More Stross

Charles Stross’ latest book Glasshouse is probably his best work yet. I highly recommend it (though it does have a few minor irritations). I’ll be surprised if it’s not up for a bunch of awards.

Glasshouse is set after the events in Accelerando (I’m not sure how long, hundreds or maybe tens of thousands of years). Humanity has gone through a number of “forgetting” crises (the first dark age being our present time, primarily because of the fragility of digital media). The second, well, let’s just say that a bunch of bad stuff happened, and nobody really remembers the details.

The hero of the story wakes up with his memory gone, with only a short note from himself prior to a voluntary memory wipe. With a bit of stumbling, he finds himself signing up for a research program into how Dark Ages society operated. Bits of his past keep coming back, though; he was a tank in a recent war, for instance. The research program turns out not to be all it seemed at the start. And, of course, the fate of humanity lies in his success or failure.

Glasshouse is inventive, thoughtful, funny, horrifying and very entertaining. It reads a lot like Varley’s The Ophiuci Hotline, with characters changing bodies, sexes and even memories with wild abandon. The first chapter of the hero’s encounter with Dark Ages technology is hilarious.

The end is somewhat predictable, and it happens fast (you can practically feel the deadline pressure). Stross over-uses some references to some events of 9/11, and things are just a little too perfectly sewn up; there are no real surprises once everything is on the table.

On the whole, this is one of the better SF books to arrive this year.

The theme of “waking up with no memory in a high tech society” has been mined over and over again, with varying degrees of success.

If you like some of the premises in Glasshouse, you also might like Michael Swanick’s Vacuum Flowers (technology-driven modifications to society-as-a-whole); it’s not terribly carefully plotted, and feels pretty random at times, but it does have some very interesting ideas.

Walter Jon Williams’ Voice of the Whirlwind is also well done, and has a gritty style and setting similar to Glasshouse.

Roger Zelazny mined this for nearly the entire Amber series (starting off with a character with total amnesia, which gradually faded away into a lot of “Oh, and I forgot to tell you…”). The first couple of books were okay, the remaining ones were obvious filler, but still entertaining.

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