Political spin is the central character of this novel, even though the ostensible main character is a political spin-meister named Oscar. Oscar seems just a little bit quicker and sharper than nearly everyone around him -- this may be the fault of his odd, even transhuman genetics. He constanly uses this to his advantage, and usually that of others, by manipulating situations, running candidates for office, choosing his mates based on their political relevance, and almost never sleeping. He seems like he would be tiring to be around and yet in Sterling’s capable hands he becomes the man to watch. The book gains depth because the reader is aware earlier than the other characters, just how much of Oscar’s character is made up of controlling his environment and manipulating to advantage.
The book is set in the not-too-distant future where the US has become a much less imposing player in the world arena and seems to spend a lot of its time trying to assuage emergency after emergency situation as the 12 major political parties vie for strength and position. With food nearly free thanks to industry and no one minding the store due to rampant chaos, a culture of nomads has arisen who eat pre-fab food and manufacture laptops and cell phones from the detritus of industrialized society and the junk culture of technology. They’re fun to watch but ultimately as crazy as everyone else within the bounds of the continental US. This book is no more deep than any of Sterling’s others, and fans of his more cyber books may regret not seeing more nomads and less political wonks, but the book does deliver and keep you moving through it wondering who is going to outsmart who next.