By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

Robin comes out of memory surgery, not really knowing who he is any more. But something he quickly discovers is that someone or something is after him, wanting him dead, permanently. So he jumps at the opportunity to take refuge in a long-term experiment, where he would be isolated from the outside world. But the experiment isn’t what it seems, and soon Robin is fighting not only for his life, but for his very essence.

I enjoyed this far-future story, where Humanity, or post-Humanity, rather, has the ubiquitous ability to edit their physical forms and their memories at will. There are a lot of ideas here, starting with the idea of a censorship virus that affects the teleportation gates that bind human civilisation together: this virus edits the memory of whoever passes through it, so thoroughly that nobody now remembers what it was trying to suppress. This led to the Censorship Wars, which were won, but at the cost of fracturing the civilisation into isolated ‘polities’ and removing the authorisation and authentication protocols that form the basis of identity in post-Human space.

Within the glasshouse itself, we are shown the terror of really not being in control. The glasshouse is a panopticon, where the experiementers have total control over your body; but the story is tinged with the dark humour of the inmates trying to understand what it’s like to live in what the experimenters think may be something like the mid to late twentieth century. Also here is the attempts to hide things in the panopticon and even to ferment revolution.

Stross is good at thinking through the implications of a technology and following that through to conclusions that are unexpected and, at times, terrifying. Not always the easiest read, but definitely worthwhile.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841493930
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2006

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