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Distraction [Hardcover]

Bruce Sterling
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 1998
From Bruce Sterling, bestselling author of Heavy Weather and Holy Fire, comes this startling, disturbing, and darkly comic vision of the future of America.  It is the story of a once great nation coming apart at the seams while an unending spectacle of politics, science, sex, and corruption has everyone too busy to notice....

It's November 2044, an election year, and the state of the Union is a farce.  The federal government is broke, cities are privately owned, the military is shaking down citizens in the streets, and Wyoming is on fire.  The last place anyone expects to find an answer is the nation's capital.

Washington has become a circus and no one knows that better than Oscar Valparaiso.  A master political spin doctor, Oscar has been in the background for years, doing his best to put the proper spin on anything that comes up.  Now he wants to do something quite unusual in politics.  He wants to make a difference.  But Oscar has a skeleton in his closet: a grotesque and unspeakable scandal that haunts his personal life.

He has one unexpected ally: Dr. Greta Penninger.  She is a gifted neurologist at the bleeding edge of the neural revolution.  Together Oscar and Greta know the human mind inside and out.  And they are about to use that knowledge to spread a very powerful message: that it's a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  It's an idea whose time has come...again.  And once again so have its enemies: every technofanatic, government goon, and reactionary laptop assassin in America.

Like all revolutionaries, Oscar and Greta might not survive to change the world, but they're determined to put a new spin on it.  

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From Amazon

It's the year 2044, and America has gone to hell. A disenfranchised U.S. Air Force base has turned to highway robbery in order to pay the bills. Vast chunks of the population live nomadic lives fueled by cheap transportation and even cheaper computer power. Warfare has shifted from the battlefield to the global networks, and China holds the information edge over all comers. Global warming is raising sea level, which in turn is drowning coastal cities. And the U.S. government has become nearly meaningless. This is the world that Oscar Valparaiso would have been born into, if he'd actually been born instead of being grown in vitro by black market baby dealers. Oscar's bizarre genetic history (even he's not sure how much of him is actually human) hasn't prevented him from running one of the most successful senatorial races in history, getting his man elected by a whopping majority. But Oscar has put himself out of a job, since he'd only be a liability to his boss in Washington due to his problematic background. Instead, Oscar finds himself shuffled off to the Collaboratory, a Big Science pork barrel project that's run half by corruption and half by scientific breakthroughs. At first it seems to be a lose-lose proposition for Oscar, but soon he has his "krewe" whipped into shape and ready to take control of events. Now if only he can straighten out his love life and solve a worldwide crisis that no one else knows exists. --Craig E. Engler

From Publishers Weekly

It's 2044 A.D. and America has gone to the dogs. The federal government is broke and, with 16 political parties fighting for power, things aren't likely to improve soon. The Air Force, short on funding, is setting up roadblocks to shake down citizens and disguising its tactics as a bake sale. The governor of Louisiana, Green Huey, is engaging in illegal genetic research and has set up his own private biker army. The newly elected president of the U.S., Leonard Two Feathers, is considering a declaration of war against the Netherlands, a country that finds itself half under water due to global warming. Trying desperately to hold things together is Oscar Valparaiso, political consultant and spin doctor extraordinaire, who has just engineered the election of a new liberal senator for the state of Massachusetts, only to discover that his boss suffers from severe bipolar disorder. Looking for a new challenge, Oscar takes a job with the U.S. Senate Science Committee. His first assignment is to investigate the scandal-ridden Collaboratory, a gigantic, spaceshiplike federal lab in East Texas. Oscar, himself the result of an illegal Colombian cloning experiment, immediately falls head over heels for a gawky but brilliant young Nobel laureate, with whom he sets out to save both the lab and the nation from Green Huey. In his latest novel (after Holy Fire), Sterling once again proves himself the reigning master of near-future political SF. This is a powerful and, at times, very funny novel that should add significantly to Sterling's already considerable reputation.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay Jan. 14 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The story here is decent but not exactly what it's pitched as. To read the description would lead you to believe that you're going to read a book about two people trying to change a corrupt, lost America. But by the time you finish, it's obvious that the story is more about two people who are caught up in their own bubble and have not really made an effort to fix America. Instead they have played a bunch of "dangerous" games with a few politicians and some crazies who have dropped out of society becuase there are just not jobs left.
I was also constantly mystified at how everyone reacts to Oscar in this story. Every single character he comes across just stares in amazement at his skills to think and plan quickly and to get the upper hand. That is fine and all except that he never actually earns this respect. At no point in the story did he have a thought that was really that original or dashing. Sure, he can talk quick but lots of people can do that. There were no ideas he put forward that the reader couldn't see coming. Perhaps the moral of the lesson is that in the future everyone will be so slow that a "normal" thinker by our standards will be nearly super-human.
But the one thing this book has going for it is that it has a sharp, believable future. If we don't fix our system now, it is not difficult to see the America painted here as a reality. That vision of the future alone does make this worth reading and saved the book from some serious issues that I had with it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Confirming once again the whole genre of Sci-fFi Sept. 1 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I've recently felt compelled to re-read 'Distraction', and I've been really enjoying myself. The character of Oscar Valparaiso has snuck up on me and won me over; my copy is all marked up in pink and purple highliner. There are so many great and clever lines.
The people who don't like the plot are probably looking for a conventional Triumph of the Individual Against All Odds adventure. "Distraction" is that rarity in speculative fiction, character-driven Sci-Fi. For an S-F novel to be character-driven, the character(s) must be recognizable and well-observed, but also modified by some speculative concept. The ability to observe well a person who cannot yet exist requires an intuitive vision that, if successful, confirms the whole genre of Sci-fi as a literary artform. I think Bruce Sterling pulls it off.
The whole delightfully wierd rambling plot, about feuding anarchistic nomad bands and the power-grappling over a national
biological laboratory by 16 political parties and neurological Gumbo a la Bayou, are loaded with flip ideas and throw-away shaggy-dog genius, but are ultimately a... well, a distraction. The real story is about Oscar himself, whose plight as the ultimate outsider seems like it must be a sublimation of something the author knows about personally. I'm sorry to say that I worry that Oscar's in-vitro birth as a genetic experiment in a black-market off-shore Columbian Mafia baby-selling operation may be occurring in real life right now. How the scary dark unavoidable abuses of our unprecedented technology impact on human souls is the real subject of this book.
Oscar's dark alter-ego, Green Huey, says to him,"I finally got you all figured out...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Which world is this? June 9 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Two series of questions divide the kingdom of literature: "How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? What am I in it?" This world, hidden secrets and a self secure, hence, the detective story.
"Which world is this? What is to be done with it? Which of my selves is to do it?" Ontological insecurity, many worlds, the ungrounded self, hence, science fiction. But how can such a tacky genre carry so much philosophical freight?
Oscar Valparaiso, the protagonist of Bruce Sterling's novel DISTRACTION, is a political operative with a personal background problem. He does not live in our world, but in one of the possible trajectories of our world into the near future - the year 2042. Oscar is a creature riven. The adopted son of a famous screen actor, he may not be human. Oscar was never born, he was grown in a vat in a Columbian embryo mill. In order to try and make the zygotes' DNA more viable, they lopped off most of the introns. Oscar's extraordinary talents in the political world may or may not be a function of this genetic pruning.
Sterling creates a world, and from the opening sentence we are in that world. It is a world which resembles our own, but it has gone into a different future, and the distance of 40 years creates a disturbing parallax. Much of the frisson of the novel comes from the double vision the reader experiences seeing through the present into this future space. Mostly the changes are small, but even the smallest changes are propelled by ontological differences of startling strangeness.
Not the least of these changes is in the practice of politics. Oscar has grasped a new principle in human affairs: "One of the great beauties of politics as an art form was its lack of restriction to merely standard forms of reality.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A work of precision intensity and intelligence
Bruce Sterling addresses every major topic of our time. It is a transformational futurists view of the social impact that biotechnology, nanotech, and a global network may have. Read more
Published on Oct. 15 2003 by Erik Aronesty
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Near Future Sci-Fi
Sterling does it again with this book, prescient and witty. It tells the tale of two people stuck in a civil war of sorts between the old world and the new. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous one
I found the future described in this book extremely fascinating, especially as it diverges from the usual run-of-the-mill SF(either you have an utopian Star-Trek future, or... Read more
Published on April 29 2002 by Max Robitzsch
5.0 out of 5 stars Sterlings most mature and best work yet?
While I love Bruce Sterling and read everything he writes, he dissapoints me as often as he astounds me.
Dissapointments: Heavy Weather, Difference Engine. Read more
Published on March 28 2002 by B. Scanlon
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing novel about future
The author can keep the situations to the limit and surprise everybody with the conclusion of them. Bruce Sterling doesn't need to explain in detail the changes in the world to... Read more
Published on Dec 4 2001 by jose
5.0 out of 5 stars It was essentially a cyberpunk political romp
I really liked this book. Probably because it was essentially a cyberpunk political romp (and lord knows I love politics). Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2001 by Adam Missner
1.0 out of 5 stars Long and pointless speculation
Carl Sagan once wrote that good science fiction is about ideas. You find very few ones in this book. Read more
Published on Aug. 13 2001 by ANTONIO PETER-BLANCO
5.0 out of 5 stars A most welcome distraction
Politics, passions, genetics and biochemistry combine in this tour de force from a stunningly intelligent, articulate and humorous author. Read more
Published on Aug. 10 2001 by Esther
1.0 out of 5 stars A Mess--Steer Clear
For the life of me I can't figure out what people saw in this novel. It was an unwieldy mess, not that believable a depiction of the near future, and not even a good political... Read more
Published on June 2 2001 by C. Baker
3.0 out of 5 stars A Plausible Near Future Marred By a Poor Plot
"Distraction" was a genuine distraction for me, no pun intended. I was surprised that Sterling's exceptional writing slipped a bit here. Read more
Published on May 25 2001 by John Kwok
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