by Bruce Sterling
Review by Harriet Klausner
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345460622
Date: 24 February 2009 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Review by Tom Easton / Show Official Info /
The evidence has become insurmountable that even a former American president at the beginning of the millennium could not deny; the planet is in the final stages of no longer being able to sustain life anywhere. Dispensation's John Montgomery Montalban comes up with a desperate bold plan to save the earth before everything goes extinct. He needs the three famous Caryatids, clones of their psychotic mother who as an escaped Balkan war criminal resides in orbit, to cooperate. Since he is married to Dispensation Radmila and has been a lover to her sisters, Vera of The Acquis and Sonja of China, he knows their rivalry goes beyond the usual sibling squabbling. The three loathe one another almost as much as they hate their scientist mom. How to get this threesome to cooperate, even to rescue the earth, may take a bigger miracle than the actual saving of the planet; his chances of persuading each to cooperate with the others is almost zero.
This superb cautionary science fiction tale reads somewhat like three interrelated novellas as each of the Caryatid females lead a section. The cast makes the tale. John's ego is off the charts as he believes he is the only person who might be able to bring the trio together; that is the only one besides their mom, who each would agree to work together to kill her. The three sisters are similar in many ways yet quite different as each has joined the entity they have because of an underlying need. For instance Vera struggles to clean up the pollution killing her birthplace, Mljet Island, so she joins the Acquis; Radmila wanted to become a star so she went to Hollywood where as Mila she joined the Dispensation. Finally Sonja became a doctor but chose to practice in China where she felt she could help the masses.
As each sibling relates their tale, readers obtain a deep look at their respective current home, but all three reflect a planet in its death throes. With the sun in trouble, volcanoes, earthquakes, out of control weather, and tsunamis attacking the earth. Even John wonders if his plan can work as he questions whether three superwomen, assuming they cooperate and form a triad, can halt, reverse, and eventually overcome the end. For it seems too late for the earth in the Sterling novel and as implied is an inconvenient truth: that it is too late for the earth we the audience have gored for decades as we sit comfortably in our armchairs reading the ending in The Caryatids.