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Singularity Sky
Charles Stross
Ace, 313 pages

Singularity Sky
Charles Stross
Charles Stross was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and he now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He sold his first short story in 1987 to Interzone. But it was his first sale to Asimov's SF in 2001 that provided his big break into the US market.

Charles Stross Website
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A review by Alma A. Hromic

There seems to be consensus across the board -- Charles Stross is the cutting edge of modern science fiction. He is one of those Overnight Successes, the kind that has been working quietly in the wings for years before suddenly some lucky star remembers that it's supposed to be shining on this writer and the floodgates break loose -- from a writer whose modest success stories included selling a few tales (the hard way) to magazines such as Asimov's, Stross has had a meteoric rise to power, with several novel contracts in his desk drawer and the beginnings of an instant name recognition in the genre readership. He is also building the sort of legacy that will one day have writers who follow in his footsteps being described as "the new Charles Stross". In a word, this is a writer whose time has come.

Singularity Sky is a smorgasbord of ideas and tropes, from the chrysalis of a decadent futuristic Russian empire on the verge of emerging into a Soviet butterfly to an utterly alien culture which does things for its own reasons unfathomable to men but which still retains enough "humanity" to occasionally turn sharply funny ("Nobody should have to understand a Critic. It's cruel and unusual punishment."). There's a nod to Terry Pratchett with Rachel Mansour's walkabout Luggage, and then there are purely Strossian flights of fun -- like the warship that looks like a "...cubist's version of a rabies virus crossed with a soft drink can..." (which is an image that will stay with me for an uncomfortably long time) or the brisk response from a rating instructed to turn on every sensor known to man ("Aye sir, full multi-spectral shriek in progress!"). Not to speak of the more sophisticated humour, like the faster-than-the speed-of-light assertion that "...There were at least six different known methods for moving mass or information from A to B without going through c."

This is at once a story that's deceptively simple (James Bond in space, in the context of a very twisted version of A Misguided Empire Strikes Back) and deeply complex in a sort of cerebrally witty way. One learns about humanity by striving to come to terms with comprehending the utterly alien Festival and their reason for existence. There is also the shadowy, mysterious entity called the Eschaton, an AI gone transcendent and pretty nearly godlike and which takes a keen interest in the affairs of its creators. I would have liked to have known more about what Stross refers to somewhat irreverently (under the circumstances) as The Big E -- but this book was taken up with a lot of other things. I am, however, informed there is a sequel -- and I hope The Big E makes another appearance, ready for its close-up.

I don't read very many books in what is considered "hard SF" and I'm not even sure, despite the highly competent use of technobabble, if I'd wholly agree to list this book under that heading -- there's the White Rabbit, for instance... but I'll leave other readers to discover that. But wherever Singularity Sky is eventually filed, one thing about it remains constant. Michael Swanwick, in his cover blurb, describes the book as "a joyous romp" -- and that, over and above any other classification, is precisely what this book is. It is watching a writer having fun.

I look forward to the sequel.

Copyright © 2003 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Following her successful two-volume fantasy series, Changer of Days, her latest novel, Jin-shei, is due out from Harper San Francisco in the spring of 2004.

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