Glasshouse Mass Market Paperback – Jun 26 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The censorship wars"during which the Curious Yellow virus devastated the network of wormhole gates connecting humanity across the cosmos"are finally over at the start of Hugo-winner Stross's brilliant new novel, set in the same far-future universe as 2005's Accelerando. Robin is one of millions who have had a mind wipe, to forget wartime memories that are too painful"or too dangerously inconvenient for someone else. To evade the enemies who don't think his mind wipe was enough, Robin volunteers to live in the experimental Glasshouse, a former prison for deranged war criminals that will recreate Earth's "dark ages" (c. 1950"2040). Entering the community as a female, Robin is initially appalled by life as a suburban housewife, then he realizes the other participants are all either retired spies or soldiers. Worse yet, fragments of old memories return"extremely dangerous in the Glasshouse, where the experimenters' intentions are as murky as Robin's grasp of his own identity. With nods to Kafka, James Tiptree and others, Stross's wry SF thriller satisfies on all levels, with memorable characters and enough brain-twisting extrapolation for five novels. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Hard on the heels of his acclaimed novel of mankind's evolving technological destiny, Accelerando (2005), Stross turns in another bravura performance with a fanciful glimpse at life in the twenty-seventh century. In an era of virtual immortality, where computer backups of human consciousness have become as routine as unlimited body modification, Robin is a patient in a rehab clinic for convalescents of voluntary memory erasure. With only scant clues, contained in a letter from his former self, to his previous and possibly espionage-related career, Robin quickly discovers his new identity offers little protection from several would-be assassins. Seizing the chance to evade his pursuers for good, he volunteers for a three-year experiment, devised by history professors, to simulate the "dark ages" of early-twenty-first-century society. As a participant in the guise of a middle-class housewife, Robin initially feels secure but soon suspects the experiment may simply be a clever front for his, or her, enemies. Stross amusingly recasts our own era into one of "meaningless customs" while blending suspenseful action with inventive, futuristic technology. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The thing I love most about this novel is how it trivializes and smashes apart many of the ridiculous social conventions of the 21st century that we take as 'normal.' A bunch of futuristic folk try to make a model of the 20th to 21st century, and everybody can't believe how savage 'those people' were! Marriage is only between a husband and wife? Ridiculous. Men work and women stay home and manage the household? Church is mandatory? Abortions and contraceptives are unheard of? Cliques and social behavioral conditioning? What a cruel and awful world those old humans lived in.
I found the later part of the book starting to sag in its momentum, but it's a very small complaint because the novel is short enough that I may just be impatient.
A fantastic exploration of the future technology and it's potential impact on the very foundations of human spirit.
Obviously highly recommended, but especially so for tech-geeks who always need to have the latest gadget.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Why, you say, should I read SF written before I was born? Because it's part of the history of the genre, and HISTORY IS IMPORTANT - that's the main point of the book!
The ideas include: what makes us human? Is it human shape? Is it being able to reproduce, creating other humans? Is it free will? Is there such a thing as free will? Stross does not concentrate on religion as much as Smith did, and Stross's ideas about it are a bit more simplistic, but he pays every bit as much attention to free will, and to being able to shape the environment one wants to live in. In Smith's books, the Instrumentality of Mankind had to decide whether to allow people to make mistakes again, and to allow them to live in environments which are not perfect, instead of protecting them (cf. "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard"); here, Stross plays with the idea of psychological conditioning to give people the lives they *should* want, and with erasing memories in order to control people. Smith's part-animal Underpeople had limitations on their reproduction, but some overlooked Underpeople started having thoughts of being their own owners and of raising their children free of the conditioning given servants; Stross has humans who have forgotten natural reproduction and are being co-erced into it in order to bring children up unaware of freedom.
There is more here - wordplay in the Asian-ish names of organizations and some people is another connection to Smith, for example, but there are also subtle bits of humor that seem to invoke everything from fantasies with too many elves and swords, to a person who seems to have become a unicorn My Little Pony. We even get some *really* old classics - "Never bring a knife to a gun fight," for example.
In short: it can be read and enjoyed as a decent, fast-paced thriller combining space war and some post-human body modification/back-yourself-up-on-computer cyberpunk, but it can be enjoyed even more as a way to connect those genres to some of the greatest science fiction of the 1950's and 1960's, the stuff that kept the genre from dying out as just a fad.
Despite the technological underpinnings, Glasshouse works better than Stross's prior novels in not overwhelming the reader with jargon. This isn't to say that Glasshouse skimps on extrapolative technologies of Stross's other SF work. The SF elements are omnipresent but there is less reliance on infodumps and where they are used they are enmeshed in the storyline. Its also refreshing to have a break from the deus ex machina of technological superiority that took some of the edge off of Singularity Sky and Accelerando.
Overall, Glasshouse is an excellent showing by Stross. It will undoubtedly be shortlisted for the Hugo and stands a good chance winning in 2007.
The technology in Stross' universe allows people to create or to become anything they can imagine, which really makes it more of a fantasy type of novel than anything else(there are blue centaurs and four armed people). You really have to check your brain at the door for a lot of the book.
He gets into the meaning of identity; physical appearances, external surroundings, memory, and he thoroughly screws with the three to entertaining results. He really doesn't get too deep or philosophical in his examination of identity, which I would have liked to see, but nevertheless he uses the constantly shifting appearances of his characters for a few fun twists. I also like how he envisions the future of warfare being almost exclusively psycological. Still, in the end it's the kind of book that you have to want to enjoy. The ending left me smiling at least.
Glasshouse is set later in the same univers as Accelerando, but the story is completely separate and it's not necessary to have read the earlier book. Robin wakes up in a clinic, recovering from memory surgery which has eliminated most of his memory for the period of about an old-fashioned human lifetime. He meets a woman, Kay, who's also recovering from (rather less extreme) memory surgery, and they hit it off--but he also quickly discovers that someone is trying to kill him. He suspects this is because of something he did during the blank period--the little he remembers hints that he was a soldier (a tank?) in the Censorship Wars. At the suggestion of his therapist, he signs on with an experimental social/historical reconstruction, which will put him in a safely sealed environment for a year or two. Kay says she's planning to sign on, too, and they agree to look for each other inside.
Robin wakes up inside the experiment as a woman, now named Reeve. The experiment is an attempt recreate the social culture of a period about which most information has been lost--1950 to 2050. The experimental subjects have to pair off as married couples, and live according to rules that are a nightmare version of 1950s, with technology that's closer to the early 21st century. Individuals gain or lose points according to how well they comply with the rules, and the entire cohort is scored by how well its members do overall. Reeve pairs off with a man named Sam, and suspects that a woman named Cass may be Kay.
Reeve gets off to a bad start because, quite simply, she can't believe how stupid the rules are. No nudity. No wearing the other gender's clothes. When she wants to buy tools, she has to say they're gifts for her husband, Sam. Sam is assigned a job, so he's gone all day. She has nothing to do but go shopping and do household chores, but all the money she has to spend is what he earns, which makes them both uncomfortable.
But this is the good period, before Reeve and Sam and a few others start to notice that there's something seriously wrong. Reeve starts to suspect that the experimenters are in fact war criminals, agents of the Curious Yellow worm at the root of the Censorship Wars, very likely the people who were trying to kill him on the outside. She needs to get out, she needs to warn--somebody--but they're all inside, not a normal habitat, spread out and linked by A- and T-gates, but a glasshouse, a military prison on board a starship, a Mobile Archive Sucker, with only one long-distance T-gate, firmly under the control of the bad guys.
And the bad guys have all the weapons, all the zombie manpower they need, and an expert and ruthless memory surgeon. Reeve has a couple of people she can almost trust, a crippled memory, and the ghost of memories of skills needed to fight back.
(As a last note, I'd like to point out that R. Kelly Wagner is only partially right: the reason you should read some sf written before you were born, and specifically Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger's sf, because is because you're missing out on some fantastically good reading if you don't. The added layer of understanding and enjoyment of Glasshouse and a lot of other things is just an added bonus.)
The surroundings are simultaneously recognizable and ultimately weird and threatening, a real achievement for an author. He uses some of the strongest prejudices of our current world and society (go read the synopsis) and throws them into a pot of great fictional science and life-threatening situations.
If I had any negative comment at all its that he wraps it up too quickly with less detail than when he spins the web and takes us through the complications. There's more of the "mopping up", plus surrounding/subsequent story that I want to know, but perhaps the next book...