Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Reviews: Charles Stross

Recently finished a bunch of books between illness and vacation.

Halting State was a tremendously fun book. The book is about a couple of geeks. One is a computer geek, one is an accounting geek, but both enjoy games and other forms of geeky entertainment. The story starts when an online bank in MMORPG bank is robbed. A jumpy marketing executive gets the police involved and suddenly you have the risk of currency collapse in this world. It only gets worse when at the root of the problem, this type of robbery should be impossible and that the fact it has occurred has very real implications to all things networked which in the near future work is everything.

I found the characters to be fun, interesting and engaging. The world itself is a delight with its blending on online and offline elements. It is not as ground breaking as Snow Crash or Neuromancer but takes those same rough concepts and updates them with the most recent state of the art and extrapolates it. The story has a few good twists in it and carries quickly through from scene to scene, rarely feeling like it is dragging. The story is told through a couple points of view which can be a bit disjointing but is fun. For me, I had to just get through the police officer scenes which were not as interesting to me, but they were not bad either.

In terms of Charles' other books, this has more the feel of the occult-geek books but with a science fiction settings. You have a spy versus spy story with plenty of action similar to Jennifer Morgue and Atrocity Archives, but without the Elder Gods.

Singularity Sky is set in the far future world where humanity has been spread through the universe but not as you would expect. The universe is policed by the Eschaton to keep causality events from occurring. And some of those far flung pockets of humanity are pretty dumb.

Enter into this an engineer for hire who specializes in singularity drives (mini black holes that are spun for energy and propulsion) and a special operative who specializes in diffusing situations where governments are tempted to use those banned causality violating events. A minor backwater world is "invaded" by The Festival, a group of AIs that rain down factories and gifts in exchange for information. This backwater world is controlled by a regional galaxy government that is focused on restricting information and controlling the population. The government decides to take their world back by sending a armada far into the future and then back again in an effort to sneak past the Eschaton's monitoring.

The books set in this universe are a bit harder to read. They are set in a far different world and a lot of time is spent describing it. The story feels choppy and will burst forward with lots of stuff happen and then halt to describe an aspect of the world. The story when it is moving is interesting but that when it stops it just is painful. The characters are fun and interesting as well as some of the science aspects.

Iron Sunrise is the sequel to Singularity Sky. You have our two intrepid policing agents again but are introduced in more detail to Herman (a non-present character in the first book) and Wednesday, a teenage girl who has lost her home planet and feels the outcast in her surroundings.

Another of the pockets of humanity is suddenly destroyed setting off a set of events involving 40 year bombs and terrorism of populations. Rachel, Martin, and Wednesday must stop the new Aryans (ReMastered Race) from destroying the many lives and worlds protected by the Eschaton.

Yup that is pretty much it. The story is as engaging as the previous book while going a little deeper. The major pain is the beginning of the book which is terribly disjointed but this soon fades away as the story picks up and we engage with the characters and find out more to the mystery of who the ReMastered are as well as more about Herman as well. If you could get through Singularity Sky, then you will probably enjoy this one more, just fight through the slow beginning.

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