Bruce Sterling, November 2000

Summary & Review:

This book follows shady entrepreneur Leggy Starlitz, the hero of several of Sterling's short stories, as he lives out the final year of last century managing an all-girl no-talent ultra-commercial pop group, named G-7, after the nations of birth of its members.

The book deals with Y2K in a very original way (with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight): the "bug", and the--as it turned out, largely exaggerated--fear of it, are mentioned in passing, but much more weight is given to a fin de siècle crash of narrative1; as much as anything, it is an obituary of the 20th century, and a provocative view of things to come. While today terms like war of cultures, closed vs. open societies and globalization are much (over-)hyped themes, Sterling can be called somewhat of a visionary for writing about them in a pre-9-11 novel, and even mentioning Osama bin Laden by name in this context.

Zeitgeist is a pretty thin book, and an astonishingly quick read, especially considering the wealth of information presented in this book. I don't know if this is a conscious joke by Sterling, but to illustrate the enormous information density of the book: Sterling treats almost all of the historical contents of the 1000+ pages of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon in a single paragraph.

Names dropped2 in the book:

Another case in point of this being one of the richest books with respect to information I've ever read. I have listed here only the names of people mentioned explicitly in the book (So, for instance Lady Di and Nick Leeson are missing.), and then only if they were not fictional3 characters.

Theodor Adorno, Mehmet Ali Agca, Madeleine Albright, Louis Althusser, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Tex Avery, Hülya Avsar, Safiye Ayla, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Boris Berezhovsky, Tony Bennett, Napoleon Bonaparte, Matthew Brady, Italo Calvino, Sibel Can, Mariah Carey, Elena Ceausescu, Nicolae Ceausescu, Oral Celik, Ozer Çiller, Tansu Çiller, Eric Clapton, Bing Crosby, Marie Curie, Dariush, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Porfirio Díaz, Celine Dion, Michèle le Doeff, Isadora Duncan, Umberto Eco, Albert Einstein, Brian Eno, Muhsin Ertugrul, Khashaiar Etemadi, Cheba Fadela, William Faulkner, Joschka Fischer, Ian Fleming, Jane Fonda, Michel Foucault, Bill Gates, Jean Paul Gaultier, Frank Gehry, Vincent van Gogh, Benny Goodman, Al Gore, Tipper Gore, Sydney Greenstreet, Felix Guattari, Ebru Gündes, Vladimir Guzinski, Muserref Hanim, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Doc Holliday, Grace Hopper, Howard Hughes, Luce Iragaray, Bradda Iz, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, Julia Kristeva, Ted Kaczynski, John Keats, Christine Keeler, Cheb Khaled, Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden (!), John Lennon, Sean Lennon, Monica Lewinsky, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Mirjana Markovic, Gabriel García Márquez, Alexander McQueen, Marko Milosevic, Slobodan Milosevic, Mariko Mori, Murakami Haruki, Rupert Murdoch, Benito Mussolini, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Isaac Newton, Abdullah Öcalan, Yoko Ono, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Orhan Pamuk, Carol Pateman, Victor Pelevin, Kim Philby, Pol Pot, Elvis Presley, Ceca Raznjatovic, Janet Reno, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jimmy Rodgers, Mathias Rust, Mehmet Sener, George Soros, Britney Spears, Josef Stalin, Masami Teraoka, Alan Turing, Alparslan Turkes, Ted Turner, Vladimir Vinogradov, Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire, Jody Watley, John Webster, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Boris Yeltsin, Hamiyet Yuceses, Vladimir Zhirinovsky

Basically everyone but Adolf Hitler and Ayn Rand.

1The book (or at least some of its protagonists) view narrative as the driving force behind reality: some things cannot happen, simply because they do not fit the narrative, and there is a radical break in the narrative between the 20th and the 21st century.
2Literally, most of the names are only mentioned, and WTF is left as an exercise for the reader. While this may be viewed as namedropping in the worst sense of the word, it makes for a book that is both easy to read (if one doesn't mind missing a lot of the references) and a starting point for exploration into terra incognita.
3You shudder as you enter the maze of literary theory.
You see here:
An ontological mess.

Zeit"geist` (?), n. [G.; zeit time + geist spirit. See Tide, n.; Ghost, n.]

The spirit of the time; the general intellectual and moral state or temper characteristic of any period of time.


© Webster 1913.

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