Friday, 16 June 2017

Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross

The first Charles Stross book I ever read was Singularity Sky, the first book in this series. I was in a different city, and I'm not quite sure what made it jump off the shelf of the used bookstore as something to read while I went to one of my first academic conferences. I was, however, baffled by the book itself. I thought I liked it, but I wasn't positive, because I finished the book and still didn't understand the underlying principles underneath that particular science fiction universe.

I proceeded to struggle with his books, through Accelerando, which I found similarly opaque, and The Hidden Family, which was a little weak. Finally, though, I came to some books of his that I really liked a whole hell of a lot - Glasshouse and Neptune's Brood spring to mind, among others. But I was a little hesitant to come back to Iron Sunrise. In general, I've found Stross' later books far more accessible than his early ones, as he gained more control of his craft.

So when I picked this one up, I wasn't sure which Stross I was going to get. Both have great ideas, one tends to be not as great at allowing readers into the inner sanctum. I get letting readers figure out some things for themselves - but if I end the book just as baffled as I was picking it up, then there might be a problem.

This is all to say, I expected this to be a bit of a slog. I was up to try it, don't get me wrong, and even when I'm baffled, I can tell there are ideas that make Stross' books worth reading. I just didn't know how at sea I would be.  Strangely enough, for all that trepidation, I was very surprised to make my way through and feel like I understood everything that had happened! Either the leap of Stross as a writer happened earlier, or I've read enough of his books to make sliding into the older ones easier.

Like, I get a lot better who Rachel is and why she does what she does, and Stross sets that up with an early set piece of her going in to defuse a terrorist with a dirty bomb who is also a performance artist with syphilis and a hate-on for the world. With that made clear, the rest didn't take that long to fall into place, and while there were some aspects that took a while to click, thankfully they all eventually did. Although I do sort of feel that there are strong hints (and at least one point where it was said straight out) that the bad guys were the pawns of a larger power pulling their strings, possibly something to rival the Eschaton, that didn't entirely play out before the end of the book.

But hey, I finally understand what the Eschaton is, which I was never quite sure I entirely grasped more than the basics of in Singularity Sky. This is what the emergent AIs called themselves when they achieved the Singularity, and as a result, decided to scatter humans across the galaxy (beyond the galaxy?) on different planets, with extreme warnings not to monkey with time travel or time travel-related technology, on pain of planets blowing up.

Of course, Iron Sunrise starts with a planet blowing up, taking with it millions of people, and dooming the homes of many others who happen to live in the radius of the shockwave while it's still concentrated enough to be very deadly. One of these space stations is home to a bunch of now abandoned denizens of New Moscow, the planet that blew up, being evacuated from the second home they've lost. Among them is a rebellious young woman named Wednesday who stays behind at near the last minute of the evacuation because she's been nudged to find a body and some diplomatic papers that will turn out to be very important indeed.

And from there, were on a chase, as people are trying to track down Wednesday, even while others (including Rachel) are trying to protect the remaining New Moscow diplomats from death, so that they can send a recall code on their dead-man's switch weapons, even now bearing down on the planet presumed to be the aggressor in the war of planets blowing up.

Also, there are Space Nazis. (AKA the Remastered.)

I'm not going to go more into detail from there, but suffice it to say that I did not find this as perplexing as I did Singularity Sky, and while I wouldn't say this was my favourite Stross book, or even in the top five, it was quite a lot of fun. And fun is what I need right now.

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