Mia had lived through a long and difficult century. She had witnessed massive global plagues, and consequent convulsive advancements in medicine. She'd been a deeply interested witness as vast new crypts and buttresses and towers were added to the ancent House of Pain. She had professionally studied the demographics of the deaths of millions of lab animals and billions of human beings, and she had examined the variant outcomes of hundreds of life-extension techniques. She'd helped to rank their many hideous failures, and their few but very real successes. She had meticulously judged advances in medical sciece as a ratio of capital investment. She had made policy recommendations to various specific organs of the global medical-industrial complex. She had never gotten over her primal dread of pain and death, but she no longer allowed mere dread to affect her behavior much. [page 8]
There's something nasty happening when there's so much justice in the world...They won't outlaw alcohol, they won't even oulaw narcotics, but when you go in for a checkup they take your blood and hair and DNA, and they map every trace of every little thing you've done to yourself. It all goes right into your medical records and gets splashed all over the net. If you live like a little tin saint, then they'll bend heaven and earth for you. ...The global polity, it's like a government run by your grandmother. A wise and kindly little old lady with a plateful of cookies and a headsman's ax. [pages 13-14]
Holy Fire follows the life of Mia, a 94 year old woman in the age of posthumanism. This is a buzzword Sterling uses to describe the heavily augmented elder class, whose life expectancy has risen through a century of biological research. The resulting world community aims to keep this older class alive, and indeed it is this age group which possesses most of the world's wealth (just think: competant investing can do wonders over a 90 year period). The healthy are thus encouraged by improved health care and new medical upgrades. The downside is that this leads to a fairly stale existence. Life for the protagonist Mia is hardly exciting until she springs for a new and radical life enhancement procedure, which in effect alters her memory (new gray matter is introduced, causing somewhat of a split personality) and leaves her with the body of a twenty-year-old. And so she leaves San Francisco for some whacky adventures in Europe, with a new identity and a new mindset, a new take on life. This novel could perhaps be labeled as a satire. It has talking dogs.