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Showing 1-6 of 6 reviews(3 star). Show all reviews
on July 10, 2004
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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on June 9, 2004
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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on December 16, 2003
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.
+ 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.
- 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.
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on September 22, 2003
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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on December 23, 2003
Enjoyable overall, but recommended only with reservations. As noted by others, the continual anachronistic references to life in the late 20th /early 21st centuries is grating. Whatever term people will use for their instantaneous communications 300 years from now, I'm sure it won't be "email." In general, we have here an interesting concept, but the novel should have received another two iterations of critical editing. Sometimes, somebody just needs to tell an author, "No! Don't DO that!" (The episode of the pie-throwing mimes cost this book an entire star.)
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on November 20, 2013
Overall I enjoyed the book and have moved on to the second book in the series. Coming in I knew this was an early work for Stross, and had enjoyed Glass House, so had a bit more patience for the book even when I realized I was occasionally bored at parts in the book. Basically there's some plot threads which just weren't that interesting.

I did find the science of the book quite interesting, with perspectives on time travel. It has the flare of authenticity, although truth be told I wouldn't be able to parse conjecture form fact.
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