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on 28 September 2014
This is a tale of robots, interstellar space travel, body modification, economics, child abuse, brain downloading, deep sea diving, and more. This is set in the same universe as Saturn’s Children, although several thousand years later, when the robots have established an interstellar civilisation. Krina Alizond is a clone-daughter of Sondra, trained as a historical economics librarian, now at loose on the universe, trying to track down her clone-sister. The reason gradually becomes clear: they have a great secret, and lots of other people are after it.

The robots are “humans”, but not the old-fashioned “fragile” variety: those keep going extinct. These new improved less-fragile people still have many of the same issues, though, only with longer lives and stronger more malleable bodies for those issues to play out in.

The main thrust of the book, leavened by many delicious little scenes of utter madness, is how to run a currency across interstellar space when there is only slower-than-light travel, and the scams that can be played as a result. That might sound potentially dull, but remember, this is Stross. The complex plot weaves several threads skilfully together, until the final denouement where all becomes clear (and Stross again subverts Weber).

Good fun, with some deep ideas, and I gave it my vote for the Hugo this year.
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on 6 September 2015
Charles Stross is a genius. In "Saturn's Children" and "Neptune's Brood" he has created a universe of everyday surreality populated by metahumans. Who else could possibly dream up a mindbendingly, superfast space opera centred round interstellar banking, bit coinage and accounting? Who else would dream of establishing such a glorious adventure on a Ponzi scheme? Indeed, who else would make a scholar of the historiography of accountancy the heroine of this universe peopled with "robotised" exoskeletons of the Fragile (that's us, ordinary humans, by the way), mermaids and piratical space-bat underwriters?
Stross writes so well, with humour mixed in with electrifying pace... Don't forget to breathe in at the end of each chapter! He sprinkles gems along the way: "... please take the glue-gun kit and proceed to Mausoleum Companionway Three...", "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every interstellar colony in search of good fortune must be in need of a banker.", "Death is really no more than the voluntary liquidation of an economy of microscopic free agents, the redemption of the debt of structured life." and my favourite, "The difference between merchant banking and barefaced piracy is slimmer than most people imagine."
And now I think about it I was foolish to scoff at that possible career in accountancy and banking....
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This book is a follow up (not a sequel) set in the same universe as Stross's earlier Saturn's Children (and for completeness, a short story, "Bit Rot" in the anthology Engineering Infinity fits in between and is mentioned in passing here).

It is several thousand years in the future. Humanity has become extinct - and been recreated - several times. Taking our place is a flourishing society of post-humans, originally robots created to do our bidding (as described in "Saturn's Children"). They are tougher than us, better able to survive the rigours of interplanetary travel and able to be transferred, as software, from one body to another. Yet their design was originally based on ours, and they share all our failings and feelings (subject, of course, to the effects of a tweak here or there to increase empathy or decrease libido - the better to focus on the task in hand).

Krina Alizond and her kind inhabit a society that is enthusiastically colonizing the galaxy, establishing toeholds in remote systems where "beacons" are constructed to which colonists can be "beamed" and downloaded into freshly grown bodies. it's a lucrative trade, financed by massive debt, and Stross goes to some lengths to explain the economic basis of the whole thing. The debt is key here, as the brave new post-human world is nakedly capitalist: freshly created "persons" are owned by their progenitors until they have paid off the costs of their instantiation; those distant colonies are also born deeply in debt, which they generally pay off, by founding daughter colonies which are in debt to them.

As I said, the post-humans of Krina's universe inherit our failings, and it's hardly surprising to find fraud, scams and unbridled greed flourishing as part of its financial system. Krina is a historian of such things, a "nun-accountant" on an academic pilgrimage who plunges into adventure by accident (well, sort-of). Why is somebody trying to kill her? What's happened to her sister? And what does all this have to do with the failed attempt to establish the "Atlantis" colony, two thousand years before?

This book is a rollicking good read, with a crisp plot and plenty of trademark weirdness - from pirate bats to communist squid via a spacefaring church. You'd think a SF story based on debt and set in a cosmos rigidly bound to slower-than-light travel could drag, but Stross turns both of these features to his advantage, creating something both outlandish and convincing. It's recognisably the same universe as "Saturn's Children" but (like Krina's people) it has evolved too. And the slightly nerdy heroine, who gets way too deep in something she didn't expect, is also easier to identify with than an all-guns-blazing SF protagonist.

All in all, a brilliant book.
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on 6 August 2013
Once again Stross creates an interesting premise, but is unable to satisfactorily conclude.

This is the case with iron sunrise, the whole laundry series. We get to about 95% of the way through and then it is finished in a 1, 2, 3, often a deus ex machina.

I like Stross' work, but like Iain Banks, I think his work rate is undermining the quality control. I'd like to see him get back to the heights of Glasshouse and Accelerando.

Adequate, but I should have waited until it came out in paper-back.
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on 12 August 2014
The core story of the book is wonderful, and there's a rich amount of world building that runs deep from accountancy, the interaction of finance and society to radiation and the physics of (non-FTL) space flight. However, it feels like there's far, far too much going on, the plot lines do all intersect and tie together but it as you read through it there's a slight lack of flow until it's all pieced together. Stross is accused (unfairly, in my opinion) of not being able to write an end to a book, but for this one it feels like he ran out of steam or had to drastically trim the word count in and the ending comes and goes in the blink of an eye without a lot of resolution.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book, I just wish the payoff was delivered slightly better.
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on 4 February 2014
Is the man capable of writing a bad book?

Not so far, and this is no exception.

Wonderfully topical - the plot centres around "slow money" (in essence, Bitcoin), in a galaxy being colonised at small fractions of light speed, using what amounts to a Ponzi scheme.

Metahumans, mad tech and even madder users, cloning, nano - it's all here. And some sly references for the meme-spotters among us.

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on 8 July 2013
I've definitely always been a big fan of Stross' work, but this has to be his best SF book to date. Solid world building, excellent use of current tech to extrapolate likely technological evolution, great characterisation, and best of all - it's not rabidly anthro-centric like the bulk of other SF. Sure, the subjects of his book are mostly humanoid, but that's where the resemblance ends.

His use of economics borders on the genius, and the people/objects which make up the universe he's built are surprisingly believable - even the ***SPOILERS*** communist squid robots. ***SPOILERS***

I expected a good book from Stross, but not a book this good. I can't find a flaw, which almost irks me.
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on 15 July 2014
I love Charles Stross when he is in big explain mode, clever story but clever creation of worlds too. This really delivers, the ideas have so much depth. If you liked Accelerando you will definitely like this.
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on 23 July 2013
OK, opera is rarely performed on the church organ. But this book is a fine mix of Stross's trademark Grand Guignol and his superbly enthusiastic world-building: from the space-faring insider traders they call pirates, to the Soviet squid-people of the ultimate deep. Basically independent of Saturn's Children - a lot changes in a thousand years.
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on 21 July 2014
A great story, as you'd expect from Stross.

This is a return to Far Future science fiction Stross rather than the equally good 'hidden history' current times Laundry books. In the grand tradition of Hard Science, there is no true FTL travel in this universe and a whole economic system has been designed to cope with the multi-century journey times required sub FTL travel times and if there is a... difficulty with the book it's the amount of explanation that Stross has his character make over the economy but it is fairly vital to the plot that you have a reasonable understanding of the economics.
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