Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling Review

Bantam Spectra, Nov., 1997.
Paperback, 358 pages.
ISBN: 055357549X.
Ordering information: Amazon.com.

Cover of Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling

94-year-old Mia Zimmerman is a model citizen in the late 21st century and therefore is entitled to all the benefits accorded to the rich and elderly in that society, including the right to undergo the latest procedures in life-enhancement technology. The procedure goes well -- she looks and feels fabulous. There's only one problem: her brain has also been rejuvenated and mind now realizes the awful truth. Her lengthy, conservative, model-citizen's life has been empty, devoid of passion or artistry. Appalled at the idea of living the next 94 years under the strict scrutiny of the medical community which rejuvenated her, Mia promptly escapes her keepers and heads off to Europe, joining a youthful group of artistic anarchists, living as a hippie and seeing life, all the while keeping her true identity a secret as she searches for meaning in her life. Her journey takes her from the dregs of the underworld to the pinnacle of chic, café society and introduces her to a lifestyle she never dreamed existed in her prior lifetime which includes bizarre forays into virtual reality. As her past catches up to her, Mia is forced to make the most difficult decisions of both her lives: to conform and regain her life of ease and guaranteed medical treatments or to remain a bohemian outcast -- free but cut off from mainstream society.

Holy Fire is a dazzling display of societal satire of a future society that sounds eerily possible. With a chilling and yet realistic portrayal of a world where a rich gerontocracy rules a world where your behavior counts against you -- every time you drink alcohol or skip your vitamins it's recorded on your health records -- the temptation to conform to society's standards is intense. For those who don't comply and abuse their bodies with alcohol or nicotine or don't practice proper hygiene, society's response is simple: they don't get access to modern health care and usually die before 40. Mia is a compelling, vulnerable and ultimately endearing heroine who learns to trip the light fantastic with Europe's young artistes who are all in search of the "Holy Fire": the new sense of perception which will take the human race towards the next step in its evolution. A provocative look at our society's future, Holy Fire is an enthralling and vastly entertaining novel.

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