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Volume 22, Number 2 (Spring-Summer 2004)

Singularity Sky

by Charles Stross

(Ace Hardcover, 2003)
Reviewed by Fred Moulton

Martin Springfield, a contractor from Earth, is hired to provide advanced technical work for the New Republic space fleet. Martin is, to say the least, out of place on New Republic since he has a much different take on government than the New Republic model. As he says during his questioning at the Curator's Office:

"Government?" Martin rolled his eyes. "I come from Earth. For legislation and insurance, I use Pinkertons, with a backup strategic infringement policy from the New Model Air Force. As far as employment goes, I am incorporated under charter as a personal corporation with bilateral contractual obligations to various organizations, including your own Admiralty. For reasons of nostalgia; I am a registered citizen of the People's Republic of West Yorkshire, although I haven't been back there for twenty years. But I wouldn't say I was answerable to any of those, except my contractual partners - and they're equally answerable to me."

Rachel Mansour is a UN envoy. She is part of the CMID, the Committee on Multilateral Interstellar Disarmament. Mansour has been dispatched to New Republic. Springfield and Mansour are trying to do the right thing (saving the lives of millions, themselves included) while caught up in the tangle of a corrupt and maddening regime.

Burya Rubenstein resides on Rochard's World. Rubenstein is a political dissident, organizer and radical journalist. Rubenstein is also serving internal exile on Rochard's World.

What is bringing Springfield, Mansour, Rubenstein together on Rochard's World? Not to mention trainee procurator Vassily Muller of the Curator's Office. To answer that takes a little imagination.

Imagine a totalitarian system encompassing many planets called New Republic. Imagine it imposing technology limits; no modern communictions, no Internet. Imagine the bureaucracy and the secret police.

Consider the New Republic's youngest colony world, Rochard's World, a convenient place for those who ran afoul of the bureaucracy and the secret police to be sent into internal exile.

Now imagine what happens when the Festival comes to Rochard's World and telephones rain from the sky. Telephones which say "Hello? Will you entertain us?" when you pick them up and provide your wishes when you tell them a good story. For a population under technological limitation this new phenomena was the catalyst for social upheaval and social upheaval is something dispised by the New Republic rulers. Is a cornucopia always a good thing?

As is the frequent behaviour of those in power, the rulers of New Republic take drastic measures to retain their hold on power and preserve the social order. The tactic they choose involves performing the single thing which the Eschaton has explicitly and firmly prohibited. A couple of things are known about the Eschaton; one is that they are powerful enough to destroy solar systems and the second is that they have placed a ban on time travel. If the ban is broken the Eschaton will deliver serious repercussions.

Will the rulers succeed in restoring the old regime? How will the populace respond? How will the space battle develop? What impact will the device installed for the New Republic space fleet have on the battle in space?

Charles Stross has written a fascinating tale drawing on a range of ideas; the Singularity as popularized by Vernor Vinge; the ideas flowering on the Extropian mailing lists of the 1990s; political theory (often esoteric). He adds his interest in politics and his ample imagination and skills as a story teller. Reading "Singularity Sky" is a joy; for those familiar with the ideas it is fun to see how Stross interweavers them; for others a great adventure awaits.

"Singularity Sky" is an adventure full of humor and wit. The story moves along at a good rate and Stross is able to interweave the many strands of the story. It is an adventure well worth jumping into.

You may have heard of Singularity Sky since it is one of five novels in the running for the Hugo Award and Stross is one of the major new figures in the SF arena.

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