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Robot Artists & Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories Kindle Edition
“It’s as if Sterling is the only writer paying attention.”—Locus
In the Esoteric City, a Turinese businessman’s act of necromancy is catching up with him. The Black Swan, a rogue hacker, programs his way into alternate versions of Italy. A Parthenopean assassin awaits his destiny in the arms of a two-headed noblewoman. Infuriating to both artists and scientists, a robot wheelchair makes uncategorizable creations.
Bruno Argento is the acknowledged master of Italian science fiction. Yet that same popular fantascienza author also is known in America—as Bruce Sterling. In Robot Artists and Black Swans, we present the first collection of their uniquely visionary Italian-themed fiction, including tales never before published in English.
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--Washington Post "Sterling's latest collection is rich and wide, a cross between Primo Levi and Jorge Luis Borges--with a touch of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. I love it."
--Greg Bear, author of The Unfinished Land "Sterling is a visionary, equally at home writing about the future as he is of the past, and his inspired prose continues to provoke and satisfy. For his latest foray in storytelling, Sterling adopts the Italian persona, Bruno Argento, 'an unlikely "cyber-punk" Texan who somehow decides to become Turinese, ' in order to mine the treasures of his adoptive country in this series of fantastic (or fantascienza) stories. As Argento, Sterling embraces his new identity wholeheartedly, evoking such former denizens of the locale as Italo Calvino, Primo Levi (who wrote sf under the moniker Damiano Malabaila), even Friedrich Nietzche (who resided there while madness overtook him). In the titular 'Black Swan, ' a tech blogger follows a suave industrial spy across multiple Turins, each one on a different trajectory--watch for cameos from Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. The robot artist of the title appears in 'Robot in Roses, ' in which an art critic accompanies (and attempts to explain) The Winkler, a robot in the form of a wheelchair, as it navigates the ruins of a radioactive future Rome. Sharp, witty, erudite dialogue keeps the stories moving along."
--Booklist "Bruce Sterling "literally" takes you to Hell and back and back in this sprawling, delirious tour of an Italy jarred just slightly off-kilter, parallel universe, nineteenth-century terrorists and bicephalous recluses, cigar-smoking mummies and wandering performance artists who happen to be wheelchairs."
--Peter Watts, author of The Freeze-Frame Revolution "A delightful mix of high fantasy and futuristic speculation featuring royalty, noblemen, bandits, and other scoundrels."
--Kirkus "Bruce Sterling's Italian short fiction is like an Asti Spumante from the vineyard where futurism was first fermented."
--Charles Stross, author of the Merchant Princes Series "Utterly unlike Sterling and unmistakably the work of Sterling: Robot Artists & Black Swans is a sardonic, madcap tour through the grand passions and strange centuries of Italian sf."
--Cory Doctorow, author of Walkaway "Playfully spanning a range of genres, modes and ideas, the Bruno Argento stories show one of the great science fictional minds at work, processing exciting new ideas in a novel context and reaching towards an increasingly uncertain future . . . Both 'Robot In Roses' and 'Black Swan' are powerful examples of Sterling at his best, and are reason enough on their own to make the collection essential reading."
--Fantasy Hive "Full of clever and original lateral-thinking insights into society and the universe, still rife with outsider characters and streetwise scenario . . . [a] thoroughly entertaining collection of nimble and bright tales."
--Locus "Set largely in Turin, Italy, this urbane collection of seven stories from futurist Sterling (Pirate Utopia) reflects the author's wholehearted embrace of both the post-human future and Italian culture. The narrator of the 2061-set "Kill the Moon" is charitably embarrassed by the sentimentality of his countrymen ("Why are we Italians the only people who still believe that space flight is romantic?") as they giddily celebrate Italy's belated mission to the moon. For readers unsatisfied with only one future Italy, "Black Swan" offers a tour through a series of alternate versions of the country, imagining a technologically advanced Italy built on the computer work of fantasist Italo Calvino but threatened by the skullduggery of underworld kingpin Nicholas Sarkozy. In "Pilgrims of the Round World," a couple facing a long journey from 1463 Turin to the court of the Queen of Jerusalem in Cyprus argue over the value of art just as ferociously as a 2187 art dealer and a post-human anthropologist debate the nature of robotic creation in "Robot in Roses." Sterling's clever, compassionate work will appeal to fans of intelligent cyberpunk."
--Publishers Weekly "It's all here, this time with an Italian flavor: the inventive tech, the meticulously detailed futures, the stylish and sardonic prose, the creative adjectival combinations. Set in Turin, Rome, and an upgraded Hell (Italian designers are good), these stories could only have been written by Bruce Sterling. Treat yourself to one of the most original voices in science fiction."
--Nancy Kress, author of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall "Bruno Argento is the Calvino of the Cyberpunks, and in this new collection Bruce Sterling channels his Turinese alter ego to conjure dark and wondrous visions of alternate Europes past, present and future. A perfectly curated selection of the best recent works from a living master of short form SF, Robot Artists & Black Swans shows what can be achieved when a writer fully embraces the possibilities of becoming a character in one of his own stories."
--Christopher Brown, author of Failed State "A fantastic fantascienza concoction of percolated ideas and concepts . . . These complex fantasies of Italy relate to universal truths and desires conjured up by Texan Bruce Sterling's alter ego Bruno Argento as he sips his Lavazza Red coffee with a well-selected pasta. Bravo."
--Starburst "Sterling emerges as an Italian cultural figure, within hailing distance of Italo Calvino and Federico Fellini."
--Rudy Rucker, author of The Hacker and the Ants "A lot of punch is packed into these seven stories. I didn't know what to expect out of this collection, but in the end I was thoroughly entertained. If Bruno Argento does indeed exist, then the residents of Italy are lucky to have him."
--MT Void --This text refers to the hardcover edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B08HVLFXNV
- Publisher : Tachyon Publications; Illustrated edition (27 April 2021)
- Language : English
- File size : 5271 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 256 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 1616963298
- Best Sellers Rank: 362,395 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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None of the stories in this collection were a disappointment but they will be lifelong companions. My absolute favorite is Robot in Roses. You could read a dry or even an engaging treatise on C.P. Snow's old chestnut of two cultures (science v. arts) but this novelette took those dried up twigs and fashioned them into something deeply moving and beautiful, it made art out of ideas. Thank you, Bruce
In his introduction, which is as good as any of the stories, Sterling writes as Italian author of "fantascienza" Bruno Argento, who has adopted the pseudonym "Bruce Sterling." He says "[o]bviously this 'Bruce Sterling' can never really exist ... an unlikely 'cyber-punk' Texan who somehow decides to become Turinese..." But, Argento tells us, "my fellow Italian science fiction writers ... can see that the Argento/Sterling duality is a literary game, inspired by Italo Calvino's famous fantastic novel 'The Cloven Viscount' which was written and published in Turin in 1952."
Sterling uses Argento to apologize for his diminished output, explaining that "my writing pace may be as slow as history itself" as "I'm a busy Turin technical/professional." It does seem that Sterling has developed a career in design, though what exactly that entails I am not sure.
So, to the stories:
Kill the Moon (2009 -- 3 pages)
An Italian librarian in 2061 is not happy about Italians going to the moon. Hilarious.
Black Swan (2009 -- 26 pages)
A journalist meets a high-tech industry source in a cafe in one of multiple worlds.
Esoteric City (2009 -- 30 pages)
An auto corporation executive is in league with an ancient Egyptian mummy. Satan appears as a hip, green engineer consultant.
The Parthenopean Scalpel (2010 -- 18 pages)
The tale of a nationalist assassin of the Carbonari in the early 19th Century years prior to the Risorgimento.
Pilgrims of the Round World (2014 -- 60 pages)
Ugo and Agnes are innkeepers in the late 15th century. This is what Alan Wall calls "fictional history," as opposed to historical fiction. Great characters. Argento says this may be expanded into a novel.
Elephant On the Table (2017 -- 24 pages)
A couple work as the trusted aides-de-camp of a former Italian prime-minister known only as "The Chief," who is hidden from the world in the "Shadow House" which uses state-of-the-art electronic baffles. Their situation comes to a surprising end.
Robot In Roses (2017 -- 61 pages)
Here Argento/Sterling uses a favorite device of two rival factions (Mechanists vs. Shapers) in the post-apocalyptic Anthropocene world of 2187. Wolfgang Stein is a member of the literary Ghost Club and Dr. Jetta Krien is an apprentice of the scientific Cosmic Council. The Club and Council are both part of the Beau Monde, humanity's elites. Stein has been following a unique piece of art known as the "Winkler," which is a peripatetic wheelchair originally owned and modified by a Japanese artist. Krien is sent to destroy it. The dialogue and ideas conveyed by these characters is prime Sterling.
*** *** ***
It is quite impressive and charming that Sterling has dug into the history of his new home and produced a series of stories that are not only Italian, but Turinese. The Italian author Dario Tonani expresses his appreciation in an afterward. Now that I've read them, I am motivated to read the stand-alone novella "Pirate Utopia" (2016), which as it turns out is another of the Italian stories.
I was disappointed to find that three of these stories had previously been published in "Gothic High-Tech" -- Black Swan, The Parthenopean Scalpel, and Esoteric City. But of course if you have not already read that collection, this is not a problem. And these stories are all well worth re-reading -- Black Swan and Esoteric City are two of the best in the volume.
The two novellas, "Robots In Roses" and "Pilgrims of the Round World," are the two major new works. But while there is not as much new Sterling here as it first appears, this is a great collection in its own right.
Bruce Sterling has been one of my favorites since reading "Schismatrix" back in the cyberpunk heyday of the late Eighties, and it's great to have him back!