When Robin wakes up in a clinic with most of his memories missing, it doesn ' t take him long to discover that someone ' s trying to kill him. It ' s the twenty ' seventh century, when interstellar travel is by teleport gate and conflicts are fought by network worms that censor refugees ' personalities ' including Robin ' s earlier self. On the run from unknown enemies, he volunteers to participate in a unique experimental polity, the Glasshouse, constructed to simulate a preaccelerated culture. Participants are assigned anonymized identities: it looks like the ideal hiding place for a posthuman on the run. But in this escape ' proof environment, Robin will undergo an even more radical change, placing him at the mercy of the experimenters ' and at the mercy of his own unbalanced psyche.
- Hugo Awards
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1 . A fun yarn, but don't expect too much
Posted September 09, 2009 by Bard , ChicagoI started this particular book because it was sold to me as "far future thriller wherein the protagonist enters a reenactment of 1900s Earth in order to elude his attackers, only to discover and more sinister plot within the reenactment." Taking 1900s to mean Victorian/Edwardian period, I thought this book might be right up my alley. I have a fondness for far future science fiction, and a fondness for Victoriana, and a fondness for thrillers in general. How could this book possibly go wrong?
It turns out that 1900s actually translates to a rough approximation of the 1950s, so that was a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Stross's take on the far future, a weird, wonderful place with loving nods to the master of far future science fiction, Cordwainer Smith.
The story is well-paced, and the premise is intriguing. Ultimately, however, the plot doesn't make a lot of sense. This can be a problem in far future fictional settings where the scope of the technology outpaces the scope of the author's 21st-century brain, and Stross blunders into this a number of times. The biggest problem with this book, as far as I'm concerned, is its treatment of gender identity. I felt it was badly handled all around, and that "women" (such as the term applies in this setting) in particular were often poorly characterized stereotypes.
Where does that leave Glasshouse? It's an enjoyable yarn if you don't think about it too hard. There are lots of cool ideas to be had. If you're easily turned off by poorly written female characters, however, you might find Glasshouse isn't your cup of tea.
June 26, 2006
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Excerpt from Glasshouse by Charles Stross
A dark-skinned human with four arms walks toward me across the floor of the club, clad only in a belt strung with human skulls. Her hair forms a smoky wreath around her open and curious face. She's interested in me.
"You're new around here, aren't you?" she asks, pausing in front of my table.
I stare at her. Apart from the neatly articulated extra shoulder joints, the body she's wearing is roughly ortho, following the traditional human body plan. The skulls are subsized, strung together on a necklace threaded with barbed wire and roses. "Yes, I'm a nube," I say. My parole ring makes my left index finger tingle, a little reminder. "I'm required to warn you that I'm undergoing identity reindexing and rehabilitation. I-people in my state-may be prone to violent outbursts. Don't worry, that's just a statutory warning: I won't hurt you. What makes you ask?"
She shrugs. It's an elaborate rippling gesture that ends with a wiggle of her hips. "Because I haven't seen you here before, and I've been coming here most nights for the past twenty or thirty diurns. You can earn extra rehab credit by helping out. Don't worry about the parole ring, most of us here have them. I had to warn people myself a while ago."
I manage to force a smile. A fellow inmate? Further along the program? "Would you like a drink?" I ask, gesturing at the chair next to me. "And what are you called, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I'm Kay." She pulls out the chair and sits, flipping her great mass of dark hair over her shoulder and tucking her skulls under the table with two hands as she glances at the menu. "Hmm, I think I will have an iced double mocha pickup, easy on the coca." She looks at me again, staring at my eyes. "The clinic arranges things so that there's always a volunteer around to greet nubes. It's my turn this swing shift. Do you want to tell me your name? Or where you're from?"
"If you like." My ring tingles, and I remember to smile. "My name's Robin, and you're right, I'm fresh out of the rehab tank. Only been out for a meg, to tell the truth." (A bit over ten planetary days, a million seconds.) "I'm from"-I go into quicktime for a few subseconds, trying to work out what story to give her, ending up with an approximation of the truth-"around these parts, actually. But just out of memory excision. I was getting stale and needed to do something about whatever it was I was getting stale over."
Kay smiles. She's got sharp cheekbones, bright teeth framed between perfect lips; she's got bilateral symmetry, three billion years of evolutionary heuristics and homeobox genes generating a face that's a mirror of itself-and where did that thought come from? I ask myself, annoyed. It's tough, not being able to tell the difference between your own thoughts and a postsurgical identity prosthesis.
"I haven't been human for long," she admits. "I just moved here from Zemlya." Pause. "For my surgery," she adds quietly.