Monday, May 20, 2013

Review of "Singularity Sky" by Charles Stross

Having recently finished and enjoyed my first Iain Banks novel ("Consider Phlebas") , I felt further entitled to read a slipstream space opera by one of my favorite authors, Charles Stross. I note on Stross's blog that he has produced a "crib sheet" about "Singularity Sky." He says he had to kill off this series after only two novels. I wanted to find out why, but not before I finished reading the book.

"Singularity Sky" is one of Stross's earlier works, set in the post-Singularity universe 400 years in the future. (So, in a way it is a Culture prequel.) The prolog begins with the arrival of "The Festival," superior visitors from afar promising the backward human inhabitants on Rochard's World anything they desire in return for some entertaining stories. The ensuing economic bedlam of course leads to war.

Humanity has grown accustomed to oversight by a shadowy AI called the Eschaton, but even this superior entity doesn't quite know what to do about the Festival. It does dispatch an agent when it suspects that the totalitarian New Republican government wants to illegally send a fleet of warships jumping back in time to ambush the Festival. Stross is a master at explaining current understandings of space and time travel, so we happily go along for the ride.

I was quite fond of the character Burya Rubenstein, a Soviet-style revolutionary who hopes to lead his world to throw off the shackles of the Republic. Unfortunately, the Festival's arrival renders him instantly obsolete. And the Festival easily sees the naive naval war fleet's ruse and dispatches some "Bouncers" to send them home tae think again.

A blurb on the book's dust jacket says, "Information demands to be free." I think it's more that the Festival demands it. And it's all just a little too much for a stable, backward planet to swallow all at once. All hell literally breaks loose. The chapter, "Diplomatic Behavior" caused my eyes to pop out of my head in horror, sort of like the first time I read "Jeffty Is Five" by Harlan Ellison. Mimes--robopookas--shudder.

Soon the Festival moves on, leaving Rochard's World to pick up the pieces, some of which are not what they used to be. I'd particularly miss the trees.

Now, off to the crib sheet.

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