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Holy Fire

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  2,321 ratings  ·  112 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
Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 1997 by Spectra Books (first published June 1996)
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3.73  · 
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 ·  2,321 ratings  ·  112 reviews

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Jan 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, science-fiction
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-
Sep 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
David Nowlin
Jul 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Ryan Mishap
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-fantasy
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Holy Fire has some wonderful cyberpunk ideas and a few semi-profound truths on art. I liked that it sided equally with youth and age, showing the beauty and pitfalls of both.

But mostly it just felt flat.

Sterling has created a weird fascinating world (I would have been ready to read chapters on the new bio city of Stuttgart, or on the plague that caused its destruction) but we are stuck with his cardboard cereal characters, none of whom I empathised with or liked for a single second.
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 10, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-i-hated
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daryl Nash
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
"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
Adam Wolf
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am not sure this book is excellent on its own terms--but after reading nearly everything else he's written, I think this is the most Bruce Sterling book ever. I enjoyed it.
Kat Heatherington
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Strikingly lovely. A meditation on age and youth, on the cyclical shape of history and culture, on safety and freedom. Stunningly well realized, strong characters, vivid world-building and emotion.
Matthew Snee
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of my top five favorite books. I crave being able to write a book this unique and startling.
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi, cyberpunk, fiction
Bruce Sterling is an excellent writer, which is why this book, which is not one of his better ones, is still quite good. It is partially an exercise in world-building, but mostly focuses on exploring some of the effects that a certain form of post-humanism could have on the character of certain people.

In a lot of ways, it reminds me of William Gibson's Blue Ant trilogy, though set further in the future and with a more decidedly science-fiction plot. Similar to the Blue Ant trilogy, the main char
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I enjoyed this book. I also have the feeling that I will be thinking about it for some time. The themes from my POV are post-humanity and post-cyberpunk. Two things I have always been curious about in my own writing and plot brainstorming. For example what would the world of Neuromancer look like in hundreds of years... well forget Neuromancer... that world is now.

The idea of a medical-industrial complex and an entire economy and society geared toward life extension is enticing. I want to live i
Glen Engel-Cox
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
94-year-old Mia Ziemann has lived an impeccable existence, avoiding the myriad vices available throughout the 21st century. But even her pure lifestyle cannot prevent the ravages of time, and she suffers from health problems only radical medical procedures can cure. Because she can afford it, and because she has lived such a virtuous life, she is eligible for any number of experimental medical treatments to prolong it. The first risk she has to take, to join the post-human condition, makes Mia r ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Mar 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, sci-fi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
Sterling is a better speaker than he is a novelist in my estimation. Rich ideas, Ideas that a real writer creates characters and pathos with. There is something charming and intelligent at work in this book, but there is something of the very "artifice" that is the critique of one of his characters Paul. So he is aware of this and tries unsuccessfully to transcend it, at least for me. Clearly a problem with this book is getting past being a pastiche. Lots of relevant ironies, but ultimately too ...more
Lisabet Sarai
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful consideration of what the world might be like when technology can "cure" aging. I read this perhaps fifteen years ago, but I was recently reminded of it by a news article claiming that we'll all be living to at least 150, in good health, within a decade or two. The book considers what it might be like to be an old person in a young body - not as great as it sounds. Now that I'm older, I think I can appreciate the conflicts even more than when I read this.
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Interesting ideas but no cohesive plot development to sustain interest. Sometimes the writing can be melodramatic; it needs a good solid edit. But the ideas of what it means to live forever, our relation to technology and medicine and Sterling's abundant imagination and vision of a our future are wonderful.
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
A 94 yr old minor gerontocrat receives an experimental rejuvenation treatment that sets her off on a Gulliverian ramble through western civ in 2090. Entertaining, thoughtful, prescient. More full of ideas than action.
Aug 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Tim Nowotny
Sep 01, 2012 rated it it was ok

You want to read about an 98 year old having an midlife crisis? You want to see how little people can participate in an very interesting vision of the future? This is your book. It was to mine...
Peter Tillman
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
My favorite of Sterling's novels. Holds up well to rereading.

A good review:
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kirstin Olson
Jun 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
I kept waiting for something to happen...there seemed to be no over arching plot line, no real villain, only because nobody ever seemed to have much happen; no real consequences for their actions. It was a slice of future life novel. Once I accepted that, I found myself horrified and anxious by the shallow nature of future post humans. Don't even get me started on the sadness of the post canines. Sigh. I get it was a view into a possible future and lots of the tech seemed really cool, if you lik ...more
Robert Swanson
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Good read.
Sterling is a good writer - a futurist theorist. Thinks through deeply and fully his concepts and their impacts. Consistent and fully realized. He lets it get out of control and shares with us fully what he should only hint at. He gets preachy. Scanned some sections and may have missed some key points (like when they took her memory palace) and I cannot place the first reference to the term "holy fire".
The book peters out, loses its narrative in the last quarter and then just drifts of
Howard Brazee
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This takes place about a century from now - when the medical industry is huge and controlling in keeping old people alive. The century-old protagonist takes a treatment that kind of rebuilds her, and she becomes not only physically young, but mentally young as well, and decides to leave treatment and explore life outside her generation - running away from her old-person responsibilities.

I enjoyed the travelog of the different types of societies in that world.
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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 Junger to Jules Verne. His non-fiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) ...more
“I put the mud on the wheel, I spun it, and I could work clay. It was a miracle. I could do clay without any thought, without any doubt. I knew nothing about clay and yet the skill came out of my hands. Clay was all I had—all that I was. Clay was all that was left of me. I was an animal that made pots.” 0 likes
“that I used to be truly loved someone you used to be once. Try not to forget me.” 0 likes
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