The caryatids by Bruce Sterling

This book started off strong–I enjoyed the characters and world building on Mljet; it was an interesting world with a very different focus from today. While I enjoyed the puzzles (that the book consciously foregrounded) like “what happened to money?” and “how bad was the collapse?”, the characters and interaction were strong enough to keep the book engaging. The Aquis was a quirky society, but a comprehensible response to the challenges and collapse of the previous half century.

The shift to Mila (the second sister) was abrupt–I wasn’t done with Vera. (And once the perspective shifts, you never get back to the story from that character’s POV again.) She’s a Hollywood star, a member of the second global society, The Dispensation. To be honest, I didn’t see much difference in their experience versus modern Americans–by picking a member of the city’s wealthy elite, what makes the Dispensation different from today’s society was subsumed in the sameness of “movie stars as the face of issues”. Despite that lesser feeling world building, I enjoyed following Mila around as she struggled to manage the transition of finances and power to the next generation. Unfortunately, she was much more a “general managing the battlefield” viewpoint than engaged with the issues that interested her, so it was less gripping. Her “murder” at the end was shocking, but didn’t have much impact because she’d engaged me so much less.

We then shift to Sonja, who did cool action adventure stuff… mostly in her backstory. So she’s cool and collected as she undergoes dangerous threats, bloody minded, etc. Her shallow reasons for her previous terror made it hard to really identify with her; her body is a tool, she marries but it doesn’t seem to really engage as emotion–it’s more calculation… I don’t know, she was again hard to empathize with.

In the end, I liked the world building, particularly of the Aquis. Future China sounded quite plausible, and sure, wealthy run society Dispensation feels like people abstractly running the world everywhere. I’d have liked a more street level view of the Dispensation to actually see what their society is like–the POV was too removed to have a good thought.

The book was fine, but not one that I’m likely to reread. It’s not bad–it has a number of very good nuggets, interesting worldbuilding, and an engaging character for the first third. That enough for me to say, “add it to your queue,” but not “read it next!”