Our Neural Chernobyl
This tale of a GM nightmare let loose upon the world is told in the form of a kind of brief historical review. The kind of thing that you might read in a Sunday newspaper at some time in the future. The trouble is that Sterling has an interesting idea but all that he does is describe the idea as if it was a historical fact. There is no attempt to turn it into a story. 4/10
Storming the Cosmos (with Rudy Rucker)
A group of scientists, engineers and KGB informers sets off on a mission to the site of a mysterious explosion many years earlier which occured in Siberia. Parts of this story are funny but it drags on too much and Sterling really should sort out the geography when he tries to write stories set in the real world. 6/10
The Compassionate, the Digital
Another "Story told as reportage" rather than narrative. This time, about a future in which Islam, together with artificial intelligence takes over the world. It's short which is good but shorter still (perhaps reduced to zero words) woul have been better. 2/10
Jim and Irene
Jim is a hacker. He hacks mechanical things not computers. He lives by driving around the US opening payphone coin boxes with a gadget of his own devising. He has a chance meeting in a launderette with Irene, a Russian emigre widow. The story then tries to become an American Road Movie as Jim and Irene hightail it in his van only to have a strange mystical encounter at the White Sands Missile Range. Jim is a great character, and I get the feeling that, as in some of his other stories, Sterling has based Jim on some of the hackers that he knows from his journalist background. Irene is based on some false stereotype Russian Woman and is laughably removed from reality. If you can ignore that last fault, the story is not a bad read. 7/10
The Sword of Damocles
The sort of experiemental writing that writers like to try out but which really should never be published. It seems really to be a story about the failure to tell another story. 2/10
Two soldiers fighting a war in in ancient times around what it the modern Iran Iraq border find their souls transported through time to the Iran-Iraq war. Reading the story is fun as it is well written with interesting characters and events but it doesn't seem to have any real point to it. 5/10
The Shores of Bohemia
Classic Sterling. Set in a distant future when a technological catastrophe has pushed mainstream society back into a world lacking all of the advances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But why and what is going on behing all of the efforts to construct a great building? 7/10
The Moral Bullet (with John Kessel)
This is great, it is for stories like this that I buy books of Sterling short stories. Set in a near future America which has descended into anarchy in the aftermath of the development of fountain-of-youth drug. Wacky but credible characters, a tight narrative and a setting that really painted bright images in my head. This story really has the makings of an interesting novel. 8/10
A parallel world, in which advanced magic substitutes for technology, still faces the same issues as our world. Russia and the US have a stand off over the use of controversial spells. A wacky scenario that makes for a good tale. 6/10
We See Things Differently
A story set in a similar "America in Decline" world as the subsquent novel Distraction. A resurgent Islam sets out to destroy the man who threatens to make America great again. 7/10
Three cheers for Leggy Starlitz, one of Sterling's recurrent characters. In this tale, Leggy is running the Azerbaijan end of an Afghan-Caucasus smuggling operation in the last days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Leggy is a great character and this story buzzes with fun and excitement. My only complaint is that Sterling goes into great detail about his subject but makes elementary mistakes. Those aside, the story gets 8/10.
[Anorak section for those who care, Sterling misdescribes that IL14 as a turboprop when it actually uses radial piston engines. Later in the story, he descibes the engine's eighteen cylinders coughing to a halt. It is quite remarkable that the turbine engine has suddenly aquired cylinders after all but even then, there is a problem. The IL14 was fitted with 14 cylinder radial engines so only Bruce knows where the other four cylinders came from. Finally, Leggy opines that NATO would love to get their hands on an IL14. I doubt that. The aircraft, derived from the IL12 of the forties, first flew in 1950 and was exported to 31 countries. The engines themselves date from 1942. By the 1980s, it is unlikely that this aircraft would have held any secrets for NATO. Perhaps Leggy was being sarcastic though the context suggests not. Does stuff like this matter? I think yes. If the author wants to add reality with technical detail than he owes his readers a duty of care to be right.]
Are You For 86?
Another Leggy Starlitz tale. This time, Leggy gets involved with a group of radical feminist pro choice phone phreak activists. They plan to import some RU486 (the French deveoped abortion pill) and pass it on through a Japanese female rock band in Salt Lake City. Well, that scenario should be weird enough for anyone and the story is not bad. 7/10.
Dori Seda and Lester Bangs were real people. Pop culture icons who died in their thirties. In this story, Sterling posits an alternate history in which they do not die but instead meet and marry. 5/10