The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Schismatrix can be seen as an extension of three of Bruce Sterling’s early “Shaper/Mechanist” short stories—“Swarm,” “Spider Rose,” and “Cicada Queen”— contained in Sterling’s short-story collection Crystal Express (1989). In an interview with Larry McCaffery in Across the Wounded Galaxies (1990), Sterling admits that he “didn’t want to end up writing the same thing all my life, so I decided I would just burn it all with Schismatrix.”

The pace of Schismatrix is fast, and without the time and location updates at the beginning of each section, one would soon be lost because the story encompasses more than 170 years and, it seems, almost as many worlds. Readers are introduced to the protagonist, Abelard Malcolm Tyler Lindsay, in the first pages and then follow his life and actions throughout the novel.

The story begins on the Mare Transquillitatis People’s Circumlunar Zaibatsu, one of the ten circumlunar artificial worlds of the Concatenation. Lindsay, an aristocrat and failed Shaper diplomat, is being held in house arrest by his Mechanist wife and uncle. The Shapers and the Mechanists are the two main ideological/political factions in this universe. At one time, both groups were human, but over the centuries each has found a way to prolong, enhance, and alter life. The Mechanists use cybernetic methods, such as prosthetics and wiring themselves into computers, and the...

(The entire section is 412 words.)