Robot Artists and Black Swans • 2021 • SF collection by Bruce Sterling

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Introduction by Neal Stephenson: BRUCE STERLING can do something I cannot, which is write short fiction. Just now it is an enviable superpower for a writer to possess. The last few years have been infamously challenging for anyone trying to write a long document with any pretensions of carrying a futuristic payload. We long- form authors, our noses pressed up against the glass of the short-fiction writing world, can only hunker down on the throne and endlessly doom scroll, flinching every few minutes as the real world kicks the props out from under our architectonic lucubrations.

Summary: Bruce Sterling is one of my favorite authors, he never let me down since the heights of cyberpunk in the 1980s. He simply delivered time after time, reliably hitting my taste. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I found that this collection is average at best.

The author lived for several years in Turin and published a couple of short stories in Italian language under the name Bruno Argento. Those stories are collected here, some of them for the first time available for non Italian speaking fans.

They all have one element in common: situated in Northern Italy, mostly in Turin, glorifying the Italian way of living, Italian style and grandessa. Most of the stories are SF, but there is also the odd Historical fiction or weird story in it.

Some of the stories were bummers, getting generous two or three stars. The quality went down continuously reaching a low just before the last two stories. Those are the ones I’d like to recommend: Esoteric City, a satirical tale about everything esoteric in Turin (the Gates of Hell, white and black triangles, the Shroud), and Robot in Roses about a artistic robot wandering the Alps to Italy.

Most of the stories are comical, exposing preconceptions of Italians in a friendly way. This is interesting to read, but does one really need those stories? I’d argue that the collection is mostly targeted to the author’s fans. Other fans of SF might want to read novels or different collections by Sterling first – e.g. “Gothic High-Tech” also contains the best story Esoteric City, or the Best Of collection “Ascendancies” from 2007 which has more of his cyberpunk days.


  • Introduction by Neal Stephenson
  • “Storia, Futurità, Fantasia, Scienza, Torino” by Bruno Argento
  • ★★★☆☆ • Kill the Moon • 2009 • “Yes, the Gabrielle D’Annunzio is a very beautiful rocket ship. With such superb Italian industrial design, obviously it is the prettiest manned lunar rocket ever built.”
  • ★★★☆☆ • Black Swan • 2009 • Alternate Universe SF novelette by Bruce Sterling • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Elephant on Table • 2017 • Comical Near Future SF short story by Bruce Sterling • review
  • ★★☆☆☆ • Pilgrims of the Round World • 2014 • Historical fiction novella by Bruce Sterling • review
  • ★+☆☆☆☆ • The Parthenopean Scalpel • 2010 • no review
  • ★★★★★ • Esoteric City • 2009 • Weird novelette by Bruce Sterling • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Robot in Roses • 2017 • SF novelette by Bruce Sterling • review
  • Afterword: “Bruce Sterling, Erudite Dreamer and Pirate” by Dario Tonani

Meta: isbn 9781616963293. Published at 30.3.2021 by Tachyon.

This entry was posted in Anthology, Science Fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Robot Artists and Black Swans • 2021 • SF collection by Bruce Sterling

  1. Ola G says:

    Yup, we have a similar opinion on this one. Pity, really, but it makes me hesitant to pick up anything else by Sterling 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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