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Pirate Utopia Hardcover – November 15, 2016
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An io9 16 Must-Read Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
A Speculition Best of 2016
“This small but exquisite volume packs a lot of power for its size. Lovers of artful books won’t want to miss it.”
―Karen Haber, Locus
[STARRED REVIEW] Cyberpunk progenitor Sterling’s alternate history novella is bizarre, chock-full of famous people in improbable situations, and wildly entertaining, even when the world-building seems to go a little off the rails. Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of the recently ended Great War and forever changed by it, is the head engineer of the titular utopia, the Italian free state of Fiume. He and his compatriots build flying boats and fight communism while dealing with American secret agents, including Harry Houdini and Howard Lovecraft (who’s now working as Houdini’s publicity agent after going into advertising). Hitler died saving another man’s life in a bar fight, Wilson was poisoned, and Mussolini’s been disabled by a pair of bullets aimed where a man least likes to be shot,” so the Europe in which Secondari is attempting to create his radio-controlled airborne torpedoes and other gizmos is already massively different from ours. An introduction by Warren Ellis and an interview with Sterling sandwich the novel, both bearing an air of false gravitas, but the actual story is wacky and fun what-if-ing at its finest.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review
[STARRED REVIEW] Resident in Turin, hometown of Calvino, for a dozen years, Sterling has long been experimenting with what the Italians call fantascienza, a mashup of history and speculation that’s not quite science fiction but is kin to it. Take, for example, the fact that Harry Houdini once worked for the Secret Service, add to it the fact that H.P. Lovecraft once worked for Houdini, and ecco: why not posit Lovecraft as a particularly American kind of spook, not that old-fashioned, cloak-and-dagger, European style of spy,” who trundles out to Fiume to see what’s what in the birthplace of Italian futurism-turned-fascism? Lovecraft is just one of the historical figures who flits across Sterling’s pages, which bear suitably futuristic artwork, quite wonderful, by British illustrator John Coulthart. Among the others are Woodrow Wilson and Adolf Hitler, to say nothing of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Benito Mussolini. Seen from upstream, most previous times seem mad,” notes graphic novelist Warren Ellis in a brief introduction, but the Futurist project seems particularly nutty from this distance; personified by Lorenzo Secondari, a veteran of World War I who leads the outlaw coalition called the Strike of the Hand Committee in the pirate utopia” of the soi disant Republic of Carnaro, its first task is to build some torpedoes and then turn them into radio-controlled, airborne Futurist torpedoes,” not the easiest thing considering the technological limitations of the time. A leader of the Desperates,” who came from anywhere where life was hard, but honor was still bright,” Secondari and The ProphetD’Annunzio, that isrecognize no such limitations and discard anything that doesn’t push toward the future. So why not a flying pontoon boat with which to sail off to Chicago, and why not a partnership with Houdini to combat world communism? A kind of Ragtime for our time: provocative, exotic, and very entertaining.”
Kirkus, starred review
“Fritz Lang directing Buckaroo Banzai.”
“An alternate history clusterfuck of brilliant, whacky world-building and hilarious, bizarre characters.”
A fantastic, comical, alternate historical dieselpunk affair . . . filled with astonishing characters, fine dialogue, and an abundance of ideas and is packaged with John Coulthart’s cool Futurist-Constructivist-inspired graphics, an introduction by graphic novelist Warren Ellis, and an interview with the author.”
“Pirate Utopia features all the best hallmarks of veteran Bruce Sterling’s style―insane gadgets, deep world-building, a ridiculous cast of colorful characters, extrapolation from existing history, and a warped sense of humor.”
―Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
“VERDICT: The fused edge between alternative history and historical fact elevates this shorter work by cyberpunk pioneer Sterling (Love Is Strange).”
―Michael Swanwick, author of The Dragons of Babel
In Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling has brought off a minor miracle, an allegory on our present geopolitical danza di morte that doesn’t feel remotely allegorical but instead stays true to its dieselpunk setting: a skewed Fiume crawling with Italian Futurists, Balkan anarcho-syndicalists, and demented Gernsbackian visionaries of all stripes and genders, their adventures documented through hilarious deadpan prose and John Coulthart’s dazzling graphics.”
James Morrow, author of The Philosopher’s Apprentice and The Madonna and the Starship
A wild satire about serious issues. Sterling's wonder-romp is perfectly matched by Coulthart's superb designs. The best of their brilliant generation, Sterling and his collaborator have produced a book to treasure. Bravo!”
Michael Moorcock, author of the Elric of Melniboné series and The Whispering Swarm
Spiky, provocative, drenched in his trademark wit, Sterling delivers us a brilliant and surprising jolt of vividly rendered counter-factualism.”
Alastair Reynolds, author of Revenger and the Revelation Space series
“Between 1920 and 1924, the Free State of Fiume was a real-world "pirate utopia," an ungoverned place of blazing futurism, military triumphalism, transgression, sex, art, dada, and high weirdness. In Bruce Sterling's equally blazing dieselpunk novella Pirate Utopia, the author turns the same wry and gimlet eye that found the keen edges for steampunk's seminal The Difference Engine to the strange business of futurism.”
―Cory Doctorow, Boingboing
Bruce Sterling maintains that J. G. Ballard was the most accurate and brilliant prophet ever to arise from the ranks of science fiction. I have to disagree, and hereby nominate Sterling himself for that honor. Although his newest, Pirate Utopia, a rigorously gonzo counterfactual, is not one of the thickly detailed futures he has often previously imagined, it nonetheless captures the feelings and vectors and strange attractors of the present day in a most startling and entertaining fashion. As politics, culture and individual lifestyles warp and mutate and shatter around us, dynamic individuals learn how to assemble new and more satisfying outlaw lives from the shards. Sterling's intimate acquaintance with modern Europe powers this compact powerhouse of a book, and his insights into the human soul enliven the vivid, heterogeneous cast. Using the powers consecrated by my ethnicity, I hereby dub Sterling an honorary Italian, and a worthy successor to our Futurist heritage!”
Paul Di Filippo, author of A Palazzo in the Stars
A splendidly illustrated Futurist romp, reminiscent of the comedic elements in Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, Pirate Utopia riffs on real, recondite modern history to truly bizarre effect.”
Gwyneth Jones, author of Life and The Grasshopper’s Child
I don't know why a little weirdo like me is blurbing a demigod like Bruce Sterling, but listen, little weirdos: the Pirate Utopia is calling for you! Build the future before it gets built for you; read this book.”
Nick Mamatas, author of Sensation and I Am Providence
Imagine if Hunter S. Thompson traveled in time to the Great War in order to write The Futurist Manifesto and you'd come a little closer to envisioning the surreal, madcapand yet almost entirely factual! adventure that is Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia. It is sly, smart, and subversiveand also very, very funny.”
Lavie Tidhar, author of Central Station and A Man Lies Dreaming
Satirically glamorous, Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia captures a comically refined view of the proceedings as only Bruce Sterling can delightful...engaging...a visual treat.”
“Pirate Utopia is Sterling in serious entertainment mode, mashing up the real and fictional with Robert Coover-like intensity and geeky joy.”
“Pirate Utopia’s a short, fun read that doesn’t alternate between stark and wacky but manages to hold their continuing tension in exquisite and exacting fashion. Highly recommended.”
“With an introduction by Warren Ellis, Rick Klaw’s interview with the author, and John Coulthart’s awe-inspiring illustrations based on the work of designer and Futurist manifesto co-author Fortunato Depero, Pirate Utopia is an artistic triumph.”
―See the Elephant
“If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, check out this provocative venture by a writer who isn’t afraid to push the envelope.
Praise for Bruce Sterling
"He understands technology’s present and future better than anyone in the field."
Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother
"And if you miss the sensation of having science fiction stretch your brainmeat a bit, of those powerful and irreversible up-endings of the way you see certain things, and you're not aware of Bruce Sterling? Go find him.”
[H]is highly caffeinated energy is hard to resist.”
Bruce Sterling has managed to pen a delivery vessel for a futuristic, anarchistic dystopian idea of human potential."
New York Journal of Books
"Science fiction that makes the rest of near-future SF look toylike by comparison. It's as if Sterling is the only writer paying attention to what's happening in the real world."
About the Author
Warren Ellis is the internationally-bestselling author of the graphic novels Transmetropolitan, Fell, Red, and Planetary, and the novels Gun Machine and Crooked Little Vein. His graphic novel Iron Man Extermis was the basis for the blockbuster Iron Man 3 movie. He has written for Vice and Wired UK and is currently at work on various projects. Ellis lives in London.
John Coulthart is the World Fantasy Award-winning illustrator and designer of the iconic Steampunk anthology series, the The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, Lovecraft's Monsters, and Clive Barker’s AZ of Horror. He was the Artist Guest of Honour at Ars Necronomica 2015. Coulthart lives in Manchester, England.
World Fantasy Award nominee Christopher Brown’s novel Tropic of Kansas, about Americans trying to create their own liberated city-states, is forthcoming from Harper Voyager in 2017. His other fiction and criticism can be found at christopherbrown.com. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he also practices technology law.
Mojo Press co-founder Rick Klaw is an editor, pop culture historian, reviewer, social media maven, and optimistic curmudgeon. His most recent editorial projects include The Apes of Wrath, Rayguns Over Texas, Hap and Leonard, and Hap and Leonard Ride Again. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Top Customer Reviews
For those out of the loop, there was a conference after the first world war that divided the lands of the losers. Italy was on the border with the Austrian Hungarian Empire, which splintered into several states, these new borders inclined Italy but also a new polyglot state of Yugoslavia.
There were borderlands for all of this – places where it wasn’t one place at one step and another at the next, but gray areas and liminal spaces. Fiume was one of them. And the people there made it so. They created their own free state.
But it seems, in my limited reading, Fiume wasn’t about nationalities as much as it was about the borders between the past and the future. The rebels of Fiume weren’t necessarily fascist or communist (though it appears they were both, with a bit of anarchism aside) but they were between the past and the future. Sterling here captures that potential so much that this book isn’t self-contained. It feels like an opening slavo from our present against the unwritten future.
I received a review copy of "Pirate Utopia" by Bruce Sterling (Tachyon) through NetGalley.com.
Pirate Utopia drops us into the Regency of Carnaro, the spontaneous self-government of the state of Fiume after it rejected Italy’s delivery of Fiume to Yugoslavia after World War I. Largely featuring Pirate Engineer Lorenzo Secondari it also introduces a maniacal manufacturist in the personage of Frau Pfiffer, a combat ace turned second-in-command the Ace of Hearts, all operating under the leadership of poet-statesman Gabriele d’Annunzio — otherwise known as the Prophet.
Secondari’s a fascinating protagonist to be sure. He’s presented as previously dead but now alive and self-charged with the mission of moving ownership from those that possess to those that make. He’s a stubborn, spontaneous anarchist maker of a sort though distinctly different from the type you’d see today. There’s no mention of his distributing either model or means — he doesn’t seem the type to upload notes, designs, schematics etc for the world to create his designs for themselves. His utopia is necessarily personalized and he can’t seem to conceive of one outside himself.
Ideals and actions are presented alongside each other constantly and both shift across the course of the story in interesting ways, as a sad exposition on how these things typically progress when people act as they do. It’s not a gradually sliding progress bar so much as Sterling slipping the characters and their organizations along the slippery, evolving surface of a self-justifying Moebius strip of power and violence. It’s hard to tell how or where one side became the other. A seamless transition in which all eyes are still on dragging the future towards them by way of the gravity of their personalities, but they’ve had time to polish their boots now and they’re the ones in control of the artillery on the hill.
The exception to this is Maria Pfiffer, Frau Pfiffer’s daughter and a favorite of Secondari. She’s an unnatural, shining, extrasystemic object — beautiful and consumptive, unprepared for spectacle, an unconcerned alien amidst clandestine conversations despite her polyglot intelligence.
Sterling also manages to sideline two historical devils in amusing ways. But the Moebius strip politics continue according to the realistic streak in Pirate Utopia: absent those two devils, others rise accordingly.
Pirate Utopia’s a short, fun read that doesn’t alternate between stark and wacky but manages to hold their continuing tension in exquisite and exacting fashion. It also comes with a great and timely introduction by Warren Ellis that came out before the election but seems spot-on after, and some supplemental materials at the end that explored Sterling’s writing of the book. This latter appealed directly to the process voyeur in me and I’d love to see it in more works.
Pirate Utopia: Highly Recommended Reading.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
“Pirate Utopia” by Bruce Sterling was released October 17, 2016.Read more