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5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating space opera
During the mid-twenty first century, a superhuman intelligence that calls itself the Echelon makes it's presence known to the inhabitants of Earth in a big way. Nine of the ten billion people on Earth disappear and it is discovered that they are involuntary colonists on thousands of worlds. The Eschaton warns the humans that if they try and figure out causality (time...
Published on Aug. 5 2003 by Harriet Klausner

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stop worrying and love the Singularity
Stross' book has a great opening: cellphones rain from the sky as an advanced post-human civilization called the Festival comes to a backwards, Luddite planet. A poor boy picks up a cellphone and entertains it in exchange for feeding his familly.
The problem is, we never see the boy again. Instead, we're dragged off to a very long plot arc that describes the Luddite...
Published on March 15 2005 by Peter Tupper


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stop worrying and love the Singularity, March 15 2005
By 
Peter Tupper (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Stross' book has a great opening: cellphones rain from the sky as an advanced post-human civilization called the Festival comes to a backwards, Luddite planet. A poor boy picks up a cellphone and entertains it in exchange for feeding his familly.
The problem is, we never see the boy again. Instead, we're dragged off to a very long plot arc that describes the Luddite society despatching a space opera fleet that we are told will be wiped out as soon as it meets the Festival. Two humans from a more advanced society are along for the ride, trying to manipulate the situation to their own agendas.
Stross spends a lot of time beating the drum on the stupidity and venality of the technologically and socially backwards New Republic, and how they should just stop worrying and love the Singularity. The two nominal heroes, Martin and Rachel, have one-sided arguments with a dim-witted secret police agent that belong in an old Heinlein novel. If the Singularity means seeing your family get turned into killer zombie mimes, can you blame some people for suppressing it?
At the end, everything seems to have come to naught. The revolution is stillborn, the New Republic fleet is wiped out as expected, the Singularity tech seems to have vanished as suddenly as it arrived, the Festival packs up and moves on and various plot threads just fizzle out. Neither of the nominal heroes have signicantly influenced the course of events.
Stross has great ideas, and how the Festival and its various sub-types and camp-followers function is well drawn. His storytelling and characterization are what's lacking.
According to one interview, the North American version was a different length from the UK. I hope that the original UK version was better than this, with more on the impact of the Festival instead of pages after page of military detail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but might have been better as a short story., July 10 2004
By 
"davidp-c" (Cincinnati, OH USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
This book felt rather like a short story padded out (mostly with irrelevant space opera scenes) to novel-length. I found parts of it quite thought-provoking, though, particularly the question of what happens to a society in which everyone is suddenly given everything they ask for.
I love the way the prologue is written--it grabs you with its clever ideas and high speed--made me wish the whole story was written that way instead of bogging down in tiresome military drama, clunky romance scenes, etc...
Not really a book to buy--I'd recommend getting this one from the library and reading it quickly, skimming through the filler.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor, June 15 2004
By 
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
Amazon censored my first review. Let's hope it doesn't happen again.
The gist of that review, and this one, is simple: This book was a poor read with lousy characters, an interesting plot hook that failed to realize its potential, and a sluggish pace. There are washed up sports writers who could write better. Unfortunate, because this author's material is usually very, very strong.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but amateurish, June 9 2004
By 
Jonathan A. Turner (Nashua, NH United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
Charles Stross needs to learn one of the oldest and most fundamental rules in SF writing: ideas are easy, stories are hard. This book has a bunch of neat ideas in it--I particularly liked the notion that instant communication depends on physical shipments of entangled quantum bits, so you can literally run out of bandwidth until the next supply ship docks. But neat ideas by themselves are a dime a dozen.
Structurally, the book has two parallel plotlines. The primary one takes place on and around the battle fleet sent to "rescue" Rochard's World. The secondary one takes place on the planet. The problem is, neither one is very interesting. On Rochard's World, a bunch of incomprehensible stuff happens to some not-very-interesting characters, with absolutely no effect on the eventual denouement. On the battle fleet, we get two adequately-drawn characters (Rachel and Martin) and a bunch of one-dimensional stereotypes. Rachel and Martin manage to save themselves from the Evil Bad Guys (and deliver a fairly dull homily that's apparently an attempt to drive home a moral), but otherwise they don't affect the plot either.
The big problem is that we, the readers, know from Page 1 that the aforementioned battle fleet is hopelessly technologically outclassed, and has a life expectancy measurable with a stopwatch. And, in fact, that's exactly what happens. It's hard to see why Rachel and Martin are exerting themselves to stop the fleet, since they know this as well as we do.
Given these facts, it's particularly bizarre that a big chunk of the book is full of brusque pseudo-Tom-Clancy military technospeak. We get loving descriptions of laser-boosted missiles (which we know are obsolete and useless), lots of crisp order-snapping dialog, long descriptions of the ships' drive systems, detailed tactical layouts, etc., etc. For example:
* * *
"Solution on target alpha?"
Fire control: "Time to range on target alpha, two-zero-zero seconds, sir."
"Hmm." Mirsky contemplated the display. "Commander. Your opinion."
Ilya swallowed. "I'd get in close and use the laser grid."
Mirsky shook his head, slightly. "You forget they may have X-ray lasers." Louder: "Relativity, I want you ready to give me a microjump ... Destination can be anywhere within about one-zero AUs ... "
"Aye aye, sir. Kernel is fully recharged; we can do that. Holding at T minus five seconds, now."
"Guns: I want six SEM-20s in the tube, armed and ready to launch in two minutes. Warheads dialed for directional spallation, two-zero degree spread. Three of them go to alpha target; hold the other three in reserve ready for launch on five seconds' notice. Next, load and arm two torpedoes. I want them hot and ready when I need them."
* * *
This goes on for pages and pages. Is it meant to be interesting in its own right? Impossible, since we are told (correctly) that it'll all be worse than useless once the real fight starts. Is it meant to be a parody of military SF? If so, it's not funny. (There are a number of elements in the secondary plotline which more clearly look like attempts at humor; most of them fail.)
It's possible that _Singularity Sky_ would have worked better as a short story. Eliminating the secondary plotline and most of the military bafflegab would be a good start.
I'm tempted to give this book only two stars, to counter the fact that it inexplicably wound up on this year's Hugo ballot. On consideration, that's probably too harsh. _Singularity Sky_ isn't actively bad; it just fails to be good.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Singularly Boring, May 26 2004
By 
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
The novel is set far in the future after a forced Diaspora of humans across the universe by an artificial intelligence run amok, the Eschaton. Unfortunately, we find out very, very little about the motivations or activities of the AI - other than its prime goal is to keep humans from messing around with faster than light travel (FTL) and the possibilities of time travel it implies. The Eschaton doesn't want anybody going back in time and changing the conditions that brought it into existence. Other than that, the Eschaton is just background.
The bulk of the novel is about a planetary system, the New Republic, run by a militaristic authoritarian regime that prohibits high technology and is intentionally isolated form the rest of the humanity. A Marxist (yes, Marxist) revolutionary cadre has sprung up on one of it's backwater colony planets - which explodes unpredictably when a mysterious starship calling itself the Festival arrives offering the inhabitants anything they want in exchange for information (stories, theories, what have you). They suddenly find themselves will all the material and technological goods they could have ever wanted, with some unintended consequences. Sound boring yet? It was.
In the meantime, two agents of differing groups but with similar outlooks - Rachael Mansour and Martin Springfield - meet and fall in love, as they continue on their missions aboard a New Republic starship dispatched to crush the rebellion.
And so the story goes...
There are three primary problems with this novel. First, the characters are poorly drawn, except for Rachael and Martin. Second, the story is not well developed and the deeper motivations of various actors are poorly explained. And third, there is far too much filler type writing such as the tedious military jargon and aimless political maneuverings aboard the star ship that do absolutely nothing to advance the story and are tedious to read.
Unless you want to read all the Hugo nominees for the sake of it, I'd recommend skipping this one.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An author from my own generation, Dec 16 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
I was amazed and excited by "Toast: And Other Rusted Futures" Stross' collection of short stories. (I highly recommend this book). So, I was hoping for more of the same from his first novel.
The other reviews are pretty accurate.
Pluses:
+ He's from my generation - a programmer, avid Slashdot reader, etc. Much shared "mindspace"
+ Lots of jokes. Different than Stephenson's humor in Snowcrash, but still funny. My favorite was the one about the IETF taking over the UN (must see context)
+ Great exploration of clashing worldviews
+ Good technology substrate - this is a space opera for the post cyberpunk era. Nano tech, quantum mechanics, AI, bioengineering.
Minuses
- Pace. he describes action almost in terms of RPG "melee rounds" of a few seconds each, but the description of those rounds takes a whole paragraph of dense military-technical jargon. If it is supposed to be fast, it should *read* fast.
- Certain sections (esp the end) are more monologues on his perception of the world and the future than really part of the story.
Maybe this was targeted more at a larger fan base or something, but it didn't have the edge or wild ride feeling of his short stories which I loved so much. My reaction to those was "finally a new, original, exciting sci-fi author", but this is more "space opera formula with a twist".
I will certainly read his next book and hope for something more.
cheers
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not My Cup of Tea, Dec 1 2003
By 
B. Merritt "filmreviewstew.com" (WWW.FILMREVIEWSTEW.COM, Pacific Grove, California United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
First, let me say that I've read very little from Mr. Stross prior to picking up this novel. Second, I'm the type of reader who enjoys character driven stories rather than plot or technologically driven stories. So this is probably why I didn't enjoy this book. That and I hate to read futuristic stories with modern cliches in them. And this book was LOADED with them.
The crux of the story focuses around Martin Springfield (an engineer) and Rachel Mansour (a U.N. diplomat) as they travel aboard a spaceship toward Rochald's World, which has been overrun by technology and fancy by the arrival of something called 'The Festival'. The Festival are information gatherers and, in return for information, they give back...well...whatever your heart desires (youth, health, intelligence, an impenetrable home, etc.). For a world that is stuck in the post-industrial age, this is disastrous. And the military dispatches a fleet to deal with this 'Festival' and bring Rochald's World back in line.
Of course, all does not go as planned. Everyone has a different agenda as to how to deal with this threat and the future of the planet.
And that's about it. Really. Oh sure, you can go on about how great the author developed the post-industrial society, the time travel technology, the corruption of governments in order to keep themselves in power. But lost amongst this...this...this mess, were the characters! Mr. Stross seems to enjoy telling us about every switch that gets set, and every lever that gets pulled. He often loses us when he goes on and on and on about how certain technologies work. This pulls us away from the characters for so long that we lose site of the story itself (at least it did for me!).
Example: 'The gamma-ray traces lit up on the main screen, labeled icons indicating their position and vector relative to the system ahead. One-point-three gees wasn't particularly fast, but it was enough to send cold shudders up Mirsky's spine: it meant serious high-delta-vee propulsion systems, fusion or antimatter or quantum gravity induction, not the feeble ion drive of a robot tug . . .'
If you're a bit perplexed by this, don't be too concerned. I don't consider myself a genius, but nor am I a 'dope' either. I read a lot of material every year and even if I don't enjoy a book, I usually don't feel completely lost. In Singularity Sky, I felt as though I were adrift in Mr. Stross' universe, but with reference points that only he (the author) felt comfortable with. I just couldn't make it from point-A to point-B.
All that said, I'd be willing to bet that there are some incredibly techno-savy folks out there who would absolutely love this book. But not me. The characters have to come first for me.
D-Rating
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4.0 out of 5 stars Space Opera Meets The Singularity, Nov. 19 2003
By 
Kevin Spoering (Buffalo, Missouri United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
About 250 light years from Earth a planet called Rochard's World is being 'attacked' by an entity going by the name of "The Festival", which gives the inhabitants of Rochard's World almost anything they want in exchange for seemingly very little. Rochard's World is a colony of "The New Republic" which, in this far future novel, prohibits, due to religious beliefs and philosophy, imports and use of technology above a certain level, including life extension medical benefits. The New Republic, in their reactionary way, sends starships across time and space to defeat The Festival, not even knowing the true nature of the 'enemy'. One of the technologies outlawed by The New Republic is nanotechnology, so it may seem they are at a disadvantage from the beginning. They spend much of their time on board ship polishing their extensive brass fittings, laughable. Martin and Rachel, two of the primary characters, have excellent banter between them. Martin is an engineer and Rachel is a U.N. representative, neither are citizens of The New Republic. Lots of intrigue along the way, keeps it interesting. Another power to be reckoned with is the Eschaton, an omnipotent artificial intelligence, which forbids most kinds of time travel for a good reason, The New Republic stands to recieve their wrath for using time travel in their attempt to defeat The Festival.
This is all great reading, part of it old-fashioned space opera of The New Republic and their pre-nanotech strategies as they go against post-singularity nanotech. I took one star off of my review as I thought Charles Stross at times had an unclear writing style, sometimes I had difficulty making some sense of what I was reading, but this is a minor criticism, this novel is very good and well worth your time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting postmodern space opera - w00t w00t!, Oct. 23 2003
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
I blazed through this book. It is playful, irreverent, consumed by more raw ideas and imaginative takes on traditional scifi tropes than I've seen in a dog's age. And it contains the most vivid spaceship command deck combat dialogue I've ever read. If you enjoy the occasional fat mouthful of jargon, you're going to find yourself chewing vigorously throughout Singularity Sky.
Mr. Stross is obviously having more fun in some parts of his writing than others, which while noticable, isn't fatal. I think the other reviewers should give this book another read without their Clarion baseball hats on, or at least with them loosened a few notches. Perfection isn't required for enjoyment - just energy and novelty. Maybe they were dissatisfied at the denouement to the Big Space Battle, but that was the point - sometimes, you don't get the lollypop.
Singularity Sky is about *bigness*, like John Clute's _Appleseed_, but more accessbile. It's full of little in-jokes and sly tech-culture references, doing for the IETF what _Silverlock_ did for filk. It baps around collectivism, the principles of sovereignty, mutation theory, spy techniques, nanotechnology, Newtonian physics, kangaroo courts, secret police, and a character straight out of a Gilbert and Sullivan production. Oi vey!
I liked it. I'm looking forward to his next book A Lot. He will only get better.
bob
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3.0 out of 5 stars dissapointed, yet some good parts, Sept. 22 2003
By 
Amazon Customer (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Singularity Sky (Hardcover)
First let me say that I love Stross' Manfred stories in Asimov. The stories are absolutely fun and wildly interesting. He does a bang up job describing transhumans. He fits that niche well. And despite my dissapointment with this novel, I am still going to seek out other books by him. I will also continue to look forward to his short stories.
This is the first novel of his that I've read, and I was somewhat dissapointed. I was expecting something on the order of the Manfred stories, yet this novel was a run-of-the-mill military science fiction novel with bits of boring military-technical-info dumping here and there. The future tech speculation wasn't particularly new compared to his short stories.
The characters are human, all to human; and I kept waiting for the payoff for reading all the way through to the end.
There are some good things about the book which is why I've bumped up my review to 3 stars rather than two. His insight into the problems the rigid feudalistic society faces when thrust into a post-scarcity world was good. Though I wonder if people really would be that stupid. I could see children behaving in the fashion of some of the revolutionaries who ask for enhancements without any thought of the repercusions -- children are notorious for lacking impulse control and having an inability to understand delayed gratification. However -- adults?
I had an unwilling suspencion of disbelief that *all* adults would behave without any common sense, and that none of the adults with common sense would thing to put a damper on the crazy people. And, I had an even worse sense of disbelief that NO ONE would ask for information. That's absolutely crazy.
Despite that, the end of the novel was worth it. If you don't like hearing about the end of novels then please stop reading here. SPOILERS ahead.
There is a comment by the UN special agent about how the Festival has destroyed the societies with extremely low technological threseholds. The ending was very satisfying -- the colony survived. And despite returning to a lower tech axiom than they could have obtained with more wisdom, there were sublime small changes. Promises that the common man could live a more satisfying life despite the hell the colony had just gone through. I loved that.
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Singularity Sky
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