply didn't include that in my excerpts.] All the illustrations in Pirate Utopia are the work of John Coulthart, who has written a very enlightening 1,000-plus-word essay entitled "Reconstructing the Future: A Note on Design" that you'll find at the end of the book. You can read my blog post on my initial work on the novella, published on June 10, 2016, with a link to some of the interior illustrations (scroll down to the end of the blog); and a follow-up blog post on July 14, 2016, with additional examples of the illustrations.

Pirate Utopia is available direct from Tachyon Publications, and always through Amazon.com.


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