on 19 March 2004
Pick up Singularity Sky; then empty your brain of every pre-conceived ideal you have about what SF should be. Then read it and be blown away.
If you like SF in any form; you'll find something here for you. Stross cleverly combines hard sf with grand space-opera story lines and some clever futurist thoughts, on how humanity might turn out (and what we'll do when faced with the truly unknown). His ability to combine cutting edge technology (both based on viable science and 'just to the right of reality') completely immerses you into the universe of the Eschaton.
Be prepared for a little thinking; we've got some of Stross' trademark post-humanist alien types (and who knows what THEY want), a world about to rebel from its repressive governement, secret agents and creatures that aren't alien - but definatly aren't human.
The Eschaton is an Artifical Intelligence - so powerful we don't know where it is or exactly what it wants. It rarely meddles in the affairs of humanity - Once when it first gained sentience and since then, only when some one attempt to break the laws of time travel (and when that happens, the Eschaton stops them with a bang!).
And someones about to try it again - and if the big E wants to pop this group of casuality breakers...Earth might very well go with them!
The story combines slick mental visuals with enough mystery and "whats happening?" to keep any reader with a post cambrian IQ intregued for hours.
Bring on Iron Sunrise Charlie.
on 28 September 2006
Rachel Mansour is a UN diplomat based incognito in an interplanetary Russian-ethnic society based on a historical model of class-structure and aristocratic inherited privilege. Martin Greenfield is also working undercover within the society for a mysterious paymaster called Herman.
At the outset of the novel a presence arrives in orbit around one of these Russian worlds and showers the planet with mobile phones. The bemused natives are told on the phones that The Festival has arrived and that they will grant requests for anything if they can only be entertained.
Soon, the Victorian-industrial world is thrown into chaos, revolution and worse by a plethora of advanced technological items given to the inhabitants.
On the homeworld, the Emperor decides to send his fleet to destroy the Festival and quell the insurrection. Martin, who has been waiting for his papers to be processed so that he can work in the flagship's engine room, is suddenly summoned aboard, as is Rachel, who has abandoned her disguise and announced herself as a UN observer to claim a place on the flagship, ostensibly to ensure that that the military of the New Republic do not contravene any of the Eschaton's laws.
It is only gradually that we realise that the Eschaton is not the ruling body of this interstellar multi-cultural society, but is something else entirely.
Stross succeeds admirably in blending satire, drama, political intrigue and outrageous science fiction concepts in a cleverly constructed novel.
One's understanding of the history of Humanity's interstellar cultures is revealed piece by piece and the jigsaw Stross puts together for us is weird, funny, fast paced and politically astute.
As a debut novel it's not the explosive start one might have expected from Stross who has made a reputation for himself through his short fiction. It is, however, an original and refreshing piece of work, which works well on every level.
Most importantly it's intelligently written, peppered with wit and the occasional post-modern reference.
on 29 August 2010
This was Stross's first novel, and I'm afraid that shows. I came to this after reading 'Halting State' by the same author, which I absolutely loved. But while Halting State is obviously a book by a confident author at the peak of his powers, Singularity Sky is rough around the edges.
The main problem is that Stross seems unclear what kind of book he's writing. Bits of this are really hard SF, the sort where the author spends ages explaining the relativistic implications of faster-than-light travel. There is some clever social and political comment - I particularly liked the early scene where the communist revolutionaries realise that possession of the Cornucopia machines they are being offered (which can make anything) mean that the workers can quite literally own the means of production. But then there are the interminable battle sequences where gunnery officers read off missile trajectory co-ordinates a bit like you'd get in Honor Harrington books. And then there's the comedy old admiral, who seems to have no influence on the plot. Oh, and the alien who rides around in a hut on chicken legs.
And that's the problem with Singularity Sky - it tries to be too many things, and it doesn't do any of them well. It's like a weird cross between Peter F Hamilton, David Weber and Terry Pratchett. And not in a good way.
on 2 May 2006
Some people lambast this book because of 'too much technobabble' or 'characters without depth'. I would have to disagree. I picked up this book whilst browsing through a bookstore and by the time I got to the end of the third page I was hooked!
A book which starts (yes, STARTS) with every person on a backward planet being given anything they want (food, universal assemblers, physical / neurological augmentations, eternal youth etc etc) lays the backdrop for a delicious peek into the human psyche.
The story itself would be mediocre if it were not for two things - (a) the backdrop of the universe, where a Vingian-style Singularity has occurred with the resulting transcendent (both physically as well as temporally) entity (the Eschaton) has relocated most of humanity on various worlds and (b) the depiction of the main characters, who have pasts, dreams, hopes, fears and to whom it is quite easy / comfortable to relate.
A slow start, but the plot ramps up until the end. Well worth reading!
Occasionally, and clearly not often enough, a new author arrives that makes us sit up and say 'wow, when does the next book come out?'
For me the last few were Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds and Neal Asher and if you know your British sci-fi, you know that I am placing Stross in august company.
Not that Singularity Sky is the perfect novel - its falls some way short - but it offers something else - potential. Stross will go on to write a scorcher, and the discovery of potential is a wonderful thing.
So what of the book itself?
The mainline: Weird alien culture arrives a human planet and wreaks havoc, but not intentionally.
The backdrop: Humanity has been dispersed across a few hundred light years in the singularity - a moment when a God-like entity, the Eschaton, intervened in Earth and moved 90% of the population off-planet.
The itch: time travel.
This is one of the few novels I have read involving time travel that does not have me despairing at all the paradoxes. Stross writes fluidly and confidently, and it is his confidence that makes him convincing.
The story cracks along after a slowish start, and is witty without being too clever. Not much is said about the backdrop, saving it for sequels to come, but what is said hangs together and leaves you with a hearty appetite for more of Stross' universe. The story loses its way several times, but never for long, and is all nicely wrapped-up at the end.
Singularity Sky is very similar to Iain Banks' novels, which is certainly a good thing, but Stross' displays a prodigious imagination and enough of his own style for it to be worth reading as a Charles Stross novel rather than worth reading for being like an Iain Banks novel.
I'm already looking forward to the release of Iron Sunrise in paperback.
on 2 May 2006
This book was a present, and I'm not sure I'd buy it myself. Other reviews, and indeed the cover, compare Stross to Iain M Banks, which I think is a vastly over-flattering comparison. While both authors have suitably large ideas for the genre, Banks's stuff has a grace, style and consistency that Stross lacks.
Having said all this, the book has some good ideas, and I have to agree with other reviewers that the Soviet-Russia-in-space bits are quite fun (if a bit implausible), reminscent of all those tension-laden submarine flicks.
But ultimately, I found this one of those books that you have to force yourself to finish. The obligatory love sub-plot is horrible (there's one line, featuring a particularly memorable use of a word that had me gazing at the page in disbelief), and the ass-kicking-female-heroine-with-a-heart is such a cutout adolescent cliche that I was left hoping it was all a big joke that I'd somehow missed. And I really hate it when authors slip in references to 20th-century stuff in the supposed far future. It just jars.
Maybe later books by the author are better, and maybe I'll read them one day. Singularity Sky certainly doesn't leave me inclined to rush out and check them out though. I read this book not long after one by Alastair Reynolds, who has been mentioned here by other reviewers, seems to occupy a similar sphere, but is much more enjoyable and I'd recommend his stuff over this any day.
on 18 September 2012
Charles Stross is probably one of the most exciting writers in sci-fi, and perhaps one of the most exciting writers in fiction. Singularity Sky represents a lot of what makes him a great writer, the universe he creates is clever and well thought through with an interesting take on the traditional human-centric view of most space opera; this is combined with an ironic appreciation of the genre and well developed characters.
It is perhaps the element of irony and irreverence to the genre that makes the work such a delight. The story line focuses on a particular human empire's response to an attack on one of their colonies, Stross uses this to satirise the genre on a range of topics including the need for spaceships to look good, through to the place of authoritarian regimes in space.
The work also handles the subject of time travel and causality in an intelligent way, certainly far better than most novels in the genre. Whilst Stross certainly gives space opera a humorous and at sometime cheeky send up, what does shine through is his awareness, in depth working knowledge and appreciation of the genre. In this respect humour is used perhaps to help create things that are truly alien and never at the expense of the integrity of the story. Purists I'm sure will be offended however I can't believe that Stross irreverent tone is not born out of a sincere appreciation of the genre.
I'll avoid an in depth discussion of the plot to avoid spoiling the story for potential readers, however it is enough to say that it is thoroughly engaging and intelligent and will reward both new readers and experienced sci-fi fans. The sequel Iron Sunrise is also an excellent read!
on 2 October 2010
Let's get straight to the point - this is one of the best SF books I've read for years. The concept is strange, the story is fast paced and, for the first time in a long time, the last sentance caught me by surprise. A conquest that begins with a rain of mobile telephones is more "hitchikers guide" than Asimov but the author manages to fit this within a frame that actually makes sense. A six foot rabbit with a machine gun and the scalps of farmers hanging from his belt - no problem! Essentially the author takes something bizzare and makes it sound almost normal. Look out for the "steals" from other books and films - in jokes that are delightful for their entertainment value.
This rather complex story about the almost inevitable destruction of a nasty and repressive society is cleverly set in an environment something like Pre Revolutionary Russia but far in the future.
These 'Russians' get involved in something that is just way beyond their experience and ability to deal with and their society more or less falls to pieces.
But our hero isn't from there. He's a 'sovereign citizen' from Earth. The book more or less destroys the idea of sovereign citizenship in a couple of pages, by letting this individual, who is Mr Stross's inevitable highly competent technician hero, fall into the clutches of the secret police who care not a fig for his 'sovereign citizenship'.
What then happens and what will happen is more or less inevitable. The military stuff is obvious for anyone who has any knowledge of the Russo/Japanese War of 1905 and the other technological ideas about the 'singularity' aren't that new if you've read anything about the idea.
Oh yes, the techie hero gets laid, he always does, and the female lead is a character who will seem familiar to anyone who has read anything from Iain M Banks.
But there are some excellent ideas here and a couple of entertaining set pieces that show what happens when people get EXACTLY what they ask for.
Read it, just don't expect something spectacular or particularly new
At last! A modern science fiction writer who can write a whole book without trying to baffle the reader with a superfluous treatise on quantum mechanics. The best bits of the story roll along with a real Harry Harrison vibe; witty, intelligent and creative, the only baffling bits being the totally alien Festival culture (which should, I suppose, be a bit baffling).
Unfortunately, I did find the quality of the writing unaccountably inconsistent; Stross is clearly a talented author but, on the strength of this book alone, an Iain M. Banks he is not. However, on the whole, I really enjoyed this book. I will definitely read more of Stross' work, but I'm not sure whether to go for the next in the series (`Iron Sunrise') or `Accelerado'.