One from the archives! With Neptune’s Brood burning a hole through my To Be Read pile, I’ve been revisiting the books of Charles Stross.
With this book, Charles Stross has established himself as one of my favourite authors.
Previously, I have read quite a few of his novels, including several of the Merchant Princes series, one of the Bob Howard – Laundry books, Halting State and Saturn’s Children. With the exception of Saturn’s Children and perhaps the first of the Merchant Princes novels, I’ve had a hard time immersing myself in his stories and actually liking his characters. I keep picking up his books, however, as I like his concepts.
Then I read Saturn’s Children. What a fabulous book. The mixture of hard science and futuristic culture with a treatise on what it is to be human fascinated me. I loved the concept. And, the author’s sense of humour made the characters leap off the page. The main character, Freya, wasn’t entirely loveable, she had her faults. But that’s the point of a good book, isn’t it? To take a character and have them evolve.
Which is exactly what happens in The Glasshouse.
Robin has just emerged from radical memory surgery. It’s the far future and people live for a long time, a century or two (it’s hard to figure out exactly how long as time is measured in groups of seconds with names like teraquad and I’m just not good at math), and people with a lifetime’s worth of memories sometimes need a fresh start to go with their consistently youthful bodies. Unlike most people who emerge from such a procedure, however, Robin literally has no idea who he is. He hasn’t just had the memory of a love affair gone wrong excised, he’s lost entire lifetimes and people. Concepts, even.
While he’s in recovery, he meets Kay, a woman who has had a much less radical procedure to help her forget the impact of having lived among (and studied) a less advanced culture for several generations.
Together, they decide to check into an experimental polity (city-state in space) designed to emulate twentieth century Earth. The time period is considered a dark age of human history and most records of the how and why (we even survived such a travesty of existence) have long since disappeared. Robin and Kay, unencumbered by memory, are perfect candidates for the experiment.
Following Robin and Kay’s progress through the experiment would be an interesting enough story. There are complications, however. The experiment is not what it seems, Robin is not who he thought he was (I know, this is funny because no one knows who he is) and Kay has her own trials.
The novel is an adventure story, an exploration of a possible future with all sorts of scientific concepts that are nothing short of awesome, a comment on our own history and fallibility as a species and culture, a summation of the history of a universe created by Charles Stross and, finally, it’s a love story. I liked Robin at the beginning of the book, I loved him at the end. He discovered himself (his memories) and himself, who he was as a person. And then, he evolved. It was fascinating to see who he became.
As the mystery unfolded, it became harder and harder to put this book down. The plot kept thickening and I wanted to keep reading. The author’s humour, as always, continued to delight me, coming at unexpected turns and entirely welcome after tense moments. The writing is just superb. Charles Stross communicates his concepts, his ideas and his characters so well. A lot of science fiction (fiction) is social commentary. Stross manages to convey his point of view without arrogance. He has a quietly confident opinion and it makes sense. Well, to me it does. I like his point of view.
I’ve also decided I really like his books. I’ve just started reading Singularity Sky and I’m enjoying it and I’m optimistic enough to go back and try to read Halting State all over again, particularly as he’s just released a sequel.