A Song Called Youth (1985-1990)

In the near future (well, when it was written) the Soviet Union never broke apart, invaded Europe and were fought to a stalemate by NATO forces. Europe is mostly wrecked, and the NATO hires the Second Alliance Security Corporation to control the chaos behind the front lines. But the SA is just a front for an organization that wants to install a new breed of fascism worldwide, beginning with Europe.

This is probably the most serious thing Shirley has ever written, and from all the books that were declared to be cyberpunk, the most political. Shirley covers a lot of ground in his trilogy, he shows the SA from the inside, how seductive the philosophy and the organization of the SA can be, from the outside how the different powers react to the rise of the SA, who decides to fight back, to side with the SA or who remains indifferent. Meanwhile, since it’s SF (probably the most SFnal thing Shirley has written in his career), there is all the technology you can expect in cyberpunk, man-machine interfaces, computer networks and the likes.

From all of his books this trilogy is Shirley’s most impressive work, but it’s also the least accessible of his work. The writing and the plot does not automatically suck you into it and there are no characters the reader can automatically relate to. And the thing that impressed me the most, how real and believable Shirley’s future felt, made also for an uncomfortable reading experience. You really feel like everything goes from bad to worse and that there’s no hope.