Singularity Sky

September 20th, 2005
This entry is part [part not set] of 1 in the series Eschaton
  • Singularity Sky

Charlie Stross is one of those people who’ve been around, writing and participating in the community, for quite some time before they suddenly get noticed in a big way. The past couple of years have seen a slew of books from Charlie, and a nearly equivalent slew of awards, and reading Singularity Sky it’s easy to see why he’s met with such success. Like Cory Doctorow and a few others, Charlie is right there on the pop science, tech nerd sites along with so many of the rest of us who find the bleeding edge of technology compelling. He knows what’s realistically feasible, and he knows how to sum up the details of whatever he’s laying out in front of the reader using just the right blend of technospeak and plain English; but most importantly, he knows how to make it fun. As you might guess from the title, Singularity Sky deals at least in part with a technological singularity, but the one this book focused on happened some several hundred years before the events of the novel. When the singularity occurred, the being thus created (called “The Eschaton” by those left behind) decided for reasons it did not disclose to scatter humanity to new planets throughout the galaxy in populations that were usually large enough to sustain themselves in their sudden new homes. Since one of the things that led to the creation of the Eschaton was FTL information transmittal, and since FTL travel is equivalent to time travel if you cock your head the right way and really think about it, the Eschaton also took the liberty of transplanting their impromptu colonists back in time when they placed them…but only far enough back that the colonists new homes wouldn’t be able to send a subluminal message or vessel to Earth that could arrive prior to the Singularity event that led to its creation. So although only a few hundred years has passed on Earth at the time of the novel’s events, substantially more time than that has occurred for some of the colonists, who have advanced (or not) as fate befell them, but the Eschaton has decreed that time travel is not allowed. Simultaneous information transmittal and FTL travel that arrives at the destination at or after the moment of departure from the frame of reference of the departure point is allowed, giving rise to interstellar commerce and relations (although at great cost), but should anyone attempt to break this rule the Eschaton immediately (and usually violently) demonstrate that they will brook no exceptions to it. Yes, all that is background. The story itself is told from two vantage points, firstly from a backwards colony of a post-Soviet neo-Imperial society (billing itself as “The New Republic”) which is itself considered to be backwards by most of its neighbours. This backwater suddenly becomes the focus of interstellar events when it is visited by a traveling society of perpetually proto-Singularity beings called “The Festival” who will use their advanced materials and information technology to grant the wishes of everyone on the planet in exchange for whatever entertaining information the residents wish to give. Mind you…not everyone in turn. Everyone at once. Chaos, of course, ensues, and the government of the New Republic decides that it might use its brand new fleet of ships in slightly unorthodox ways, calling in an Earth engineer (one of our protagonists) who specializes in FTL drives to help rig their gear for a lengthy trip in an attempt to head off The Festival *before* their subversion of the colony’s culture is quite so advanced. This engineer, who has more than a few secrets to hide from the suspicious New Republic government, is joined (not entirely by his choice) by a beautiful and devastatingly skilled and well-equipped U.N. spy and diplomat who is trying to avoid an interstellar incident and prevent unpredictable Eschaton backlash. So, anyway…it’s complicated, but it’s also good geeky fun with some clever plot twists and a decent romance to boot. This is not starter Science Fiction, unless you’re in that vanishingly small subset of the population who’s fascinated by current tech and where it’s going but doesn’t read Science Fiction for some reason. What I’d have to say this book could do is introduce current concepts and ideas to readers who used to read a lot of space opera and/or hard science fiction but have been out of the scene for a while and aren’t sure what all the buzzwords and hoopla these days are about…’cause Charlie hits just about every one of them in these 337 (US pb) pages, and still manages to squeeze in an old-fashioned Cold-War-subs-in-space opera feel and gobs of adventure. If you’ve made it this far into the review, you should probably check it out.

2 Responses to “Singularity Sky”

  1. PegLegPete says:

    Hmmm… that looks interesting. If it hasn’t been spoken for already, could I please borrow this next?

  2. Skwid says:

    You betcha. I’ll bring it tomorrow.

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