Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chairman Bruce cracks a joke

As I said, didda lotta reading during my Time Off. Re-read 3 James Ellroy cop novels (intense!), tried 2 get thru a re-read of James Tiptree Jr.'s BRIGHTNESS FALLS FROM THE AIR, got seriously bogged-down 200 pgs in2 Richard Rhodes' DARK SUN: THE MAKING OF THE HYDROGEN BOMB & gave up, tho I'm still very intrested in the history (I'll talk more about why someday), & read Nathanael West's MISS LONELYHEARTS, the only 1 of these I won't B reviewing here.
Actually, MISS LONELYHEARTS got me started: I'd been bored with fiction lately & figured I could relate 2 the book since it's about a newspaper guy who's going nuts, & 4 20 yrs I was a newspaper guy who sometimes thot he was going nuts. & tho I was suprised by the openness of the sex & the amount of heavy drinking Dscribed in a book written in the 1930s, & even tho I laffed a few times here & there, overall it didn't work 2 well 4 me. I just thot the book was 2 THIN, tho it's sposta B sorta a classic.
But all this is Bside the point, 'cos this is sposta B a review of Bruce Sterling's ZEITGEIST, a funny, outrageous, cynical look at the pop-music biz, pop culture & Middle Eastern politics circa Y2K.
I've written here B4 about how Sterling was 1 of the firebrands of science-fiction's "cyberpunk" movement back in the mid-'80s; along with William Gibson, Sterling was probly the most successful writer 2 create work classified under the "cyberpunk" banner. ZEITGEIST, which was published in late 2000, probly ain't cyberpunk, it's just barely science fiction; & since the time it's set in is now 10 yrs past it has sorta a weird not-2-dated feel 2 it -- everything that happens in it coulda occurred last week in Reality. Luckily, this sarcastic piece of work is about music, since this is supposed 2 B a blog that reviews music & books, & so I'm Starting Over with a book that's at least music-related....
Here's the plot in a nutshell: Shady music promoter & scam-artist Leggy Starlitz (a recurring character 4 Sterling, Starlitz has appeared in at least 2 earlier short-stories, "The Littlest Jackal" & "Hollywood Kremlin," & possibly at least 1 other whose title I've forgotten) surfaces in Istanbul with a new scam: An all-girl pop band created 2 scam millions of $$$ out of the Islamic world. Starlitz's act, the G-7 girls, are even lighter and airier than the Spice Girls, if you can imagine such a thing. They don't sing, they don't play instruments, they lipsync 2 pre-recorded tapes. (Most of the girls don't even have NAMES. Tho we meet a couple who have Real Personalities, mosta the G-7 girls R referred 2 as "The American One," "The British One," "The French One," etc. Mosta the time they R even addressed this way by their handlers: "Hey, French One, how's it goin?") Starlitz sets up an international network 2 sell G-7 action figures, clothes, lunchboxes, etc. The idea is to rake-in as much cash as possible from the Muslim world B4 the Ntire scam ends with the turn of the millennium.
But, this being fiction, there R complications. 1 of Starlitz's partners in the scam -- a power-hungry Turkish criminal with heavy political connections -- hijacks the act so he can rake in the cash all on his own. Leggy & an old friend (a former Russian pilot turned mercenary, assassin & all-purpose fixer) try 2 get the act back, but.... & then some of the G-7 girls start dying, at least partly due 2 neglect by their new "manager"....
Along the way, Leggy gets 2 know his precocious 11-yr-old daughter, visits parts of Cyprus, Turkey & the American Southwest that U'll probly never wanna visit, cleans-up the evidence at an ugly battle scene, & tries 2 fix the problems with G-7 & Do Right by both his act & his daughter.
The book is outrageous & laff-out-loud funny almost all the way thru. There were only a coupla places where I thot mayB Sterling was heading off the rails, but he pulled it back 2gether pretty quickly. I don't understand now why I bogged-down 50 pgs in when I 1st tried 2 read this -- mayB it just wasn't the right time 4 me 2 read the book. & the book's short -- only 275 pgs.
Intrestingly, after all we've learned about him, the book ends with Leggy apparently reformed from his low-down scamming fly-by-nite ways. Thruout the novel there R discussions about the diffrence Btween what G-7 does & "real" music -- 1 girl gets thrown out of the group Bcos she wants 2 write & sing "meaningful" songs, which isn't part of Leggy's scam. There's also a stunning Turkish traditional singer who obviously Has Talent & who every1's in awe of. But she comes 2 an unhappy end.
The book isn't quite perfect -- I'd call it a high + rather than a * on my scale. But it's funny & vivid & never boring. Possibly even better than Sterling's earlier HEAVY WEATHER. Chairman Bruce should let his hair down like this more often....

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