By Bruce Sterling
First Published: 1996
US Jacket Illustrated by: Eric Dinyer
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Biopunk
Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling is a novel set 100 years in the future when huge advances in medical technology have enabled the rich to greatly extend their lifespan. In much the same way that computer technology has been advancing at an ever increasing pace in our own age, medical technology is advancing at an ever increasing pace. In fact, it’s apparent that if the rate of progress continues, it’s only a matter of time before death as a result of old age will be eliminated.
Mia Ziemann is in excellent health despite her 94 years of living thanks to medical treatments and taking extreme care to live safely. Now, after visiting a long lost lover on his deathbed and after meeting a young bohemian woman, Mia reaches the conclusion that her life is too sterile. She decides to take a chance on a new experimental, radical procedure to give her a chance at regaining her youth and a second chance at life. She knows the side effects could include the loss of her sanity or even her life but she decides the chance for renewed youth is worth the risk.
Holy Fire is a thoughtful novel that explores what kind of society might result if the human lifespan could be significantly increased. It examines both the effects on the aged beneficiaries of the new medical technology and the effects on the young who find themselves marginalized by the superior wealth and experience of the new class of “posthumans”. The novel follows Mia as she embarks on a quest to find her new self as a member of the new generation of youth.I enjoyed the meditations on old age, youth, vanity, art, and the extrapolated society where medicine is wining the battle against aging. I also liked Mia’s adventures in the world of artists and modeling. However, there wasn’t enough action, suspense, or excitement for my taste, not to mention that there wasn’t any sex to speak of. Wouldn’t you think that this is an area a person that was given a second chance at youth would explore? Even more surprising, Mia’s ventures into a virtual world were curiously flat and static. However the writing and character development was very well done so if you’re interested in the themes mentioned above, Holy Fire would be well worth your time.