Holy Fire
Bruce Sterling
Shortlisted for 1997 Hugo and 1997 British SF Awards

Cover This book is almost impossible to pick up once you put it down. It's taken me nearly 2 years to wade through to the end of it. I expected much more of a book shortlisted for both the Hugo and British SF award.

The main character Mia/Maya is a posthuman who wanders around a post-world being vivid, but nothing else happens. The book is post-plot. Maya's a rebel without a clue whose greatest achievement is maintaining the status quo.

If the story is so unequivocally bad why have I given it 3 stars? The world is beautifully realised. Bruce has magnificent imagination and beautiful grasp of the written word, he simply can't tell a story.

The book begins with Mia Zimmerman as a ninety-four year old gerontocrat who receives a memory palace as a gift from a dying friend. On the way back to her home she meets a young woman who uses a rattlesnake as a hypodermic to inject drugs. Discussions with her lead Mia to finally undergoing the youth treatment she invested in. It works better than she had expected and she starts to chaff under the scrutiny of her post-regenerative care. Mia eventually escapes from the supervision of her doctors and runs away to Europe where she adopts the name Maya. This is where the story enters a hiatus. Maya visits several cities and lives with a variety of people. Once one surreal landscape has been explored and its denizens meet, Maya moves onto the next. The previous locations and inhabitants have no impact or connection to the next. The incidents are superb in concept and execution, but sadly unconnected.

A great deal of note is made of the concept of the memory palace at the start of the book. This lead me to feel it was a crucial part of the story, and it is, but after it's initial mention it is not seen or heard of for the next two thirds of the book. Mia/Maya simply wanders around Europe enjoying herself for a couple of hundred pages before the story begins again. Once the story has begun again, it rapidly turns back upon itself and ends up where it started. Nothing in the society changes, Mia/Maya fades into obscurity and the whole exercise may as well not have happened. I enjoy symmetry, but this is ridiculous.

In conjunction with being post-plot the book is almost post-dialogue. There are pages where nothing is said and Mia/Maya is just experiencing the post-world around her. This isn't bad, just different from the majority of stories. It's actually very good. Bruce's narration is captivating. Often more so then the dialogues, some of which are didactic expositions on aspects of the human psyche. While they are illustrative of the theme of the book, they do become wearying to read, especially since I felt the expositions had a number of conceptual flaws.

As you can probably tell from this review I'm not particularly enamoured of the concept of post-humanism, like post-modernism and post-post-modernism, I find it an utterly fatuous and meaningless concept.

This book is worth reading to experience the breadth and depth of Bruce's inventive imagination, but don't expect a story.