Alongside William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling stands at the forefront of a select group of writers whose pitch-perfect grasp of the cultural and scientific zeitgeist endows their works of speculative near-future fiction with uncanny verisimilitude. To read a novel by Sterling is to receive a dispatch from a time traveler. Now, with The Caryatids, Sterling has written a stunning testament of faith in the power of human intellect, creativity, and spirit to overcome any obstacle–even the obstacles we carry inside ourselves.
The world of 2060 is divided into three spheres of influence, each fighting with the others over the resources of fallen nations and an environment degraded almost to the point of no return. There is the Dispensation, centered in Los Angeles, where entertainment and capitalism have fused with the highest of high-tech. There is the Acquis, a Green-centered collective that uses invasive neurological technology to create a networked utopia. And there is China, the sole surviving nation-state, a dinosaur that has prospered only by pitilessly pruning its own population. Products of this monstrous world, the daughters of a monstrous mother, and–according to some–monsters themselves, are the Caryatids: the four surviving female clones of a mad Balkan genius and wanted war criminal now ensconced, safely beyond extradition, on an orbiting space station. Radmila is a Dispensation star determined to forget her past by building a glittering, impregnable future. Vera is an Acquis functionary dedicated to reclaiming their home, the Croatian island of Mljet, from catastrophic pollution. Sonja is a medical specialist in China renowned for selflessly risking herself to help others. And Biserka is a one-woman terrorist network. The four “sisters” are united only by their hatred for their “mother”–and for one another.
When evidence surfaces of a coming environmental cataclysm, the Dispensation sends its greatest statesman–or salesman–John Montgomery Montalban, husband of Radmila, and lover of Vera and Sonja, to gather the Caryatids together in an audacious plan to save the world.