For all the declaiming of this book as brilliant and wonderful and game-changing, I suspect that it isn’t really going to win Bruce a lot of new fans. It’s as strange and as spiky a book as he’s written, as packed full of weird info as Holy Fire or Schizmatrix. And although I like the book, and think it compares to those two, which are my favorite of Sterling’s works by far, I think it suffers a little in comparison. All three of the books are unevenly paced and lumpy with ideas, but the Caryatids suffers from the fact that there are essentially only two characters that have much speaking time. The clones of the title are indistinguishable by voice, and the man who loves them (all of them, somewhat indiscriminately) is not too far off, voice-wise. Their motivations also seem to be somewhat gnomic, but that may be because everyone in the novel seems to be utterly psychotic, riven by stresses internal and external. This is sensible, seeing as the world has gone very badly (although we’re primarily treated to scenes of adaptation, rather than lingering looks at the devastation, the piles of the drowned or those killed by plagues). It’s also done very well, but the downside is that it’s done so forcefully that the characters seem very one note, and this is not helped by the fact that their voices are very, very similar to the voice of, say, Bruce Sterling.
So we have a tour of the widget factory of a world drowned and baked and the clever remnant’s adaptations and techno-fixes, layered over with an interpersonal narrative that is half-tour guide spiel and half the speeches that you expect a life-extended, beexoskeletoned Sterling to be giving fifty or a hundred years from now. It’s all very interesting, and I was already a fan, so it wasn’t a hard sell, even though the story is over-reliant on DEM for punctuation and lacks any real emotional impact, in the end. Here, Bruce manages to give us the weird and the post– of his weird post-humans, but he underdelivers, I think, on the human aspect. I don’t think that’s always a problem, but I think that, here, unless you go in knowing what to expect, you’re going to be more than a little lost unless you’re already largely on the right wavelength.