Austinite Bruce Sterling’s keen eye for global Sturm und Drang has served him well in futuristic novels such as Holy Fire and Distraction, which present darkly comic visions of a new world disorder. In a surprising twist for the science fiction writer, Zeitgeist: A Novel of Metamorphosis is set in the dead-but-still-warm past—the year 1999 with its attendant pre-millennial hoopla. Zeitgeist opens with globe-trotting promoter (read: hustler) Leggy Starlitz expounding on G-7, the septet of Spice Girl knockoffs he is hyping into a pancultural phenomenon. Scheduled to implode before their music is released, they are nothing more than a dancing (badly) and singing (worse) infomercial for pricey G-7 merchandise. Nameless and replaceable by design (they’re simply called “The American One” or “The French One”), they are pure product. But events conspire to derail Starlitz’s gravy train—chiefly the sudden reappearance of his daughter Zenobia. As Leggy begins a metamorphosis—from con man to father to, well, con man again—G-7 girls begin to die off nearly faster than they can be replaced. Zeitgeist is a pointillistic satire about contemporary lives stuffed like cheap piñatas with pop icons; it is populated with dodgy characters and played out in dicey locales. Sterling has an ax to grind with the twentieth century, but you know that in his heart there’s no place he’d rather be. Though occasionally too clever, Zeitgeist is ambitious metafiction from a most inventive and insightful practitioner.
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