Singularity Sky by Charles Stross

Vertigo

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Set in a post singularity world where a machine intelligence had rapidly evolved to a godlike level and had, for reasons of its own, dispersed most of the human race around a huge area of space. Now several centuries later these scattered colonies having created their own planetary kingdoms and empires are coming back into communications with each other. The post singularity intelligence – the Eschaton – mostly leaves the humans to get on with things on their own with one exception, it will not tolerate any deliberate causal violations using the faster than light travel. Any attempt to do so is met with ruthless force. But now a strange itinerant alien culture has arrived at one of these young civilisations and, although not malicious, is causing major disruption. Now the human response may bring them into conflict with the Eschaton’s one strict rule.

The hard science involved in this book does not make for the easiest of reads. It is worth reading up on relativistic light cones before embarking on Singularity Sky, something that I did not find particularly easy to wrap my head around and I have a bit of a physics background. However a rough understanding of the basic principles is probably sufficient to understand the major plot points.

On this fascinating backdrop Stross has built a good story with an interesting plot but unfortunately, for me at least, he has not done a good job of telling that story. At the centre of it is a romance between two of the main characters. I wouldn’t have a problem with that of itself as the romance does not dominate the plot – this is science fiction with a bit of romance, not romance with a bit of science fiction – but Stross just doesn’t seem to be good at writing romance. I had exactly the same problems with the romance in his Merchant Princes science fantasy series; the besotted individuals, who are in all other ways mature, strong, responsible characters, behave like a pair of teenagers endangering both of their missions which they have been entrusted with largely because of their professionalism. It just wasn’t credible and made me cringe every time it was addressed. This wasn’t the only problem I had with Stross’ storytelling in this book but it was by far the worst. There were numerous other cases of unreasonable motivations and decisions that were necessary for the plot but severely lacking credibility.

A great premise, great world building and great science but sadly let down by the story telling. The two books in this duology were, I think, amongst Stross’ earliest books so maybe his romantic clumsiness can be forgiven. I will probably go on to read the second book in the hope that he is done with the romance now.

3/5 stars
 

Ursa major

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I wrote my thoughts on this novel here (all the way back in 2007). One weakness I found that hasn't been mentioned above was:
It just seems to add up to less than a sum of its parts. Basically, there are too many ideas for the plot to carry. Stross has invented an interesting set of futures for the human race and then crashes them all together, almost as if to see what might happen; the result trades narrative drive for gee-wiz imagination.
I think this may have led to the "unreasonable motivations", as they were one of the means to animate the journey through the ideas.

At the time, I thought the weakness could have been the author wanting wanted to pack Singularity Sky full of things to grab the reader's attention as it was his first published novel and SF is obviously meant to be about ideas. I have, since then, seen him at a couple of Eastercons (at more than one event at each), and it's clear that he's always bubbling with ideas**. He has, though, become more adept at spreading his inventiveness across his works, so that there's room for proper stories to develop amongst the ideas.


** - For example, he was on a panel at Eastercon 2015 where issues about how the authorities (certainly, the police) would deal with various incursions and other alien/fantasy happenings. One of the other panellists mentioned something. Stross immediately started imagining out loud a relatively fleshed out scenario where that something was bound up with various other things to create what could well have become the basis of a reasonably long story all on its own. And while he was doing this, he had a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, giving the strong impression that this was what he liked most about what he now does for a living.

At Eastercon 2012, he wore this T-shirt, rather appropriate for someone who displays an almost puppy-like need to entertain (which he certainly did, IMHO):

 
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Vertigo

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Interesting @Ursa major I think I'd agree with what you say; there was a distinct tendency for the story to get lost in the ideas which is also probably a pretty fair criticism of Accelerando, another early book of his.
 

tinkerdan

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I read Accelerando and was almost put off toward not reading any more of his.

However I finally read Halting States and Rule 34 and found the characters to be a bit more fleshed out and interesting.

In Accelerando I didn't particularly see his science as being hard as much as full of techno-babel (sort of hand-wavium magically disguised by technical jargon that often wasn't really all that valuable to the story)to a point that it shutdown my reader brain while reading .

There seemed to be a story in there somewhere which I finally decided was centered around the cat rather than the other two main characters.

I've thought about reading Singularity Sky, however I'd have to do his in small chunks far apart if it is at all like Accelerando.
 

Bugg

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FWIW, I've not read the books mentioned in this thread, but I'm reading the first book in his Laundry Files series, The Atrocity Archives, and I think it's bloody brilliant. SF meets Lovecraft via the Nazis. Very funny in places, too :)
 

Vertigo

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I've read the Atrocity Archives; my opening comment was "Think Lovecraft meets Len Deighton meets geeks anonymous." Have to say I loved it. I've read a number of his Laundry Files shorts and have the second full book - The Jennifer Morgue - on my short list! :D Great fun!
 

Bugg

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I love the fact that the Laundry's procedures are ISO 9000-compliant :D
 

Vertigo

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That's why I opted for comparison with Len Deighton rather than Ian Fleming; much more Harry Palmer than James Bond! It's so much more realistic (and funny) having them bogged down in bureaucracy whilst dealing with eldritch horrors from the other side.

By the way there are some Stross freebies on his blog here: Online Fiction by Charles Stross - Charlie's Diary

This includes some Laundry File shorts but the links to Tor to download them seem to be broken they are still on Tor:

Overtime - Christmas special - Santa Claus is really really not a nice guy: Overtime
Down on the Farm - Care home for Laundry agents that have lost their minds: Down on the Farm
The Concrete Jungle - Sequel to The Atrocity Archive - there are too many concrete cows in Milton Keynes (do you know about the Milton Keynes concrete cows? If not Google is your friend): Link for this one is okay on his blog page. You may have read it already as it was included in my edition of the Atrocity Archives.
Equoid - novella between Jennifer Morgue and Fuller Memorandum - not mentioned on his blog but Tor have it as a freebie here: Equoid

He also has a timeline for reading the whole lot on that blog: some novels, some novellas, some shorts.
 
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dannymcg

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I love the Laundry Files series.
Got them all, inc novellas, as far as Nightmare Stacks.
In the later books the pov moves to other characters instead main protagonist :)
 

Vertigo

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I love the Laundry Files series.
Got them all, inc novellas, as far as Nightmare Stacks.
In the later books the pov moves to other characters instead main protagonist :)
I've got to move Jennifer Morgue up in my to buy list. It's been languishing there far too long. Too little time and too much to read...
 

Ursa major

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I love the Laundry Files series.
Me too.
Got them all, inc novellas, as far as Nightmare Stacks.
The latest -- The Delirium Brief, which could be seen almost as a part two (where the Nightmare Stacks would be part one) -- came out last month... and was consumed by me in double quick time.

It should be noted that the later stories begin to follow an underlying arc that the first few didn't (and couldn't, because these books weren't thought to be part of a long series, let alone an overarching story, when they were written). So as well as being good reads, with lots of wit and inventiveness, the tension is definitely building up.
 
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Ursa major

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I've edited my previous post as, thinking about it, there was something spoilery in what I'd written outside the "official" spoiler. I've removed it.
 

Bugg

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The Concrete Jungle - Sequel to The Atrocity Archive - there are too many concrete cows in Milton Keynes (do you know about the Milton Keynes concrete cows? If not Google is your friend): Link for this one is okay on his blog page. You may have read it already as it was included in my edition of the Atrocity Archives.
Yeah, it's included in the Kindle edition, too - reading it at the moment :)
 
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