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Originally published Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Book review

"The Caryatids": four clones need a home

In "The Caryatids," science-fiction master Bruce Sterling tells the story of four human clones seeking a home on an Earth menaced by rising seas, raging windstorms and nasty politics.

Special to The Seattle Times

"The Caryatids"

by Bruce Sterling

Del Rey, 297 pp., $25

"The Caryatids" is Bruce Sterling's first full-length novel in nearly five years. An oddly zestful story of four human clones seeking a livelihood on an Earth menaced by rising seas, raging windstorms and fragmenting political structures, this book was well worth the wait.

"Chairman Bruce" achieved prominence as one of the theoretical masterminds of cyberpunk, an unapologetic apologist for the 1970s science-fiction movement whose acknowledged crown prince was William Gibson.

Like Gibson, Sterling turned away from writing SF novels — but unlike Gibson, he has continued to extrapolate the future, confronting the difficulties inherent in creating truly 21st-century SF through his short stories.

Sterling has made it his business to imagine the unimaginable; in "Caryatids" he writes matter-of-factly about a mock Mars colony in China's Gobi Desert, the deformed body of a war criminal who exiled herself to a life of weightlessness, the industrial exoskeletons deployed by an army of eco-engineer refugees, and the painful surgical hairdressing procedures endured by Hollywood's stars in 2065.

The book's first three sections are each told from a different clone's viewpoint, ending with that heroine in a cliffhanger as fraught with danger as the current climatic crisis; the epilogue resolves those situations by invoking the power of storytelling in the voice of one clone's daughter, creator of a documentary about her aunts' and mother's lives.

It's a tribute to the ability we all have to re-envision our own pasts and thus change the looming future.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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