Leaving the Earth behind, most of humanity now lives in the vast and strange environments that it has built for itself in space. Post-human evolution is moving along two tracks, the Mechanists, who believe in technological alteration, and the Shapers, who alter the body through biological manipulation. On each side there are hundreds of different factions, constantly trying to gain legitimacy and control. Abelard Lindsay is fighting to free himself from their complex machinations and to carve out his own future.
Lindsay had been a preservationist Shaper before he was exiled from his birthplace for acting as an accomplice in a political act of suicide. Now he is a citizen of space, a "Sundog". And, as he moves from world to world, Abelard begins to realize that it is his fate to find the destiny of all humankind.
"Schismatrix" is filled with ideas and allegories set in the time when humans have begun their full-fledged colonization of space. Thematically, the book builds a bridge that joins the politics and grand scale of space opera with the technological and post-humanist themes of cyberpunk. Stylistically, "Schismatrix" is a rich mix of expansive action and thought-provoking philosophy.
Before "Schismatrix," the space opera genre was a kind of high tech/high frontier "Western". The formula involved the extrapolation of space colonization scenarios tied to the technologies of space travel, energy extraction, and the inter-group conflicts related to them. In Sterling's hands, the genre's possibilities for graphing future scenarios for human (and trans-human) history have been liberated to include the dynamic of evolving philosophies, populations, gene pools, and consciousness. He probes, in fascinating and far seeing ways, the unfolding social mutations, ideological conflicts, schisms, and newer paradigms that inform cultural changes.
Arbor House, 1985
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Their world was the Mare Serenitatis Circumlunar Corporate Republic, a two-hundred year old artificial habitat orbiting the Earth's Moon. As one of the oldest of mankind's nation-states in space, it was a place of tradition, with the long habits of a settled culture.
But change had burst in, spreading from new, stronger worlds in the Asteroid Belt and the Rings of Saturn. The Mechanist and Shaper superpowers had exported their war into this quiet city-state. The strain had split the population into factions: Lindsay's Preservationists against the power of the Radical Old, rebellious plebes against the wealthy aristocracy.
The living decks of the Red Consensus had once belonged to a Terran national entity, an extinct group calling themselves the Soviet Union, or CCCP. The decks had been launched from earth to form one of a series of orbiting "defense stations".
The Interdict was sacred: as old as the unspoken guilt of ancestral spacefarers, who had deserted Earth as disaster loomed. In their desertion, they had robbed the planet of the very expertise that might have saved it. Over centuries of life in space, that guilt had sunk into a darkened region of cultural awareness.
Habitats were sacred; sacred because they were frail. The frailty was universal. Once one world was deliberately destroyed, there could be no more safety anywhere, for anyone. Every world would burst in a thousand infernos of war.