Holy Fire (1996)
Author: Bruce Sterling
Genre: Science Fiction (Cyberpunk)
The year is 2096. Gerontocrats, the elderly who have bought into life extending treatments, rule the world. Mia Zieman,a 94 year old medical economist, has bought into and must use the life extension upgrade known as Neo-Telomeric Dissipative Cellular Detoxification (NTDCD). Before she undergoes this process however, she is bequeathed a virtual reality palace by a former lover and also meets up with "Brett" who is a young person in the fashion scene. When Mia undergoes this treatment she becomes "posthuman" and will live longer than she would if she had lived a normal lifespan. When released from the treatment center she is about 20 years old. Mia decides to break free from all the monitoring devices and follows the advice she had gotten from Brett, she jumps on a plane to Europe and enters the fashion scene. While in Europe she meets many intersting young people who help her find the holy fire, the desire, to do something with her new life. Mia decides to take up photography and trains with Josev Novak a famous photographer, whom she remembers from her previous life. SPOILER: Mia discovers that her attempts to become an artist are limited by her abilities. She is caught by the police after she experiences a near drowning experience and is taken to the hospital. She is forced to flee again and is hunted by the dog of her former lover, who is living in the virtual reality world.
Geographical Setting: San Francisco, California, Europe
Time Period: 2096
This book was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1997. It won the Science Fiction Chronical Reader Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in the same year. The tone of this novel is rather bleak and depicts a fragile world, befitting the cyberpunk subgenre. It is written in third person and because of the medical and moral issues surrounding life extention and aging it is very philosophical. Bruce Sterling uses a technical style, but this novel is not too complex to follow and allows for a moderate pace. The characters are well developed, even the talking "postcanine" dogs. Mia Zieman's character undergoes rebirth and a realization that she doesn't want to be the same person she was before. The other characters, especially the youth of Europe, help her to realize that she should be what she wants to be and not what society says she has to be.
Read-alikes: If one falls in love with the Cyberpunk genre there are plenty of read-alikes available. Neuromancer by William Gibson tells the story of Case, a cyberspy who is forced to work off the cyberworld and in real space. This book is considered the breakthrough novel in the subgenre. Another cyberpunk novel with a similar theme of being rebellious and thinking for yourself is The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson which won the Hugo Award in 1996. In The Diamond Age Nell, a street child of Shanghi, gets her hands on a supercomputer and sees her life change. Those interested in following a character through a series may want to start with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the first book in the Bladerunner series by Philip K. Dick, where we follow Rick Deckard on his search to find and destroy androids If you are intrigued by the medical and moral aspects of the Holy Fire, you may enjoy reading Where the Sweet Late Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm which deals with a family in a post-apocolyptic world where one of their children is a clone. This book won both the Hugo and Locus awards. A final book dealing with the issue of medical experimentation in the future is Mirage written by F. Paul Wilson. In this novel, Julie Gordon has designed a virtual reality program that she hopes will be used to help her patients regain their memories, but then she is told that her sister is in a coma and Julie attempts to use the program to save her sister.
Red Flags: Nudity, drug use, sexual situations, death and suicide