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BruceSterling, Distraction. Bantam Books: New York, New York. (1998) 532 pages. ISBN 0-553-57639-9 (alternate, search)

Set in November 2044, just after a United States election, we follow Senate campaign worker, Oscar Valparaiso, through a 500 page fiat against a crazy Louisiana Governor. In the book, Oscar deftly outmaneuvers, outthinks, and ataris other political operatives in an America turned in on itself.

Roving gangs of unemployed proles live in virtual network gangs battling it out on the countryside while the overclass obsess over trivial fashion quips like wearing hats and sending the right flower arrangement. European powers are pushing the bankrupt American government around, whilst bailing their major cities out from a flooded world coastline. As if foreign problems were enough, Louisiana turns rogue, pushing America to a brink of civil war.

Oscar, a "player", is in the middle of all of this, conducting a NetWar to save American science and culture in an effort to impress his girlfriend, Greta, a Nobel prize winning neuroscientist. Things turn ugly, of course, and the novel turns into a cyberpunkish political thriller.

Maybe it's just because I deeply believe BruceSterling just doesn't get it, but I don't think he really held up his end of the SpeculativeFiction racket. Sterling brushes on a number of interesting technologies, but never bothers to explore them to any depth. It's not like he has to anyway. He never really looks beyond what is capable today. He's best idea, peer-to-peer everything, is kind of obvious. It's not even as if he were writing in the distant past, where today was only a buzzword to him. He just kind of ran with what we've got now. Nonetheless, the first rule in SF is details! They just weren't there.

To be fair, the novel is much more of a political saga set in a slightly modified world. For what it's worth, the book moves forward with every sentence. The pacing is medium speed. It certainly wasn't a "thriller," but it wasn't boring. There are some nice turns here and there, but it's also clear that Sterling didn't pony up on the details here either. Oscar is the main show; his interlocutors just don't pass two-dimensional world. This just isn't very exciting.

For a much better treatment of SF political thrillers, read EricNylund's SignalToNoise series. Those books will have you flipping pages as fast as you can, with enough juicy details between the pacing to satisfy the deepest techy in you. -- SunirShah

I found Distraction to be more of a comentary on the world as it is now, just highlighting existing trends so we can see what the present is more clearly. Plenty enough details for me, but I do admit to liking his books. -- AndrewMcMeikan

I'm afraid Sunir just doesn't get it. Distraction is the best treatment today of CollectiveIntelligence, CommunityOfGlassHouses, ReputationEconomics, GiftEconomy, etc. --anon.

I really had a thing against Sterling when I read that book for some reason, probably because I read his KevinMitnick book first. Now it's much later and I'm beginning to understand what the proper scope of a scifi novel should be, I'm becoming less anxious to score points off him for failing to put too many ideas into too few pages. -- SunirShah

I liked it much better than EricNylund's SignalToNoise. The good part is atmosphere -- how people feel, being frantic, hoping for some time off, accepting technological changes, adapting, surviving, alternate modus vivendi... As always he extrapolates some trends, describes the world falling appart, and has people still having a good and and interesting time. -- AlexSchroeder


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