book review: the caryatids

Interestingly enough, a Caryatid is not some Cicada-like insect. I did not know this until I told people it was, then thought “Wait. Am I just making things up?” I looked it up and found I was just making it up. It’s a carving of a female figure designed as a pillar. Now you know.

Bruce Sterling’s book The Caryatids is about a future, less about characters. There are these women (the titular caryatids) who are clones of a war-criminal and they hate each other and have scattered among the political factions of the globe. There are three main parts to the book, each with a different one of these clones. But there is no real story here beyond “How people deal with this future.” Which is fascinating, but without a point. I’ve had a hard time describing this book to people. There is no problem to be solved. You know how in Neal Stephenson books the characters are all hypercompetent and there’s no feeling of danger as the problems get solved? This takes that even further by making the problems almost irrelevant too. A satisfying page-turner yarn this book is not.

Yet. I liked it. I liked it for its exploration of this future. It was abstract or conceptual most of the time. Lots of stuff happens off-camera between sections. But there was a feeling that this is how life actually is. Without all of the story arcs or solutions to anything. There are some action sequences, which are pretty good, but generally it felt like a book by someone explaining his homebrew D&D setting (set in 2060 with ubiquitous computing). Now, I love that kind of stuff, but this probably isn’t a book for everyone. Or anyone who wants a story.

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