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TOP 500 REVIEWERon April 21, 2015
Remarkable in many ways, Schismatrix is a brilliantly imaginative future history. The multi-faceted story considers the political, cultural, and social impact of trans-human and post-human existence. It is a difficult novel -- Bruce Sterling gives no shortcuts to the lazy reader -- but that makes it all the more rewarding. I read and admired it years ago but reading it a second time, after its rerelease in digital form, I got more out of it. I suspect I would have an even better understanding of Sterling's insights if I were to read it a third and fourth time. The story is a bit disjointed and I can't say that I felt an emotional connection to it, but the novel provides ample food for the intellect even if it fails to nourish the soul.

The solar system has been colonized. Most colonists live on space stations or asteroids, each operating as an independent government, some consisting of a handful of people. The colonies collectively comprise the Schismatrix. Deeper space travel is possible only with the help of the Investors, a spacefaring alien race of a decidedly capitalist bent that has no intention of sharing the secret of interstellar travel (although they are happy to act as bus drivers for the right price). The Investors are the most accessible of the various alien races, most of which stay in the background during the course of the novel, apart from one that becomes significant near the novel's end.

The novel follows Abelard Lindsay through an eventful life, sometimes lived under other identities, often changing alliances as friends become enemies and (sometimes) friends again. Lindsay begins as a diplomat, having been trained and genetically modified by Shapers, giving him an exceptional talent for manipulating others. The counterpart to (and enemy of) the Shapers are the Mechanists, who rely on mechanical enhancements (rather than genetics) to transform the human body. Having been born to a Mechanist family but serving the Shapers, Abelard is in an ideal position to encourage détente, which would benefit the human race by presenting a united front against competing alien races.

Détente, like most everything in Abelard's life, falls by the wayside as events overtake ideals. It is all Abelard can do to keep up or, failing that, avoid death. He is at times a revolutionary, at times an entrepreneur, at times a leader, at times a criminal, but usually a combination of many different roles. He falls in and out of relationships with women. He experiences ups and downs on his way to his final stage of life. Abelard experiences and sees so many changes that this review would be as long as the book if I tried to mention them.

As I indicated, I love the story for its rich imagination and its insight into how genetic, mechanical, or digital changes in humans might affect both the human race and the political, social, and economic institutions they create. At the same time, the story is so episodic, cramming so much into a mid-length novel, that I felt little emotional connection to Abelard, even when he is forced to do some soul-searching about the kind of human, trans-human, or post-human he wants to be. Schizmatrix is more like a documentary than a novel that touches the inner core. For that reason, it loses a half star, but I would not discourage any sf fan who relishes a challenge from reading the novel.

Schizmatrix Plus includes the short stories that Sterling wrote within the same universe. They are quite strong and, in some ways, compensate for the novel's weaknesses.
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Bruce Sterling Can write. He has created a fully realized very complicated vision of what mankind might become. The challenge was that complicated aspect of the future and the long time period Of this book. It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on and how to keep things straight.

One bit of advice would be to read the short story's at the end of this book 1st; and then dig in to the long novel. They seem to present the future in more bite-size chunks which may have been helpful to me before the longer story. That context might have made a difference in my enjoyment.

That being said I really liked the ending!
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on April 3, 2015
One of my favorite authors and one of my favorite books. Schismatrix was my first exposure to the "Shaper-Mechanist War", and I loved it. I had no idea that there were other Shaper/Mechanist stories until later and was greatly and pleasantly surprised when I saw that I could get both "Schismatrix" and the other short stories in one Kindle book.
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on December 8, 2012
I love science fiction and cyberpunk. I was expecting to like this book but wow! I walked away from this book reeling. It capitalizes on the best of those two genres, and reaches past them, becoming something entirely new, much as Sterling's posthumans reach past humanity to become something more bizarre, beautiful, and disturbing.

The world of the Schismatrix is amazingly well-realized. There are endless political and philosophical factions within Sterling's inhabited solar system. I understand how some reviews felt that the complexity of the world and its politics could be overwhelming and hard to keep track of. This is true at times, and one gets the feeling that Sterling had the entire world worked out in his head, but only chose to show us parts of it. This actually makes the story more enticing and kept me turning each page with excitement and hunger for more.

The protagonist, Abelard Lindsay, is actually very likable and funny. There seems to be a new idea on each page, some disturbing, some beautiful, and all of them brilliant. Sterling takes a gritty in-depth look at what it means to augment humanity with machinery. He focuses on the minute details of what a posthuman has to deal with in daily life, and captures it in a believable way.

On top there's a message that humanity will become something so bizarre due to technology that it would be very uncomfortable for us to comprehend, and that science will cause us to drastically rethink what it means to be human. But underneath this message is the beautiful and uplifting idea that life is always exciting, always worth exploring, and that this fascination with life itself serves as a foil to nihilism.

The short stories are fantastic too. They only served to further enmesh me in a universe I had already fallen in love with, and each has its own new idea and angle to explore.

This book is an absolute must-buy for any fan of strange science fiction and cyberpunk, although as I said it transcends genre. I don't know why I don't see it on more classic and must-read scifi lists. Now that Asimov and Heinlen are trite and stale, this is the literature of the future.
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on November 10, 2015
A little scattered and derivative to some extent. This may be a function of how much water has gone under the bridge since it was written. (How's that for hacknied clique?) This book answers the question "Can't we all just get along?" and the answer is "No!!" We are an argumentative, competitive and disagreeable species and when we can't find things to divide us we make them up. It has some clever ideas and twists but does not provide the richness of experience of Iain Banks or others.
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on May 31, 2015
Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix Plus could be described as a Space Opera which has a continuing commentary on the destabilizing effects of technology on human society. Small trends are built up over time; the author uses the long unatural life of the main character to show the effects of these trends on humanity in the future. The result is an interesting story which will keep readers going to the end of the story. How do people live when family bonds are trumped by technology? What happens when people become beholden to their political beliefs? In this story we see a possible answer which is as bewildering as we suspec the future will be.
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on August 10, 2016
This book does not need my thumbs up, it's well respected already.

I would describe the sci-fi here to be relatively hard, low-tech interplanetary, for the most part. Glad a friend suggested it to me. I especially liked the short stories, or the "plus" in the title.
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on February 20, 2017
Somewhere in the book is a decent SciFi story fighting to get out. The author spends so much time in defining his environment that he kills the flow of the narrative. The good SF writers provide enough background to move the story along, but then trust their readers to fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. The book becomes a major slog.
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on January 27, 2008
Since "Neuromancer" and the accompanying cyberpunk explosion, Sterling (and many others) has been unfairly relegated to Williams Gibson's shadow. Too bad, because while "Neuromancer" has dated (most near future stories do), "Schismatrix" seems to be getting better and better.

"Shaper revolutionaries struggle against arisocratic Mechanists" is the dust jacket blurb, but this is a gross simplification. Sterling covers a century in the life of Abelard Linsey, Shaper Rebel, compressing it into two-hundred-and-fifty hurtling pages. No words are wasted. The episodes fly: Linsey's exile; his theatrical program; the Red Consensus; the asteroid clave; the arrival of the Investors; and so on. Just when you think the story can't go any further, Sterling starts another unpredictable chapter. The pace is relentless, decades slashed from the narrative (if Sterling had written Dune it would be twenty pages long) as Lindsey's stock rises and falls.

Sterling is a master of the short story: the ability to evoke time, place and character quickly and concisely. Here he evokes a civilisation in chaos -- using Linsey as our eyes and ears -- by giving us bare glimpses of fashion, technology, art, conflict. It's like taking every iconic moment of the twentieth century and watching it in fast forward.

But if you're expecting Cyberpunk, forget it. While there might be some common elements, Sterling is working with a whole other set of textures. The closest thing to Cyberpunk is the "Spider Rose" short-story in the accompanying suppliments (all good, too). If anything, Schismatric might be the first "post-cyberpunk" novel.

Whatever it is, I continue to reread it regulary.
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on May 24, 2017
This was one of my first Sci-Fi books. And, so far, one of the best. Strange, bizarre and so believable future...
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