Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Bruce Sterling taught me some history

 All throughout reading Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling, who found myself constantly thinking ‘What am I reading!!’ and feeling like I was missing something terribly vital to my understanding of this little book.

Which, to be fair, I was. I had never heard of either The Regency of Carnaro or the Free State of Fiume. My understanding of the events is still very, very sketchy by I _ think_ it boils down to a tug of war between Italy and Yugoslavia over the control of the port city that is now called Rijeka after WW I. From what I have read, for a short time, the area became an autonomous zone and can be viewed as a socia experiment.

Sterling’s book could be described as ‘what if it had worked?’

Beyond that, it is a very hard to summarize Pirate Utopia. The protagonist is Lorenzo Secondari, who I have not been able to figure if they were a real historical figure. He is a skilled enough engineer that he is able to get Fiume a functioning infrastructure and manufacturing base. And this ruthless bit of practicality enough for Sterling to exposit how the crazy political theories of the dreamers and poets in Fiume could actually get pulled off.

I realized after I finished the book that it isn’t a continuous series of events. Instead, Sterling picks out points in the timeline that he has created. Points that highlight changes in Fiume and in Secondari’s life. The book has an abrupt end but it ends at the point where the political movement and Secondari about ready to go beyond Fiume.

I am having a very difficult time figuring just what I think about Pirate Utopia. Is it a what if adventure? A warning of the different slippery slopes that fascism can take? A history lesson disguised as a science fiction yarn? A thank you note from Sterling for his years living in Italy?

Well, I know that I will be thinking about this short book longer than it took me to read it. And it did make me look at some history I never knew even existed.

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