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Distraction (Anglais) Relié – 1 décembre 1998

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For the fifty-first time (according to his laptop), Oscar studied the riot  video from Worcester. This eight-minute chunk of jerky footage was Oscar's  current favorite object of professional meditation. It was a set of grainy  photos, taken by a security camera in Massachusetts.

The press called this event "the Worcester riot of May Day '42." This May Day event did not deserve the term "riot" in Oscar's professional opinion, because although it was extremely destructive, there was nothing riotous about it.

The first security shots showed a typical Massachusetts street crowd, people walking the street. Worcester was traditionally a rather tough and ugly town, but like many areas in the old industrial Northeast, Worcester had been rather picking up lately. Nobody in the crowd showed any signs of aggression or rage. Certainly nothing was going on that would provoke the attention of the authorities and their various forms of machine surveillance. Just normal people shopping, strolling. A line of bank customers doing business with a debit-card machine. A bus taking on and disgorging its passengers.

Then, bit by bit, the street crowd became denser. There were more people in motion. And, although it was by no means easy to notice, more and more of these people were carrying valises, or knapsacks, or big jumbo-sized purses.

Oscar knew very well that these very normal-looking people were linked in conspiracy. The thing that truly roused his admiration was the absolute brilliance of the way they were dressed, the utter dullness and nonchalance of their comportment. They were definitely not natives of Worcester, Massachusetts, but each and every one was a cunning distillation of the public image of Worcester. They were all deliberate plants and ringers, but they were uncannily brilliant forgeries, strangers bent on destruction who were almost impossible to notice.

They didn't fit any known demographic profile of a troublemaker, or a criminal, or a violent radical. Any security measure that would have excluded them would have excluded everyone in town.

Oscar assumed that they were all radical proles. Dissidents, autonomen, gypsies, leisure-union people. This was a reasonable assumption, since a quarter of the American population no longer had jobs. More than half of the people in modern America had given up on formal employment. The modern economy no longer generated many commercial roles that could occupy the time of people.

With millions of people structurally uprooted, there wasn't any lack of recruiting material for cults, prole gangs, and street mobs. Big mobs were common enough nowadays, but this May Day organization was not a mob. They weren't a standard street gang or militia either. Because they weren't saluting one another. There were no visible orders given or taken, no colors or hand signs, no visible hierarchy. They showed no signs of mutual recognition at all.

In fact--Oscar had concluded this only after repeated close study of the tape--they weren't even aware of one another's existence as members of the same group. He further suspected that many of them--maybe most of them--didn't know what they were about to do.

Then, they all exploded into action. It was startling, even at the fifty-first viewing.

Smoke bombs went off, veiling the street in mist. Purses and valises and backpacks yawned open, and their owners removed and deployed a previously invisible arsenal of drills, and bolt cutters, and pneumatic jacks. They marched through the puffing smoke and set to their work as if they demolished banks every day.

A brown van ambled by, a van that bore no license plates. As it drove down the street every other vehicle stopped dead. None of those vehicles would ever move again, because their circuits had just been stripped by a high-frequency magnetic pulse, which, not coincidentally, had ruined all the financial hardware within the bank.

The brown van departed, never to return. It was shortly replaced by a large, official-looking, hook-wielding tow truck. The tow truck bumped daintily over the pavement, hooked itself to the automatic teller machine, and yanked the entire armored machine from the wall in a cascade of broken bricks. Two random passersby deftly lashed the teller machine down with bungee cords. The tow truck then thoughtfully picked up a parked limousine belonging to a bank officer, and departed with that as well.

At this point, the arm of a young man appeared in close-up. A strong brown hand depressed a button, and a can sprayed the lens of the security camera with paint. That was the end of the recorded surveillance footage.

But it hadn't been the end of the attack. The attackers hadn't simply robbed the bank. They had carried off everything portable, including the security cameras, the carpets, the chairs, and the light and plumbing fixtures. The conspirators had deliberately punished the bank, for reasons best known to themselves, or to their unknown controllers. They had superglued doors and shattered windows, severed power and communications cables, poured stinking toxins into the wallspaces, concreted all the sinks and drains. In eight minutes, sixty people had ruined the building so thoroughly that it had to be condemned and later demolished.

The ensuing criminal investigation had not managed to apprehend, convict, or even identify a single one of the "rioters." Once fuller attention had been paid to the Worcester bank, a number of grave financial irregularities had surfaced. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of three Massachusetts state representatives and the jailing of four bank executives and the mayor of Worcester. The Worcester banking scandal had become a major issue in the ensuing U.S. Senate campaign.

This event was clearly significant. It had required organization, observation, decision, execution. It was a gesture of brutal authority from some very novel locus of power. Someone had done all this with meticulous purpose and intent, but how? How did they compel the loyalty of those agents? How did they recruit them, train them, dress them, pay them, transport them? And--most amazing of all--how did they compel their silence, afterward?

Oscar Valparaiso had once imagined politics as a chess game. His kind of chess game. Pawns, knights, and queens, powers and strategies, ranks and files, black squares and white squares. Studying this tape had cured him of that metaphor. Because this phenomenon on the tape was not a chess piece. It was there on the public chessboard all right, but it wasn't a rook or a bishop. It was a wet squid, a swarm of bees. It was a new entity that pursued its own orthogonal agenda, and vanished into the silent interstices of a deeply networked and increasingly nonlinear society.

Oscar sighed, shut his laptop, and looked down the length of the bus. His campaign staffers had been living inside a bus for thirteen weeks, in a slowly rising tide of road garbage. They were victorious now, decompressing from the heroic campaign struggle. Alcott Bambakias, their former patron, was the new U.S. Senator-elect from Massachusetts. Oscar had won his victory. The Bambakias campaign had been folded up, and sent away.

And yet, twelve staffers still dwelled inside the Senator's bus. They were snoring in their fold-down bunks, playing poker on the flip-out tables, trampling big promiscuous heaps of road laundry. On occasion, they numbly rifled the cabinets for snacks.

Oscar's sleeve rang. He reached inside it, retrieved a fabric telephone, and absently flopped his phone back into shape. He spoke into the mouthpiece. "Okay, Fontenot."

"You wanna make it to the science lab tonight?" said Fontenot.

"That would be good."

"How much is it worth to you? We've got a roadblock problem."

"They're shaking us down, is that it?" said Oscar, his brow creasing beneath his immaculate hair. "They want a bribe, straight across? Is it really that simple?"

"Nothing is ever simple anymore," said Fontenot. The campaign's security man wasn't attempting world-weary sarcasm. He was relating a modern fact of life. "This isn't like our other little roadblock hassles. This is the United States Air Force."

Oscar considered this novel piece of information. It didn't sound at all promising. "Why, exactly, is the Air Force blockading a federal highway?"

"Folks have always done things differently here in Louisiana," Fontenot offered. Through the phone's flimsy earpiece, a distant background of car honks rose to a crescendo. "Oscar, I think you need to come see this. I know Louisiana, I was born and raised here, but I just don't have the words to describe all this."

Revue de presse

Praise for the novels of Bruce Sterling:

Holy Fire:

"A haunting and lyrical triumph."

"Holy Fire is a book made entirely of big intellectual feat, it is also a treat for the spirit and the senses."

"A patented Sterling extra-special."

Heavy Weather:

"A remarkable and individual sharpness of vision...Sterling hacks the future, and an elegant hack it is."

"So believable are the speculations becomes convinced that the world must and will develop into what Sterling has predicted."
--Science Fiction Age

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Format: Poche Achat vérifié
This is a sparkling read, funny from the start, and in its near future dystopic world view, a brilliant satire on American politics. Contains the immortal line "[he] was never a Catholic, but he'd always admired the church's political track record."
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.4 étoiles sur 5 69 commentaires
3 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Not up to Sterling's best 25 juillet 2000
Par David M. Chess - Publié sur
Format: Poche Achat vérifié
Sterling is very good at coming up with plausible (but crazy) high-tech (but chaotic) and above all *interesting* future worlds. In some previous books, he's done a good job of showing us those worlds through the eyes of someone not directly in the center of the action, someone who is (like us) at least partly tangential. (Contrast this with Vernor Vinge, say, whose hero often *is* the center of the action [overgeneralization mode off].)
In "Distraction", Sterling carries this a step too far. While the future world is interesting and full of wild and fascinating characters and phenomena, virtually all the cool stuff happens far off-camera, and we're sentenced to following around a fast-talking but basically rather clueless and shallow political operative, Oscar Valparaiso, as he wanders in and out of various artificial situations for no particular reason.
The frustrations caused by this are numerous. One glaring example: Oscar's main love interest is Greta, a top cognition scientist working in (and sometimes running) a cool government research center inside a big glass dome. At one point in the book, we discover that a neat strange cool cognitive technology has been developed. Sounds like it should all fit together? No, as it turns out the technology was developed sometime before the book started, in some other state, by scientists who used to work at Greta's lab but quit.
The only thing the tech has to do with Oscar and Greta is that it's used on them, as passive victims, near the end of the book, when Sterling seems to be grasping for enough new plot to fill out the page count. Tsk! Greta's character, and the title of the book, suggest that Sterling may have started out with some tighter idea about the technology and function of human attention and distraction; but if so the idea got abandoned somewhere along the way.
I'd love to read a book set in this world, from the viewpoint of one of the proles who travel the country in gangs living off harvested roadside weeds, or one of the people trying to put out Wyoming (which is on fire), or someone in Holland (with which the US is conducting a Cold War). Stuck with Oscar Valparaiso, I could only writhe in frustration.
Sterling fans will want to read this; I don't particularly recommend it to anyone else. Read "Schismatrix", read "Crystal Express", read "Islands in the Net", read "The Artificial Kid". If you've read all those and are dying for more Sterling, read this, but don't set your expectations for it too high...
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Bruce Sterling Delivers! 14 mai 2017
Par John H. Weiss - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Not Sterling's best, but solid writing (as always) and a rather interesting plot. Like much of his writing, it feels prescient. I would (and have) recommend this to a friend.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great read and intriguing view into politics 13 août 2016
Par John M. Baker - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Reading this novel and you quickly see why Bruce Sterling has the reputation he has. Whether it is the turn of phrase in a single paragraph or the giant macro themes that take apart how society could degrade, the thinking is smart and the writing really funny.
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting Cyberpunk 12 janvier 2014
Par Nigel R. Guest - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I have to admit that I've read very little cyberpunk - Neuromancer comes to mind - but I generally enjoyed this book. I did find the pace a bit uneven, though. Slow going for the first 2-3 chapters, then hyperactive after that. Sterling's vision of a dystopic future is scary, because it seems all too possible. As another reviewer wrote, this book sets out to paint a picture of a near-future environment, rather than concentrating on a specific plot line.
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Marvelous one 30 avril 2002
Par Max Robitzsch - Publié sur
Format: Poche Achat vérifié
I found the future described in this book extremely fascinating, especially as it diverges from the usual run-of-the-mill SF(either you have an utopian Star-Trek future, or Cyperpunk/After-The-Bomb-kind of future).
Sterlings future is almost believable (even with some weird points, but those only make the book more fun). The book also voices thoughts on various questions of humanity today - such as what we will do if jobs for 'normal people' keep disappearing like they do, or on how Americans think vs. the way Europeans think.
It also, in an odd way, is pretty optimistic about humanity's future.
If Heinlein said 'Humanity will survive because its too tough to die', then Stirling says 'Humanity will muddle its way through, because it's too alive to die'.
PS: There's also a nice love story in it (yeah ;-) that is more believable than many I have read.
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