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Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross
Top-notch sequel to Singularity Sky
Pages: 433 (Paperback)
For a long time, I was very cynical about sci-fi (and fantasy). I went back to buying and (re)reading some of the Great Old Masters because I was so disaffected by the offerings I was finding at the bookstores. Authors like Charles Stross have brought a fresh new life to my bookshelf.
Iron Sunrise is the sequel to Stross' 2003 Hugo-nominated Singularity Sky, which masterfully introduced his universe of The Eschaton. The Eschaton is an accidental AI super-intelligence that spontaneously arose (from the Internet basically, gotta have some personality quirks there!) on Earth and quickly elected itself responsible for the integrity of the human race and space-time. The Eschaton is Stross' answer to The Singularity and it's brilliant.
Minor plot spoilers follow.
The Eschaton is a great plot handwave for introducing a diverse realm of multiple terrafformed planets -- each with its own nationality, faster-then-light travel, wormholes, nano-fabricators (called cornucopiae) and all sorts of sophisticated tech window-dressing. How did the human race accomplish all of this without first destroying itself and Earth? They didn't, The Eschaton did it for them to save them from themselves. Like all deities, it is capricious and sulking. It insists that it is not a God, but that it intends to save humanity from itself by putting the smackdown on anyone following dangerous pursuits like time travel, evil nano-machines, interstellar weapons and the like. And it reminds everyone of its presence by leaving its Three Commandments carved in massive blocks of solid diamond left on each colonized planet.
Iron Sunrise begins with a violation of the rules -- the Sun of a habitated system explodes, and not by accident. This sets into motion a great number of events as different factions try to figure out who is responsible (of course it's not who everyone thinks), how it happened and what to do about it. Nearby in-system settlements and other star systems are evacuated, displacing vast numbers of colonists, creating nationalistic strife and chaos. The home planet is destroyed catastrophically before it even knows what happened.
Like a mote in the storm, one of the main characters -- Victoria Strowger, aka Wednesday -- is swept up in the maelstrom and carried to a new colony, but not before carrying out an obscure mission given to her by the voice in her head that she's had since childhood. Wednesday is an amazing personality -- take today's cynical ADHD high school girl, extrude her a hundred years into the future -- and she's handy with more tech than just SMS messaging.
Closed time-like paths, light-cones, quantum entanglement communications, singularity kernels (that must be spun up!), interstellar ramscoop ballistic missiles, the ReMastered race, "Herman", itinerant rent-a-clowns, WarBloggers -- if Stross doesn't have a low-numbered Slashdot ID, I'll eat my hat.
Stross has been around the block and has his cred. He has a degree in Computer Science and knows his science non-fiction very well. There are tips of the hat to the grand history of sci-fi all over the place, but you only subliminally tune them in. This is the book William Gibson lies awake at night wishing he wrote. Cyberpunk grew up, bought a spaceship and moved out of its parents' basement, and this is it.
And it's damn good.
Trivia: It may be that Wednesday's surname, Strowger, is a tip of the hat to a very steampunk name, the Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange Company and Almon Brown Strowger, creators of the very same Automatic Electric Company Model 40 Telephone I own!