Singularity Sky

By Charles Stross

Having hung out on rec.arts.sf.composition for quite some time, Charlie Stross is not an unknown to me; besides, his blog is in my blogroll. So when Singularity Sky turned up in the local bookshop in Deventer, I didn’t hesitate to buy my copy. It is, by the way, quite a measure of success to get your books into the four metres of English language science fiction and fantasy Praamstra stocks.

Knowing Charlie Stross for a write-a-holic who writes like the Krakatoa erupts, only moreĀ  frequently, it is a bit hard to take his books seriously: after all, they are slapped together, so must be slap-dash, mustn’t they? Disregarding the editing and polishing, that is. Even so, I don’t think I’m propagating an untruth if I say in public that I feel that Singularity Sky isn’t the most constructed of books. Particularly the ending, where a certain batman by the name of Robart turns out to be a Highly Ranked Person, or where Rachel turns out to have been ordered by a certain department of the UN it’s best not to know too much about to do something, that reeks of finishing up out of a tight spot.

The book itself is, perhaps, slightly uneven. The beginning is chaotic, with no main character to bond with; the middle feels like an extended allegory (with two layers: the Festival is both the Internet and the Edinburgh Festival, and the Festival Fringe is, of course, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the ultra-weird fringes of the Internet (which I’m not going to link to because they don’t deserve the pagerank), and the New Republic is the RIAA, going with conventional weapons against something c.w.’s are utterly irrelevant to. And then the third part gets a strong, and utterly believable (even though I felt the emphasis on Rachel’s martial prowess a bit of a forced inversion from common tropes, if tropes is the word I want), love interest. Nice couple.

Of course, at the end, there’s the final disconnect. The life Rachel and Martin live in Plotsk (weird to read this book in Steinbach-Hallenberg, near to Schmalkalden, the original Fachwerkhaus town) seems pretty ideal to me, myself: living together, keeping house together, with a nice technical challenge and a good, going business. The only thing lacking is a gaggle of daughters.

Oh, and I think a case — not that I do so, mind! — can be made for considering censorship as a way of routing around damage in its own right. Vide my not linking to the weirder fringes of the Internet, something Charlie Stross has done himself on occasion. Alas, Charlie Stross lets his personal opinion seep through just as much as Terry Pratchett does. He thinks a person is only adult when he is completely self-reliant and independent; I rather think someone only reaches adulthood on becoming a parent. And others again (and me too, sometimes) equate that moment of matriculation into adulthood with the moment one realizes ones duty to society and community and puts hand to spade. But these are random thoughts engendered by a perfectly fine book; a book that’s better for making me think. I will buy more Stross if I come across it.

(An interesting assumption in Singularity Sky is that a secret service man would want to keep his observation hidden from the observed. As Claudia Rusch shows in Meine freie deutsche Jugend, the Stasi observed so observable that even a seven-year old could not help noticing the agents. In a totalitarian state, Heisenberg doesn’t hold. It doesn’t matter whether the observed changes his behaviour because of the observation: if he changes his behaviour from Staatsfeindlichkeit to conformism because of the observation, fine, the state has been saved. If he is provoked into actions constituting a danger to the state, fine, then he can be apprehended and made away with. It’s a win-win situation for the state to have ubiquitous and visible surveillance of all its citizens.

Which is why the EU really wants to monitor all our internet traffic. Europe is rapidly moving into a surveillance state, led on by the Netherlands, and most people around here think it’s a good idea.)