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Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling at the Open Cultures conference (June 5, 2003)
Photo credit: Open Cultures - Public Netbase/t0

Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author, often included in lists of cyberpunk authors (he edited the early cyberpunk anthology Mirrorshades).

His first novel, Involution Ocean featured the world Nullaqua where all the atmosphere was contained in a single, miles-deep crater; the story concerned a ship sailing on the ocean of dust at the bottom, hunting creatures called dustwhales that lived beneath the surface.

In the late 1970s onwards, Sterling wrote a series of stories set in a Mechanist/Shaper universe: the solar system is colonised, with two major warring factions. The Mechanists use a great deal of computer-based mechanical technologies, the Shapers do genetic engineering on a massive scale. The situation is complicated by the eventual contact with alien civilisations; humanity eventually splits into many subspecies, with the implication that many of these effectively vanish from the galaxy, reminiscent of the The Singularity in the works of Vernor Vinge. The Mechanist/Shaper stories can be found in the collection Crystal Express and the novel Schismatrix Plus.

In his hometown of Austin, Texas, the author is known for an annual Christmas yard party that features digital art.

Sterling has been the inspiration for two projects which can be found on the Web -

  • The Dead Media Project - A collection of "research notes" on dead media technologies, from Incan quipus, through Victorian phenakistoscopes[?], to the departed video games and home computers of the 1980s. The Project's homepage, including Sterling's original Dead Media Manifesto can be found at http://www.deadmedia.org
  • The Viridian Design Movement - his attempt to create a Green movement without his perceived self-righteousness of the current Green movement. He called his proposed design movement the Viridian movement, to signify its desire for high-tech, stylish, and ecologically sound design. The Viridian Design home page, including Sterling's Viridian Manifesto, is at http://www.viridiandesign.org


  • Involution Ocean (1977)
  • The Artificial Kid (1980) - about a young street fighter who continuously films himself using remote controlled cameras
  • Schismatrix (1985) - The 23rd century solar system is divided among two human factions: the "Shapers" who are employing genetics and psychology, and the "Mechanists" who use computers and body prosthetics. The novel is narrated from the viewpoint of Abelard Lindsay, a brilliant diplomat who makes history many times throughout the story.
  • Islands in the Net (1988) - a view of an early 21st century world apparently peaceful with delocalised, networking corporations. The protagonist, swept up in events beyond her control, finds herself in the places off the net, from a datahaven in Grenada, to a Singapore under terrorist attack, and the poorest and most disaster-struck part of Africa.
  • The Difference Engine (with William Gibson) - steampunk
  • Heavy Weather (1994) - about hi-tech storm chasers in a midwest where greenhouse warming has made tornadoes far more energetic that the present day.
  • Holy Fire (1996) - about a world of steadily increasing longevity, and the marginalised subculture of young artists in such a world.
  • Distraction (1998) - a master political strategist and a genius genetic researcher find love as they fight an insane Louisiana governor for control of a high-tech scientific facility in a post-collapse United States
  • Zeitgeist (2000) - a synthetical pop group touring middle east in front of global crime and commerce

Short Story collections (and Stories they contain):

  • Crystal Express (1989) - contains several short stories set in the Schismatrix universe
  • Globalhead (1992)
  • A Good Old-fashioned Future (1999)
    • Maneki Neko
    • Big Jelly (with Rudy Rucker)
    • The Littlest Jackal
    • Sacred Cow
    • Deep Eddy
    • Bicycle Repairman
    • Taklamakan


  • The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) - about the panic of law enforcers in the late 1980s about 'hackers' and the raid on Steve Jackson Games. Reasoning that the book had a naturally time-limited commercial life, he has made the text of the book freely available via the Project Gutenberg
  • Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the next fifty years (2002) - a populare science approach on futurology, reflecting technology, politics and culture of the next 50 years. Readers of Sterling will recognize many issues from books like Zeitgeist, Distraction or Holy Fire.

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