June 23, 2007
Glasshouse - Charles Stross
Glasshouse is the third book by Charles Stross that I have read. The previous two, Singularity Sky and Accelerando left me feeling conflicted. Both had awesome SF ideas but I found their plots lacking, missing out on that extra something that elevates a book to "unputdownability". (Of course, in the case of Accelerando it was in fact 9 short stories, which should be taken into account.)
Glasshouse is definitely "unputdownable". It was one of those books that I carried everywhere with me, just in case I got two minutes to read another page. The secret sauce to its addictiveness is all the amazing state of the art SF ideas you'd expect from Stross, combined with a very clever thriller-action plot.
I wasn't convinced from the start however, in the first few chapters I loved the post-singularity civilisation which felt quite cyberpunk for the 21st century, but I wasn't convinced by the characters or their emotions. This is an eternally tricky conundrum for SF writers, how do you take a far future civilisation alien to us and talk about issues that we can relate to. Stross comes up with an excellent plot to explore this in full, just hang in for a few chapters until it all kicks off. From then it just gets better and better. At times it strays into satire, and makes quite valid points about our current society. It all seemed far too close to home.
I was also surprised by the first person point of view and that combined with the fact that the main character couldn't remember much of his past made the character initially feel a little empty. Neither are without reason, and both are used in excellent twists that could only be done with first person point of view. Made me think of Christopher Priest at times.
If I had to pick faults, which I'm loathe to because I enjoyed the book so much, it would be that the characters are at times emotionally unconvincing, and the language is a little functional (although I'd just read Nova Swing which left me in a beautiful language type of mindframe).
You've probably noticed that I've completely avoided even trying to summarise the plot, and that's because the plot great fun if you don't know where it's going. (I'm one of those people who hate even reading the blurb on the back of the book.) The Glasshouse plot kept me guessing right to the end with a brilliant array of twists.
In summary: a wonderful state of the art SF book, with amazing ideas and a plot that rocks!