Book Review-Glasshouse-by Charles Stross
Accelerando was the book that sold me on Stross. Probably the book responsible for more “wow” moments in scifi reading in the last decade. Technically, the series of short stories was published in 2005, so I suppose it is more than the last decade. Hair splitting aside, it meant that I would read other books by Stross. Glasshouse was written just after Accelerando, and while it is by no means a sequel, it does incorporate some similar elements.
Glasshouse wasn’t Accelerando. If I had to summarize my opinion of the book it would be to say that it is big on ideas but lacking in storytelling. Hopefully, I will be able to explain.
The story is set in far distant future on a habitat spacecraft. The main character, Robin (also later called “Reeve”) has had his memory partially removed. He joins a cultural experiment where he reenacts life in the “dark ages” of the twenty-first century. Only his body is female, and he is given the new name. There is a mystery to be solved, of course (heck, memory removal, right?), and lots of intrigue, some fighting, and plenty of bad guys.
The technology that makes all this possible was introduced in Accelerando, wormhole gates that connect like computer networks where you can travel across the galaxy instantly and reappear in a new body on the other side. You can have multiple copies of yourself running simultaneously, and you can back up yourself or reintegrate your multiple copies into a single being.
The character shift from male to female was well written. I imagine that in a world where you can wear whatever body you want (and you are essentially immortal), you really could spend whole lifetimes as the opposite gender, a division of tanks, or a blue hermaphrodite centaur without any pants. There is no preachy message about gender identity, but it is an interesting part of the story.
Another really fun theme was the concept of the CY virus (CY=Curious Yellow, dunno why). It is not a physical virus, but it infects the gates where you assemble or reassemble people, but it deletes swaths of memory or personality from the person/victim. It copies itself into the person, infects the gate, so all others going through or reassembling from it carry a copy. The people, of course, behave differently – the way the hackers want you to.
It was fun to see how a 27th century human might feel about life in the dark ages of – um – now. When a human was driving a taxi, Robin/Reeve was shocked and feared for her life because they were relying on a human for such a dangerous task. It did get a little tired, though. Maybe a little too much time was spent on that. Fun, but a little too long. Admittedly, this is personal preference.
What I think didn’t work for me was the reveal. There was so much set up, and the set up was so new and unique to this unknown future, that I didn’t feel like it was a reveal. It was still more history or set up. There was no “aha” moment that satisfies. Too much setting, not enough plot. Imagine a post WW II era murder mystery where you didn’t know there was a WW II until the last quarter of the book. And you had never heard of WW II. And the character in the book had amnesia, so even he didn’t remember there was a WW II. And the events of WW II were then slowly revealed till the last pages. And then they get the bad guys.
Great ideas, really interesting characters, fun elements, not the best mystery, not a great plot. Still, well worth reading for all the good parts.