Heavy Weather

Bruce Sterling

2031: the environment is in chaos, the world's economies are shattered; storms and droughts - 'Heavy Weather' - have devastated the USA as well as the rest of the world. Juanita (Janey) Unger is a storm trouper, chasing tornadoes in the barren land on the Texas-Oklahoma border. Alex Unger is her brother and he is dying so Janey abducts him from the clinica which is killing him and takes him to join the Troupe - led by her lover, the charismatic, obsessive genius, Jerry Mulcahey - as the troupe builds up to chase an F6. The F6 is a tornado of a magnitude greater than any spike before: a tornado that Jerry believes could become stable and wreak a trail of havoc, a final disaster to break the back of the Southern States of the USA.

coverBruce Sterling was one of the original cyberpunks but like his closest collaborator, William Gibson, he has now gone beyond cyberpunk, writing speculative fiction for the 1990s. But where Gibson remained in the cities in Virtual Light, Sterling has taken us out to the wilderness that our madness has created. He has an important point to make - that it is fast becoming (maybe has already become?) too late to save the environment - but manages to put it without becoming preachy or heavy handed. It is obvious that Sterling is also aware of other possibilities: the mutation of common bugs into drug resistant killers; private currencies; 'structure hitters', 21st century Luddites: all mesh together to make a terribly believable vision of the Hell that could be the future.

All these factors provide an ideal background to a fast moving story with good interplay between the characters, especially Alex Unger (who reminds me most of a typical Gibson male character: clever but flawed, physically weak, but grimly funny). Alex, Janey, Jerry and his shady, spook brother Leo are well drawn and Sterling manages to flesh out many of the other Troupe members to give us an insight into their motivation and provide a little colour.

Much of Heavy Weather is taken up with the interplay and conflicts within the troupe and their hunt for the F6 ­ the ultimate thrill ­ but there are some slight side plots, including an especially a chilling aside with Leo.

Of the cyberpunks, Sterling was always one of the most technically adept and again with Heavy Weather, he canšt really be faulted: he maintains a suitable pace throughout and structures the novel to great effect. The plotting is clear and interesting and the characterisation without faults. Heavy Weather is a powerful, dark novel, giving us a important message, a terrible vision of the future, with touches of black humour: undoubtedly one of the finest novels of 1994.

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