BooksOfTheMoon

The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files, #3)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

Bob Howard’s not having a good time of it. A routine exorcism goes wrong; cultists are running around London, attacking him and his wife; his boss has disappeared; and he’s been seconded on to yet another committee. But at least he’s got a decent manager at the moment (following the demise of his last one).

The third Laundry novel is much darker than its predecessors, with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN starting to come to the fore, and much nastier scenes, including cannibalism and child sacrifice. It’s all relevant and you never get the impression that Stross is throwing stuff in purely to shock, but still, it does come as a bit of a shock to the system after the somewhat lighter hijinx of the previous novels.

The plot seemed a bit looser as well; I was able to guess the two big plot twists before they happened (which is unusual for me, I never see them coming), but this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book. Bob is still a great wise-cracking, Emacs-loving geek protagonist, and the supporting cast are all present and correct. Mo gets slightly scarier in each book, we get revelations about Angleton and a cameo from Pinky and Brains.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and sit in a corner and try not thinking too hard to do my bit to help prevent CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841497709
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Accelerando

By Charles Stross

Rating: 5 stars

It’s taken me a while to finish this book because I’ve been reading it in short snippets. I took the opportunity of being on holiday to finish it off in a burst. I really enjoyed this book, especially the first half, as we are introduced to Manfred Macx, a very early 21st century entrepreneur, who lives off his social capital while giving away his ideas and making other people very rich. He’s got a pet robot cat at his side, an angry dominatrix after him and life is good. This book follows Manfred and his descendants into the 21st century, through the Singularity and out the other side.

I’m not sure why, but Macx very much reminded me of Stross’s fellow SF author Cory Doctorow (although, without, I assume, the dominatrix).

The build-up of the book is great, so that before you know it, we’ve moved from smartphones and AR to uploading minds into starwisps to investigate alien routers and it seems like a perfectly natural technological development.

Stross’s imagining of the future and the Singularity is immense. He goes from the usual sort of “rapture of the nerds” gushing, to imagining what the consequences of that would be like, and suddenly I’m not so keen on the whole idea. If I want to stay remotely human, that is. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841493893
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2005

Wireless: The Essential Collection

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

This is a very enjoyable collection of shorts from Stross, a writer I usually enjoy anyway. Of the two longer pieces in the book, Missile Gap and Palimpsest, I probably enjoyed the latter more than the former, with its rather interesting ideas of time travel which seemed to resonate at times with Asimov’s ‘Eternity’ (as in The End of Eternity). Mind you, the Big Dumb Object of the former (a vast disc in space upon which the Earth was ‘peeled’ and deposited by unknown aliens) was pretty mind-blowing. My favourite story in the collection is probably the Wodehouse pastiche Trunk and Disorderly which Stross later mined for ideas that fed into his novel Saturn’s Children. As he says in his afterword to the story, doing humour, especially humour in SF, can be tricky, but he nails his Jeeves and Wooster story almost perfectly here. I also liked the ultra-short MAXOS, about which it’s difficult to say much without spoilers, but suffice to say that it’s a terrifying spin on first contact by radio.

Rogue Farm is a story I originally encountered in audio form on the SF podcast Escape Pod and I still enjoyed it here. The Laundry-universe set Down on the Farm is another story I’ve read before, but can’t remember where and is fun, as is Snowball’s Chance, which I first read in the anthology Nova Scotia (an SF collection themed around Scotland).

The story that I enjoyed least was probably the Lovecraft-themed A Colder War, due to its unrelenting bleakness. But then, I’m not a huge Lovecraft fan anyway.

Stross is a great ideas man and he’s great at forming stories around those ideas as well. This is both a great introduction to his work and great stuff for established fans as well.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841497723
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2009

Saturn’s Children

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

This is a post-human novel. Not a novel set in a world where Humanity has evolved into something more than human, but a world where Humanity has become extinct. Not a very interesting place, you might think, but we have left a legacy in this world: AI robots. These self-aware descendants have colonised the solar system and even begun looking to the stars. Our heroine is Freya, a robot who was obsolete before she was even ‘born’: a sex robot activated just after Humanity became extinct. However, when she has a nasty run-in with an aristocrat and has to leave Venus in a hurry and receives a ‘soul chip’ with the memories of one of her sisters things suddenly start getting interesting for Freya.

Yes, I did use the word ‘aristocrat’ in that summary. In this world, humans never figured out how to create AI from scratch, so they used their own neural patterns as templates, which comes with certain… baggage, including the desire to be free. In the fear that that their servants would revolt, the humans ensured that each robot would have an override slot, and once a chip was inserted, their free will would be entirely disabled. Once the first robots started gaining legal freedom, they followed the patterns of their creators and started buying their own slaves, ensuring they were chipped and thus a new aristocracy was born.

I love the idea of a post-human solar system and the things that flow from that, but Stross doesn’t just spend all his time on that (although the world is very well fleshed out), but there’s a cracking story in there too, hinging on the ‘soul chips’ that allow siblings of the same ‘lineage’ (ie created from the same neural template) to record and share their personality and memories, usually when one of the siblings dies. There’s a lot of twists and turns here and it’s sometimes hard to keep up with, but there’s a lot to it and I certainly enjoyed reading it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841495682
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2008

Toast

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

This is a collection of fairly early short stories by Stross mostly united by the theme of the future passing them by. The vision that they were describing has already been overtaken, such as in Ship of Fools, which is about the Y2K bug.

Other stories stand up better, such as the one set in the Eschaton universe and his Lovecraft-inspired stories, particularly the whimsical A Boy and his God. Overall, this is a thought-provoking and enjoyable collection of stories, full of Big SF ideas and a good introduction to Stross’ work.

Book details

ISBN: 9781587154133
Publisher: Cosmos Books (PA)
Year of publication: 2002

Halting State (Halting State, #1)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

It’s the very near future and Sergeant Sue Smith has been called in to deal with a bank robbery. Except there’s a problem: neither the bank nor the items stolen from it actually exist, but are constructs in a multiplayer online roleplaying game. Soon, though, real dead bodies start popping up and it appears that nothing is as it seems.

I really enjoyed most of this book, although it does have some oddities, primarily to do with its structure. The book is told entirely in the second person (so it’s always you who are doing the action) with three protagonists, taking it chapter about. It takes a while to figure it out, but it works oddly well. It probably helps that there’s a bit of a roleplaying tone to the book which is appropriate to a book about roleplaying…

I loved the near-future Scottish (mostly Edinburgh with a trip to Glasgow) post-independence setting with some really funky technology. Apart from the quantum processor and the augmented-reality glasses, there’s nothing here that isn’t a direct line from where we are at the moment, from the police life-recorders that record everything they see to location-based services on your phone to help you find the closest wine-bar!

The only real problem I had with the book was the slightly rushed and clunky feel to the ending. I had enjoyed the build-up, with a high-level uber-geek being brought in by the auditors to help figure out how the cryptographic hashes that represented the items in the game had been stolen but it ended up in a very different, much wider-scale, place and although I think it worked, there was a little too much infodumping towards the end, to help the reader keep up with what was going on.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841496658
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2007

Iron Sunrise (Eschaton, #2)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 3 stars

The follow-up to Singularity Sky, this has some of the same characters and is set in the same universe, although reading the first one isn’t necessary to enjoy this one. And it is an enjoyable book, a good space opera with some nice ideas and an ending that tied up the plot in this book but set up new threads for future books in the same universe. Well worth reading.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841493367
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2004

« Newer Posts

Powered by WordPress