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Zeitgeist by Bruce Sterling


by Bruce Sterling

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524830,057 (3.48)12
Bruce Sterling is "perhaps the sharpest observer of our media-choked culture working today" (Time), offering haunting visions of a future shaped by a madness of our own making. His latest novel is a startling tragicomic spectacle that takes a breathtaking look at a world where the future is being chased down by the past.... Zeitgeist It's 1999 in Cyprus, an ancient island bejeweled with blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers and littered with rusting land mines, corroding barbed wire, and illegal sewage dumps. Here, in the Turkish half of the island, the ever-enterprising Leggy Starlitz has alighted, pausing on his mission to storm the Third World with the "G-7" girls, the cheapest, phoniest all-girl band ever to wear Wonderbras and spandex. And his market is staring him in the face: millions of teenagers trapped in a world of mullahs and mosques, all ready to blow their pocket change on G-7's massive merchandising campaign--and to wildly anticipate music the group will never release. Leggy's brilliant plan means doing business with some of the world's most dangerous people. His business partner is the rich and connected Mehmet Ozbey, a man with many identities and a Turkish girlfriend whose beauty and singing voice could blow G-7  right out of the water. His security chief is Pulat Romanevich Khoklov, who learned to fly MiG combat jets in Afghanistan and now pilots Milosevic's personal airplane. Among these thieves, schemers, and killers, Leggy must act quickly and decisively. Bombs are dropping in Yugoslavia. Y2K is just around the corner. And the only rule to live by is that the whole scheme stops before the year 2000. But Leggy gets a surprise when the daughter he's never met arrives on his doorstep. A major fan of G-7, she is looking for a father--and her search forces Leggy to examine his  life before making a madcap journey in search of a father of his own. It's a detour that puts his G-7 Zeitgeist in some real jeopardy. For in Istanbul, Leggy's former partners are getting restless, and the G-7 girls are beginning to die....Zeitgeist is a world-beat tale of smugglers, paparazzi, greed, war, and a new era of cultural crusades. Here Bruce Sterling proves once again that in the fiction of imagination, he is one of the most insightful writers of our time.… (more)



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This book really didn't pull me in. The slang felt affected and annoying. The characters were ugly - perhaps human, but less than human. They were all slothful. The theme of the book is controlling people - manipulating them through the media. Starlitz wants to "create the demand and then fulfill it". I skimmed the last part very quickly(read: flipped through it) because it was so boring. I don't think I'm getting bored by books. It's just this one. ( )
  jcrben | Sep 14, 2013 |
I pulled Zeitgeist off the book shelf looking for a contemporary science fiction novel that would be entertaining, narrative in style and a relatively light read. This wasn't it. Instead I found myself ploughing through a melange of post modernist, magic realist and spiralist writing.

Zeitgeist; means the spirit of the age and Bruce Sterling has set his novel at the very end of the 20th century. His main character Leggy Starlitz has successfully promoted and exploited a talentless all girl pop group, but fears that their bubble will burst as the 20th century draws to its close. (Remember Y2K when some people thought that the computerised world would seize up and aeroplanes would fall out of the sky.) Starlitz has got rich through aggressive marketing of G-7 (the ironic name for the group) and it's spin offs: lip gloss, bags, action dolls, underwear etc. As the end of the century approaches Starlitz finds himself battling for control of G-7 with a powerfully connected Turkish drug baron, however his machinations are brought to a halt with the unexpected arrival of his estranged 11 year old daughter. Suddenly priorities change and Starlitz embarks on a journey with Zeta to discover their roots and to find some sort of redemption.

This basic outline is merely a convenient hanger on which Sterling can demonstrate his wit and writing skills. The relentless pace and the cut and paste techniques remind me of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books. The action is every bit as overcooked, the characters are just as super cool and all outcomes appear totally meaningless. His characters can vomit money, rise from the dead, survive impossible firepower and be winked in and out of existence as Sterling sees fit.

Starlitz says very early on in the novel; in answer to a protagonists claim to be able to sell the big picture that "it's the spirit of the times it's the soul of post modernity." Everything and everybody has its price and Sterling uses his razor sharp wit to mock, criticize and lampoon the world of big capital, gangsters and war mongers. His pyrotechnics flash and burn, but leave no lasting impression. How can they when his anti-hero the irrepressible Starlitz on hearing of a scheme that will lose other peoples money says "I am so with this! I can't wait to get started! This is the spirit of Now!" Sterling never lets character development or story line get in the way of a smart one liner or a witty anecdote. More often than not he hits the mark with his splatter gun technique but it makes for exhausting reading. Sterling strains hard to be cool or legit: politicians, poets, film makers , fashionable contemporary authors and pop musicians are all name dropped in a "look man, I know my stuff" kind of way. I kept getting the feeling when reading the book that Sterling was looking over his shoulder to make sure the reader was keeping up with him. He allows his characters to argue about whose narrative they should be following: "You can't argue with me because my language defines the terms. You can't discuss it any further because it never took place" says Starlitz.

Bruce Sterling has proved he is at home with post modernism. His writing is well up to the task and there are some brilliant flashes. However Sterling's description of modern cinema comes very close to being a description of his novel:

"It had abandoned merely Modernist plot structure for a steady, rhythmic round of stunt violence, expensive sets, and a hot babe. Sadism, Snobbery and Sex, a Free world formula that was the twentieth century's catnip for the masses." ( )
6 vote baswood | Jun 25, 2011 |
I wasn't expecting this to be anything more than an enjoyable post-cyberpunk thriller, perhaps along the lines of Spook Country. Sterling doing magic realism took me completely by surprise, both as a new tangent for his writing and in terms of how well it suited him. For me, Zeitgeist fills a similar niche to The Crying of Lot 49, but couched in terms that I can better relate to. It also has better jokes and less song lyrics. Recommended. ( )
  sbszine | Jun 9, 2009 |
This book is an underappreciated gem. Sterling set out to prove that without all the dour leftish political content and psuedo-intellectual flim-flam, the post-modernist perspective is fun. He succeeded.

Choice scenes:

(1) The main character (you can't call him a hero) Starlitz revives a corpse by the simple expedient of refusing to talk about the fact that it's dead (an example of the po-mo point about the power of language).

(2) American Starlitz is arguing with a Turkish business associate because that associate is trying to play too many roles - drug runner, fast-dealing businessman, mystic guru, international superspy. The Turkish associate tells him this is possible in his (Turkish) narrative. Starlitz says it's not possible in his, Starlitz's, narrative. "Your narrative doesn't matter, because we're in my country," the Turkish man says. Starlitz replies, "What language are we speaking now?" At that point the Turkish man starts vomiting up the several pounds of currencies he'd been smuggling in his stomach.

(3) Starlitz's daughter dances on the ceiling ("Look, Dad, I'm being impossible!"). As soon as Starlitz points his (objective) camera at her, she falls to the floor.

(4) Best of all is Starlitz's father, who was inside, yes inside, the first nuke when it was detonated. Due to the narrative power of that event as the defining moment of the 20th century*, the man is smeared across the century; he's everywhen between Jan 1 1900 and Dec 31 1999 (because those dates are what most people think of as the 20th century's boundaries).
(*One could argue that it was actually the moon shot, but that's not the point.)

Starlitz makes a living (of sorts) from a deeper-than-average understanding of the role of consensus narrative in human life. This leads to the book's best one-liner: When someone asks him what he does, Starlitz replies, "I'm a systems analyst."

You might not care for what the book does. But it does it well-nigh perfectly. ( )
  Carnophile | Dec 16, 2007 |
Ziggy Starlitz, anticipating great social change with the advent of the second millenium (this was written before the year 2000), pursues a bizarrely improbable (but productive) self-enrichment scheme: He assembles and manages a swinging, sexy, talentless Islamic girl group that lip-synchs their way through world tours. Alas, the scheme is impeded by corrupt officials of foreign governments. Very droll. Ziggy is a character who will stick in your mind. ( )
  xenoi | Aug 30, 2007 |
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