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Holy Fire (Bantam Spectra Book)

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,940 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
Bruce Sterling, named "one of the best thinkers in science fiction today" by Newsweek, now presents a cutting-edge novel about the beginning of the transformation of the human race. "Brilliant . . . fascinating . . . exciting . . . a full complement of thrills."--The New York Review of Science Fiction.

In an era when life expectancies stretch 100 years or more and adhering
Hardcover, 326 pages
Published September 1st 1996 by Spectra (first published June 1996)
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56th out of 257 books — 121 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 03, 2011 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, 2011
WARNING: Spoilers? maybe kinda/sorta; but the review might not mean much to you if you haven't read it anyway. Thus:


There's a scene--about halfway through the novel--when Paul says to Maya: "I want you to prove to me that you're not human yet still an artist." Right there? That's basically your thematic thesis.

It has been my observation that a lot of folks get introduced to Bruce Sterling by way of the Mirrorshades anthology (one of my top 5 favorite collections of all time) and so follow-
David Nowlin
Jan 04, 2013 David Nowlin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to David by: Dan Gerard
I very rarely put down a book before I finish it, but when I do it’s usually a book that I’ve been reading for more than a month at a rate of just a few pages a day only at times when I have a choice between reading the book or doing absolutely nothing. I put down Holy Fire (about five sevenths of the way through). It’s possible that I didn’t read far enough to see what makes this book something that deserves what appears to be almost universal approval, but I’m going to tell you what I thought ...more
Dec 14, 2011 Chelsea rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What would you do if you had a second chance at life? If you found the fountain of youth? Apparently the answer is "go apeshit crazy and live like a BoHo, wandering around Europe."

Snark aside, I wanted to like this book; I felt like I *should* like this book, but there's just something about his writing style that I just can't get through. It's set far enough in the future that things are supposed to be familiar-yet-foreign, and the author seems to dwell on descriptions of things that are suppo
Oct 14, 2008 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people looking for smart sci fi premises and details (but not characters)
Long on ideas, short on narrative. Sterling should be tapped to think up settings and backgrounds on a sci-fi tv series, or an ambitious futuristic film. Case in point: in Holy Fire, he projects the story past decades of plagues to imagine a medical-industrial complex run by "gerontocrats." A fine, not implausible notion. But Sterling's real strength is to extrapolate from this general premise, having Indonesia become the richest, healthiest nation in the world after the plague years (as an isla ...more
Ryan Mishap
I was intrigued by the premise of this book, the ultimate Boomer Utopia: old people control society and use technology and, er, well, let's not spoil stay young. An old woman gets a new body and then travels to Europe where the book suddenly veers into the world of contemporary fashion and yet another anarchist character is presented as a sham loser (why can't anarchist characters ever be like real anarchists? Why do they always have to be exposed as frauds and valueless wimps?). St ...more
Jan 20, 2015 Jerico rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite Sterling books, Holy Fire is very much a product of Sterling living overseas in Europe for an extended period of time. It details the misadventures of a age-rejuvenated woman (Maia) after a radical life extension procedure disturbs her extended old age. Sterling's post plague future is meticulous and quietly ruthless and the tour of it we see is both utopic and distopic in equal measures. The prose itself is a combination of the plain, expressive writing of early Sterling with ...more
I read this book years ago, but only remembered the general gist of it. Having just finished a second read-through, I think I know why.

This is the kind of book that will resonate strongly with people who like the kind, but will leave others lost and bewildered. I'm in that second group. A very high-concept book, it's extremely hard to read, and incredibly difficult to fully grasp. Sterling uses concepts and ideas which he doesn't care to explain, so that only the most technically-minded readers
Aug 11, 2009 Trish rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-hated
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daryl Nash
Jul 17, 2015 Daryl Nash rated it really liked it
Man, I hate ratings sometimes.

The narrative drive in this book is weak; it's basically a picaresque of this posthuman society. The characterization is thin, or at least the characters often came across as inscrutable to me. So as a novel it's kind of a fail. One star.

But the interplay of concerns over the meaning of art and humanity is fascinating. Also, there is at least one mind-blowing idea every few pages. I constantly re-checked the pub date because this is so contemporary; it feels hardly
Nov 23, 2014 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I have desires which do not accord with the status quo."

This book is kind of talky; there are moments when you hit a hard patch of exposition that you need to slog through. Paul the theorist is particularly annoying in this regard. But I love the portrayal of women in this book, especially the main character of Mia/Maya, a 96-year-old woman who undergoes a radical life extension treatment and is driven insane by her schizophrenic hormones. She settles down in the end but not before she causes
Paige Ellen Stone
This book was written in 1995, published in '96. I started it at the same time I started "You Are Not A Gadget" by Jaron Lanier, published this year. It is uncanny. Sterling's book is about the world about a hundred years after he wrote it. Much of the world has changed and is dependent upon computer technology and medical/scientific breakthroughs. The money and power are wielded by gerontocrats, those who are very old. Many of the young are in rebellion against this. It's not unlike a Jack Keru ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Jenine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The longer I read this book, the fewer stars it got. It started off as a strong 5-star speculative fiction winner. Really interesting views on what the next 100 years of humanity will bring. What post-humans will look like, think like. Some of his theories are silly or ridiculous. But a lot of them are within the realm of conceivable possibility, and thus interesting.

But it takes more than some interesting concepts to make a novel. You also need a plot. And you need characters who aren't flat, i
Aug 04, 2007 Brent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit, I didn't like this book very much when I first read it. Since then, however, it's grown on me and I find myself constantly referring to it. When I recently reread it, I was amazed at how much I'd missed.
Jun 11, 2015 Eric rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
There were some moments, some scenes in this book that were very beautiful, touching, and deep. And then it wandered off in near-random changes in plot or dialog that made no sense to me, that I found annoying. I've recently read a couple books that were either written or took place in the 19-oughts, and it made me wonder if Sterling was trying to give the reader the sense of what nearly 100 years in the future is like by echoing aspects of novels from the 1900's. When I read those 1900's books, ...more
Bruja Ha
Mar 09, 2016 Bruja Ha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found the premise of this book fascinating, and the first 50 pages or so held up to its promise. After that, though, it seemed to devolve into a series of vignettes that illustrate the fragmented, chaotic self and society he portrays, without letting the reader fall into any depth. And the frequent use certain words really started to grate on me, like ductile. That said, Sterling came up with a bunch of very inventive bits to enjoy: rattlesnakes as jewelry; a beach resort vacation utilizing ou ...more
Apr 07, 2015 Ricky rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biopunk-sci-fi
As a fan of the genre, I've often heard of Sterling,but this is the first (and only,for now)I've read from him.

All I can say is that it's more interesting than exciting. It's full of interesting concepts concerning our future, new technologies and medicine. This book show us how much we are obsessed with staying young at any cost, our desire to be beautiful and healthy forever, even if it means becoming another person. Can someone live in a completely different body,when your life is that of a s
Jul 21, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story was good. The science part of the science fiction was pretty extraordinary and unique. I enjoyed the technology part of the story. My problem was that I couldn't connect with the protagonist. I don't know if I was too dumb to get it, but there was a big disconnect that hindered my enjoyment of the story. It's great for cyberpunk technology, but it seems to have a deep emotional and social commentary edge to the character that I just couldn't get. I rated three stars based on my enjoyme ...more
Dans ce roman, on suit les aventures de Mia/Maya, qui commence son récit à l'âge de quatre-vingt-treize ans et quelques, pour le continuer, apparement, bien plus jeune, et bien différente.
En fait, plus que de Maya, ce roman traite de notre société et du fossé intergénérationnel. Il est d'ailleurs tellement un livre d'opionion plus qu'un roman qu'il me paraît totallement vain de tenter de le résumer. Je me contenterai juste de vous dire que Maya part à la recherche du Feu Sacré de la jeunesse, qu
Rob Bliss
A low 3. The first Sterling book Ive read, only knew him before as William Gibson's buddy.

He can write and has a ton of imagination to think of a bizarre sci-fi cyber future for us all, even predicted how when someone's talking across the airwaves of a machine in public, other people don't think its weird, that the person is talking to themselves cuz they're crazy. This before the Bluetooth.

But this novel lacks a bit of a plot. A lady escapes her life, goes to Europe, hangs around with Erotrash
Oct 23, 2010 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
73 out of 100 for 2010

Either the most important, or worst, SF novel of the last 20 years, or, perhaps, both.

I can't think of another novel that I've read that had more 'big ideas'--one that seriously considered what the aging populace does to society, about the generations' inability to understand one another, about the stranglehold that the health care industry really has on us all, about art, about how media does or does not evolve, about economic inequity, and about what makes life truly wor
Isabel (kittiwake)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 31, 2014 Nigel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Mia Ziemann is 93, but looks thirty thanks to advances in medical technology and living life very carefully. The world has survived a prolonged bout of plague and disease, and a significant portion of the global economy is devoted to keeping people alive and healthy for as long as possible, an interval that is growing all the time. After a radical new treatment gives her the appearance of a twenty year old, Mia experiences side effects which appear to give her the mind of a twenty year old, too, ...more
Mar 08, 2009 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Bruce Sterling extrapolates a society based on increasingly effective and increasingly expensive medical longevity treatments. If you live a life that is healthy, boring, and cautious then society will pay for your treatments and you can join the post-centenarians (who ultimately control the wealth and power). If you don't, well, then you are too much of a risk for society to invest in your health.

Mia is a healthy, boring, cautious 96 year-old who gets an experimental treatment that doesn't just
Luke Hatherton
Sterling's vision of a world ruled by a benevolent tyranny of 'gerontocrats', people in their 90s and older whom medical advances have allowed to live unprecedentedly long lives in large numbers, is intriguing enough in its ideas and setting to carry it past the thin plot and characters, and distractingly surreal moments (e.g. dogs who have been cybernetically wired to talk). Sterling avoids falling into cliches such as "the ruling class is inherently flawed/making a Faustian bargain" or "the yo ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: Greg
I'm sure this book was fine. Greg tells me it's big with the Bright Green people and I can see why. He paired this one with Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End. The theme seems to be "Old People who Get to Be Sort of Young Again, I Guess?"

Greg is in love with with book, but I can't get excited about it. I just didn't like the people well enough.

I mean, I liked Plato all right. Though, (view spoiler).

Oh, but that reminds me! There was one person I
Althea Ann
Sep 26, 2013 Althea Ann rated it liked it
I've kinda always regarded Bruce Sterling as something of a wanna-be William Gibson, and I *do* like Gibson's stuff better - but this is a pretty good cyberpunk book.
Mia Ziemann, a careful, cautious and rather stuffy old woman in a future mainly controlled by the old, signs up for an experimental rejuvenation treatment which not only gives her the appearance of a gorgeous 20-year-old, but causes a radical personality shift as well... soon she's running away from her medical staff, and making her
Apr 12, 2011 dani-elle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a very well-developed and convincing work highlighting how likely it is that the future will most certainly be shaped by the exponential development of technology and 'biomedical' enhancements hand in hand

there is a lot going on in this book, far too much to explain here (without giving anything away, anyway!)

i highly recommend it to anyone who likes considering all the potential futures of humanity....

in terms of genre, interestingly this book itself is cited in the Wikipedia article on "postcy
May 30, 2015 Paige rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
The world is fascinating. The story, is significantly less so. Interesting speculative fiction bogged down by a main character who gets a second chance at life and then... meanders for a while.
Dec 28, 2009 Daniel rated it it was ok
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
Ouch. A Bruce Sterling book that didn't work for me.

Like many of the other reviews here for this book, Sterling has some nifty concepts and a strong character and setting, but the follow-through is slow and meandering.

I never got the 'holy fire' aspect. Yes, I understand that it's our heroine's search for her 'holy fire' (art), but it isn't delivered strongly enough to carry on as the theme of the book (and if that isn't the book's theme, then what is?).

This book felt as though Sterling had a pr
Michael Burnam-fink
Mar 10, 2012 Michael Burnam-fink rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2012
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Michael Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author, best known for his novels and his seminal work on the Mirrorshades anthology, which helped define the cyberpunk genre.
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