Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: Globalhead

Book Review: 'Globalhead' by Bruce Sterling

2 / 5 Stars

‘Globalhead’ was published in hardcover in 1992; this Bantam Spectra mass market paperback edition (340 pp.) was released in November 1994. The cover artwork is by Bruce Jensen.

With the exception of ‘Are You For 86 ?’, all the stories in this compilation were previously published from 1985 – 1992, in magazines such as Omni and Isacc’s Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

My concise summaries of the contents:

Our Neural Chernobyl: short, but well-written, tale about gengineering gone awry. A subtle twist at the end caps the story off perfectly.

Storming the Cosmos: a collaborative effort with Rudy Rucker. A dissipated KGB informer accompanies a scientific team to the Tunguska meteorite site. Mayhem and hijinks ensue. Rucker’s participation gives this story a dose of absurdist humor, moreso than a standalone Sterling tale.

The Compassionate, the Digital: the Iranian Revolution spreads to a worldwide AI. A bit too vague to be fully effective.

Jim and Irene: a dissipated hacker sets off on an existential road trip; he is accompanied by a neurotic Russian immigrant named Irene.

The Sword of Damocles: lame effort at re-telling the Greek myth, using a 90s ‘hipster’ vernacular.

The Gulf Wars: Babylonians Vs Persians, through the centuries.

The Shores of Bohemia: uneven tale of an enclave of the future determined to stick to its anachronisms, despite outside pressures. The nanotech component underlying the story is too contrived to be very effective.

The Moral Bullet: in an anarchic, near-future USA, Sniffy the chemist tries to elude forces anxious to punish him for upending modern civilization. One of the better entries in the collection.

The Unthinkable: brief tale about a Cold War waged with Eldritch Knowledge. Crisp and imaginative; another of the Sterling’s best short stories.

We See Things Differently: A representative of the Islamic World Ascendant investigates socio-cultural upheaval in the USA.

Hollywood Kremlin: smuggler Leggy Starlitz negotiates the treacherous political and economic landscape of post-Soviet Azerbaijan. Dark humor pervades the story.

Are You for R86 ? : Leggy returns; this time he’s in the USA, aiding a team of feckless young women (activists named Vanna and ‘Mr Judy’) who are intent on mass distribution of the banned birth control pill RU486. The evangelical Christian community is determined to stop them – by nonviolent means, of course. Plenty of satiric humor makes this another of the better entries in the collection. Leggy’s adventures continued in Sterling’s 2001 novel ‘Zeitgeist’.

Dori Bangs: ‘what if’ rock critic Lester Bangs avoided suicide in 1982, and instead hooked up, in a drugged-out, burnt-out way, with a dissipated Goth Girl who draws self-referential ‘progressive’ comics. Even if you (for some strange reason) are a diehard Lester Bangs fan (which I am assuredly not) the concept of this story seems really lame.

The verdict ? ‘Globalhead’ is a collection of Sterling’s misses, rather than hits. Unlike other Sterling anthologies (‘A Good Old-Fashioned Future’), more than a few of the entries in ‘Globalhead’ seem phoned-in. But this anthology remains the most affordable way (at present) to get hold of gems like ‘The Unthinkable’.


Will Errickson said...

Never liked that "Dori Bangs" story (not part of the Bangs cult either) - that's the only thing I remembered about reading GLOBALHEAD . However I must have missed "The Unthinkable" first time, b/c I just read it based on what you said. You're right, it's quite good!

tarbandu said...

Will, glad to see my opinion of 'The Unthinkable' vetted...


Jesse said...

I'm not particularly crazy about Lester Bangs, but I think "Dori Bangs" may be the best thing Sterling ever wrote.