Iron Sunrise (2004) by Charles Stross

IronSunriseIn 2003’s Singularity Sky, Charles Stross introduces us to a post-singularity universe, where a hivemind spaceship drops mobile phones to the citizens of a technologically-repressed planet. He jabs, he winks, he plays with tropes, and spouts his wisdom through the forms of Rachel and Martin, two undercover spies who get involved in related hijinks.

In Iron Sunrise, Stross returns us to the same universe, but this time he is darker, less jokey, and plays it slightly more subtle, although he still delivers a humdrum science fiction spy story supported by the two-dimensional Rachel and Martin, but this time starring a snarky teen techno-goth girl and rough-around-edges warblogger.

In four strands that eventually intertwine, our characters investigate the mysterious obliteration of New Moscow, the planetary home of 16-year-old Victoria “Wednesday” Strowger. Wednesday’s family escapes the blast, only to be murdered later while she’s at a party. Wednesday’s reliable, but invisible friend, Herman, helps her escape the planet by starship, where her path eventually collides with warblogger Frank, and special agent Rachel Mansour, recently assigned to investigate the bombing of New Moscow. The team must put this puzzle together amid bombs, brawls, and backlash from what is basically the Aryan Borg.

Characterization might be the only thing that stands out in this blasé plot, and even that has problems. Tough and sexy Rachel Mansour is now married to ship tech/Singularity errand boy Martin, and thereby loses some of her edge, because “the only thing she was really afraid of was losing him again” (loc. 976). But she still relies on her classic clever-by-way-of-using-her-sexuality-to-confuse-the-bad-guys moves, this time by getting naked and stroking off a syphilitic Idi Amin wannabe. She saves the day, so thank goodness she knows how to make her nipples harden at will. With female opponents, her tactics are different, as she prefers verbal sparring and the occasional down-and-dirty catfight. “Rachel reached out, picked Madam Chairman up by her elbows, and deposited her on the conference table in a howl of outrage and a flurry of silk skirts. ‘Stick to minding your desk,’” she says (loc. 622).

Wednesday is a bit more interesting and developed, naturally closed off after the catastrophe that destroyed her home planet, although the sudden murders of her family—likely due to something she did—fail to emit much emotion beyond the occasional narrative reminder and a cry or two. Fortunately, warblogger Frank is around to take her into his big, burly arms and romance her away from such distractions.

Herman, the AI executive of the (probably) Singularity, is the most intriguing of all of the characters, but just like last time, he gets little page time and remains the greatest mystery of the story, even after he finally tells all.

And then there’s Martin. The everyman who belongs anywhere but here. I’m sure that’s the point of him, but he is water in an already thin broth.

IronSunrise2It is standard sci-fi fare, a spy vs. Singularity of sorts that might interest readers who are new to these tropes. Fun concepts like uplifted Robocop dogs, the cornucopia machine, and Herman as a secret fairy podfather* add energy to this tale, but they’re not enough to explain the popularity of this series in 2003 and 2004, when these were far from new ideas. Emotional depth is clearly not the goal of this story, but the power of catastrophic loss in a post-singularity universe is deflated when combined with a stale spy story laden with unimaginative terrorist stereotypes and the occasional jokey STEM reference.

*Word play inspired by Nikki, thank you very much.

7 thoughts on “Iron Sunrise (2004) by Charles Stross

  1. Steph says:

    “Good thing she can harden her nipples at will.” You make me laugh!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      You laugh, but the author thought that this was an important detail to include. How dare you laugh at such very important character development. ;-P


  2. Favorite line: “he is water in an already thin broth.” I have never been drawn to any of Stross’ books. I think this review pretty much explains why.

    Also: every time I write pod damn it or whatever, I think, oh shit, everybody probably thinks this sounds so fucking stupid, but I guess I’ll just have to keep not caring because I hate repeating the word god over and over agian as if it means something. And now to see someone else take it up and think, hey, maybe it doesn’t sound stupid to other ears! That was a nice thing this morning.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Stross has two things going against him from me: one, he is British, but I read somewhere that he specifically writes for the American market, and he’s successful at it, which means his books aren’t very special and aren’t supposed to be. Two, he’s British and a STEM guy, so I doubt he has the chops to compete in the small British market against so much talent.

      But Accelerando will be my next Stross and that’s the one that gets so much praise, so, while I still expect that humdrum style, maybe the story will be interesting this time.

      I love your “pod” profanity. It always makes me giggle. I don’t think I could ever use it in real life because it would just confuse the people around here and I must be gentle with my subversions, but I really, really love it.

      And that “oh shit, everybody probably thinks this sounds so fucking stupid, but I guess I’ll just have to keep not caring…” That’s me, every day of my llife.


      • *high fives of solidarity* (re: that last paragraph)
        Sometimes, at work, I think maybe I should just never speak aloud again because the things that come out of my mouth are so polarly opposed to the things that come out of everybody else’s. Ah well.

        I have never said “pod damn it” out loud. I too, fear confusion. I already confuse people when I speak enough as it is. Heh. I am a big fan of all the SFF made up curse words.


        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          “Sometimes, at work, I think maybe I should just never speak aloud again.”

          I begin each day repeating to myself “Today, I’m just not going to say anything. I’m not going to say anything.” And that lasts maybe 5 minutes.

          “I am a big fan of all the SFF made up curse words.”

          I have been collecting SF profanity for a related post later this year 🙂


  3. […] had an odd, parallel experience with Iron Sunrise, which accompanied me on a long bus ride during which I was assaulted by Hollywood blockbusters […]


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