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3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,957 ratings  ·  111 reviews
About The Author: Bruce Sterling is a recent winner of the Nebula Award and the author of the nonfiction book "The Hacker Crackdown" as well as novels and short story collections. He co-authored, with William Gibson, the critically acclaimed novel "The Difference Engine." He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter.
Paperback, 489 pages
Published September 1st 2000 by Millennium / Orion (first published December 1998)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Michael Burnam-Fink
This is my favorite book.

It's so much my favorite book that I wrote an article on its 20th anniversary for Slate. I interviewed Bruce Sterling on what inspired him while writing, and why this book is still relevant right before the 2018 midterms.


Okay, that's not a review. Let me explain why this is my favorite book. Distraction paints a picture of a world gone down the tubes in an all too familiar way, but unlike the usual dystopian moanings, Sterling has the guts to imagine a way out; a cha
3.5 stars. It has been a while since I read this and it is on my list to re-read. My recollection is that this was an above average near-future, dystopian novel.

Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1999)
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1999)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1999)
Winner Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2000)
Scott Holstad
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
I've enjoyed Bruce Sterling books in the past, so I was eager to start reading this one. The description of the book at Goodreads make it sound interesting. Unfortunately, the description of the book IS the book -- it's the entire plot boiled down to a few paragraphs. How Sterling got 500 pages out of this, I'll never know. I found it to be largely boring. There were some humorous moments, yes, but really, a book about a political spin doctor trapped in a Texas research facility just isn't that ...more
Peter Tillman
Rating: "B": masterful writing and funny/clever satire, undermined by gross implausibilities and clunky auctorial manipulations. Distraction has a more mature, less headlong feel than Holy Fire, Sterling's previous novel. And the premise is grimmer -- the mid-21st century USA, bankrupted by a Chinese netwar, is coming seriously unglued.

Sterling's eye for the absurd and powers of invention are unmatched, and you'll have a lot of fun reading Distraction. But -- the book never quite jells, and left
Jan 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dystopia, near-future
One word defines how bad this book is: repetition. The author has some interesting ideas about problems in American society, and tries to extrapolate their impact in the near future. However, he also likes to repeat those ideas. So, if you're not really excited and into his theories, the plot drags during these America-is-going-to-hell for [insert random thought here] moments. And in case you don't get them the first time, they are brought up over and over. Additionally, the plot is advanced not ...more
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
From 2011, Sterling’s 1998 vision of 2044 is looking uncomfortably realistic. The US government is in a 20-year State of Emergency, half the population is unemployed, and the technological underclass have become scavenging nomads who rely on a classier Hot Or Not reputation servers to trust one another. Anyone who can afford to be a patron has their own krewe of flunkies. Environmental damage has physically reshaped the country. Ethically motivated bank robberies are crowdsourced.

The lead charac
This one was hard to rate as I really liked it at the beginning but then it kind of fell into itself. The future didn't sound all that different from the present.
Apr 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Policy wonks of the future
(I originally wrote this in 2000; this version is adapted from the one on my website.)

Originally seen in a Seattle bookstore when it was brand-new, and put on my to-read list immediately. When I actually got a chance to read it (I'd been distracted, heh), my hopes were confirmed. Bruce Sterling's Distraction is perhaps the most perfect novel it's possible to write under that name, a marvelous political sleight-of-hand, a Primary Colors for the 21st Century.

Oscar Valparaiso is a campaign manager
Nihal Vrana
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
I like data-heavy, hyperbolic stories and Bruce Sterling is the absolute master of this kind. I feel so close to the main character, Oscar (except the genetic background stuff; which was madly interesting by the way), that it completely positively biased me towards the book I think. His tendency to act like he is in control while actually going with the flow really reverberated with how I usually approach life.

Aside from Oscar, the book was brimming with interesting characters; particularly Gree
Mar 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Just finished and it was a bit of an ordeal. The book is chock full of interesting ideas, some subtle wordplay and other fun with the language but I was disappointed with the shallow characterization and too pat interactions. Who talks like that? Why are all these people responding the way they do and changing against their nature so quickly? It got pretty exasperating. I sometimes felt like it would play better as a movie and that Sterling intended that all along. Moreover I never felt any conn ...more
McGrouchpants, Ltd.
Unbelievably futuristic, Bruce Sterling takes (what feels like) all of the modern day stressors and blows them up, to fifty-years hence, so we can see what's going on, as we speak. Whew! Few outside Christopher Buckley know how to make a political operative the center of one's narrative, let alone an appealing one — moreover, every character in the novel (barring the Senator, and his wife, or what-have-you) seem to have no use, no ability to grasp, no idea what Oscar is for— a neat riff on the u ...more
Dee Maselle
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A re-read I began when Trump became an actual candidate. I first read Distraction many years ago. I thought "this is fascinating but bizarre--a colorful, violent, jaded, deeply fractured American dystopia that would never actually happen!" In fact, I grew impatient with the long-winded, detailed explorations of sociopolitical leaders' moods, moves, and motives because they felt so unrealistic.

As the weeks and my re-read progressed, I realized I was absorbing it more as a survival manual. Some pa
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. It's one of the best near-future science fiction novels I've read in a long time. You won't find any interstellar travel, artificial intelligence or spandex-clad sex droids here, just a world very much like our own but 8-10 years in the future. A future where things have gone a bit wrong. Some of the things you're missing by not reading this book include: Reputation Servers, Air Force Bake Sales, the Politics of Squatting and BioTechVoodoo Haitians if I remember correct ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sterling is an ideas man (and one of my favorites), and this near future political thriller is filled with them. Although some people have rightly complained that the actual story doesn't really begin until about 90 to 100 pages in, I still love every page of this novel. Although much less silly (in a good way) than Neal Stephenson's classic Snow Crash, I'd imagine that those who enjoyed all the funny throw-away bits of social commentary in SC will find just as much to enjoy in Distraction. ...more
Kevin Lewis
Apr 06, 2007 rated it liked it
so far, it's either airport magazine rack crap, or pretentious elitist crap that's making a statement by parodying airport magazine rack crap.
Peter Flom
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf, science-fiction
A dystopian future of the USA .... but one where there is still hope and humor. Sterling is a great writer. My full review is here: ...more
Shane Moore
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A near-future Sci-Fi novel about a political operative in a world that was probably meant to be absurd when the book was written in 1998, but which is surprisingly grounded and realistic now. There's a lot of humor that lightens the darker moments, and the silliness throughout the story seemed more realistic to me than the grimness that is more common in Sci-Fi. "Distraction" depicts a post-crash America in a world with dramatically rising sea levels and a completely non-functional Federal gover ...more
I just read the best review of this book over on Boing Boing! and it reminded just why this is in my top ten favorite books list.

It also reminded me why I like Cory Doctorow, the author of the following review as well as several fun works of science fiction, so much:

"I just finished re-reading (for the nth time) Bruce Sterling's 1998 novel Distraction. I didn't mean to -- I picked it up in a used bookstore in Milwaukee on my way to a quick dinner in my ho
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work is so prescient that I could not believe it was published in 1998.

(view spoiler)

I'm not a big fan of the author's writing style, but it's definitely a good idea-delivery device. And the ideas - it's all about them. They're woven into coherent and easy
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
What Sterling has done in this book is to extrapolate the current trends in society and just follow them into a logical conclusion. While I think this scenario is entirely possible, I think that Sterling didn't give enough time for things to get as bad as they are in Distraction. A shortened timeline seems to be common in these books. Maybe it's because the author needs to get the plot moving or something, but I don't think that they give enough time for scenarios like the one you find in this b ...more
Leonardo Etcheto
Very interesting and stimulating, a fascinating potential breakdown.

2nd time through got to really like the characters and the entire anti self serving central government ethos. Sterling has created a future with 3rd world contrast between have and have nots in America. The Chinese destroying America by making public all of our intellectual property is a fun twist. Doing something with that IP is still the best bet though. Love that anglos are the persecuted minority prone to violence. Lots of g
Dan Drake
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bruce Sterling did an amazing job in this novel at predicting the social, cultural, and political future of America. His biggest mistake was being about a quarter-century too slow: Distraction takes place in 2044, but Sterling has done an unnervingly good job at describing today: tribalism and social media, trade war with China, an incompetent/ineffective federal government, Trump-like political figures.

I heard about this book from Cory Doctorow, and it's clear that Doctorow was heavily inspire
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Inventive and fast moving, this is a text book example of the witty cynicism and cynical wit of Sterling. It's flat in places, namely the main character, but in a way that greatly improves the world building. there's the wealth of throwaway details that really make a future, some downright prescient speculation and a number of jokes that make it very entertaining. It's a similar vein of sf as both zeitgeist and Holy Fire, and distinctly Sterling.
Joseph Hurtgen
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is so important that I wrote a chapter on it in my books The Archive Incarnate:

When genetic alteration becomes more of a thing, more people will get interested in this book.

Also check out my discussion of Distraction on Rapid Transmission:
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The media and political showmanship rule the US. The story revolves around the power struggles within and outside of a Federally funded research center in East TX, and stars a jaded political operative, a corrupt Louisiana Governor, and a scientist who just wants to stay in the lab and do research and not get involved in the power struggle. Hard to believe this was written in 1998, not today!
Sarah Rigg
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get into it, but I really got hooked once I did. It's good hard sci-fi but also does a good job with characterization. Sometimes an author does one or the other well but rarely both. I am not sure why I never read more by the author but I'm looking to add some Sterling novels to my "to read" list now.
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it
intriguing. sometimes a bit too verbose but often very interestingly written. I didn't find the characters relatable at all but the world and different worldviews that are in it are worth reading. it's a bit strange but it's nice too read something different. I like how much the Dutch were mentioned lol.
Nicole Leverence
Jan 16, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The book was very hard to hold your attention. There was a lot of repetition about the crumbling government. The author did a terrible job trying to describe the futurist items. I skipped a lot of paragraphs just to finish the book.
Tomson Jane Oliver
One of the best satires of American politics I've ever read. Quite an engagingly poignant book in the face of the Trump's race for POTUS 18 years after this story was published.
Jim Infantino
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and funny. Also disturbingly real. This is a courageous work. Lots of fun to read.
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Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, critic and a contributing editor of Wired magazine. Best known for his ten science fiction novels, he also writes short stories, book reviews, design criticism, opinion columns and introductions to books by authors ranging from Ernst Jünger to Jules Verne. His non-fiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992 ...more

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“America hadn't really been suited for its long and tiresome role as the Last Superpower, the World's Policeman. As a patriotic American, Oscar was quite content to watch other people's military coming home in boxes for a while. The American national character wasn't suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and the Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World's Movie Star. The world's tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world's acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.” 21 likes
“We're so intelligent now that we're too smart to survive. We're so well informed that we lost all sense of meaning. We know the price of everything, but we've lost all sense of value. We have everyone under surveillance, but we've lost all sense of shame.” 7 likes
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