Charles Stross is an anomaly, of sorts. His genre style borrows more from American formula than British intuition, yet his stories contain just enough “pints” and jokey references to English socio-geographies to be unmistakably British. Yet his popularity among US sci-fi readers is undeniable, and I’ve gotten the impression, from interviews and his blog, that he purposely designs his books for the American genre market, because that’s where the money is.
So it’s no wonder that Stross is not one of my favorite writers, but it’s also no wonder why he is one of the most popular working SF authors today, and why he remains on solid footing in the American market. He contrives far-future universes populated with super-intelligent aliens, exciting tech advances, and charismatic characters based on familiar molds. Readers who whine about the death of the SF genre at the hands of a literary invasion should be perfectly pleased with Stross’ success. (And if they’re not, then those complaints must derive from other agendas.) Continue reading →
In 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. Continue reading →
Two of the stories in this category were so good they put a goofy grin on my face like a fiction-based narcotic. If you want to be pinned to the couch for most of an entire day, read Six-Gun Snow White (I’m starting to think that Valente can write anything),and “Wakulla Springs” (gorgeous and brilliant, and kind of not really SF, which is the best kind of SF). If you can ignore the terrible art and RPG background that supports The Butcher of Khardov, it’s a basic premise, but well-written, and I enjoyed the characterization.As much as I appreciate Stross’ jabbing at Lovecraft’s limp attempts at horror, “Equoid” is too colloquial and superficial (like a bare-bones, British version of The Dresden Files), and “The Chaplain’s Legacy” was so terrible, shoddy, and formulaic, it made me angry. Had I not been on vacation, my Twitter feed would have been filled with venomous expletives about this story.
It was tough choosing between “Wakulla Springs” and Six Gun Snow White. Ultimately, my top choice is “Wakulla Springs,” which dances at the fringes of imagination like a horror movie that won’t reveal the monster. Both are excellent reads, though.
This 2003 nuclear-steampunk space opera is crammed full of SF tropes and wink-and-nudge political satire. And in case you aren’t intelligent enough to sniff out the satire, Stross will bruise your ribs from his incessant elbowing of belabored musings and contrived character debates.
In the future, a mysterious force called the Eschaton has punished Earth for violating time-travel causality laws and relocates most of humanity to colonies throughout the galaxy. By the 23rd century, most of humanity has been rediscovered and efforts are made to reestablish relations. On neo-Victorian Rochard’s World, ruled by a technophobic regime, another mysterious presence called the Festival rains cell phones down from space, promising anything in exchange for entertainment. The reactionary government of Rochard’s World pursues war with the Festival, while the disenfranchised citizens demand revolution. At the same time, the mysterious employer of Martin Springfield, an engineer from Old Earth, plants him as a mole within the New Republic navy, and UN diplomat Rachel Mansour is sent to spy on the New Republic war tactics in order to prevent causality violations that might further upset the Eschaton. Martin and Rachel spend their time on the ship playing double-agent on board, playing doctor with each other, and then agonizing about getting caught. Continue reading →