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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!


So far I'm not really agreeing, which is a shame as I loved Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise. I'm finding too many little things that don't add up and concepts that just don't work for me... for a start, the whole "Glasshouse" thing would work better for me if it was being treated as the experiment for which it is rather than as a bolt-hole for the main character. For a start, that doesn't add up as it's his back-up from before he signed up for it, rather than himself. Which also doesn't add up, cos surely you'd sign up and then back-up? Plus I'm having no sympathy at all for the main character... and some of the ways that the Glasshouse environment is being described is sloppy... we're being led to believe that nothing of our society (and what has been human society for thousands of years) has changed to the point where none of it is recognisable. The bed being the first example I found.. and the house in general, with the "the building was seperated into partitions and all with different purposes... this one has a sleeping platform and some wooden/metal constructions" and later on he calls it a bed... why not just call it a bed? Beds still exist in the future society as they were used in an earlier chapter... Stross has used the environment as an excuse to make his subjects feel uncomfortable without making it a remotely believable environment in the first place. But, I've still got a long way to go!

I admit the, describing the present as if seen from the furture, did feel a little strained at times.

But...hang in there with it. Then we can discuss at the end!