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Eschaton #1

Singularity Sky

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In the twenty-first century man created the Eschaton, a sentient artificial intelligence. It pushed Earth through the greatest technological evolution ever known, while warning that time travel is forbidden, and transgressors will be eliminated.

Distant descendants of this ultra high-tech Earth live in parochial simplicity on the far-flung worlds of the New Republic. Their way of life is threatened by the arrival of an alien information plague known as the Festival. As forbidden technologies are literally dropped from the sky, suppressed political factions descend into revolutionary turmoil.

A battle fleet is sent from Earth to destroy the Festival, but Spaceship engineer Martin Springfield and U.N. diplomat Rachel Mansour have been assigned rather different tasks. Their orders are to diffuse the crisis or to sabotage the New Republic's war-fleet, whatever the cost, before the Eschaton takes hostile action on a galactic scale.

389 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published August 5, 2003

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About the author

Charles Stross

161 books5,477 followers
Charles David George "Charlie" Stross is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His works range from science fiction and Lovecraftian horror to fantasy.

Stross is sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science fiction and space opera. His contemporaries include Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, Liz Williams and Richard Morgan.

SF Encyclopedia: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/...

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_...

Tor: http://us.macmillan.com/author/charle...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 597 reviews
Profile Image for Daniel Roy.
Author 4 books69 followers
May 3, 2011
The opening of Singularity Sky is as gripping as they come: one day, on the backwater planet of Rochard's World, telephones begin raining down from the sky. Everybody who picks one up is given a simple order: Entertain us, and we will grant your wish. And just like that, money, bicycles and replicator machines begin falling from orbit, and Rochard's World falls into chaos.

Soon, the New Republic, a strict dictatorship, dispatches a fleet to deal with the enemies 'attacking' their colony. But in so doing, they put their entire civilisation at risk: for in trying to gain an advantage on the Festival, they plan on delving into time-travel, a technology sternly prohibited by the Eschaton, a transcendant AI controlling the fate of Humanity itself.

Sounds good so far, doesn't it? Unfortunately, that's pretty much the point where the whole novel grinds to a halt. It's a sad statement on Charles Stross' storytelling abilities that he would go on to tell such a boring story based on such a strong setting, but here it is: the major part of the novel gets lost in cliché spy vs. spy stories aboard a capital ship run by two-dimensional military types.

One major problem with Singularity Sky is determining whether Stross is serious or satirical throughout his novel. A lot of the happenings aboard the ship are one-sided and flat, and as far as espionnage stories go, they make James Bond look realistic. It's bad enough that Rachel Mansour, the sympathetic UN delegate, actually uses some sort of miraculous replicator luggage to do everything from staging a rescue to fabricating an escape pod. I kept having flashbacks to Rincewind's Luggage in Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

Is the novel satire, then? It might well be, and it certainly includes some part that seem to be aimed for comedic effect. The major problem with satire, though, is consistency: Stross seems to alternate between moments of satire and seriousness, and it makes any attempt at emotional connection with his main characters totally impossible. At no point do they exceed the stereotypes they are meant to represent, and the relationships that eventually grow around them are unconvincing and bland.

I understand that Stross is pretty popular with today's geek crowd, much like Cory Doctorow. Just like Doctorow, however, I find Stross entirely too rooted in modern ideals for my SF tastes. It seems that Stross built his future world not so much as an argument for his own view of the world, but as a vindication of it. It's at its most obvious when, near the end of the novel, his "good guys" engage in a totally one-sided argument with the representative of a controlling dictatorship, where the heroes treat their adversary like a child who has yet to discover that "information wants to be free," and other such truisms. Such blatant geek wish-fulfillment might please other readers, but for me, it totally steals away my ability to suspend disbelief. I love SF novels that raise thought-provoking debates (of which Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is possibly the epitome); in the case of Singularity Sky, though, the whole thing is built as a one-sided monologue, and so accomplishes as much as the propaganda it so strongly decries.

Another annoying tendency of Stross is to throw away references to modern times with total disregard to credibility. It's cheap, and it feels like Stross is pandering to the crowd by sacrificing the timeless qualities of his story. For instance, when describing some sort of exotic technology, a character reflects that the thing has:

"...rather more computing power than the whole of the pre-Singularity planetary Internet."

That's well and dandy to give the readers a point of reference, but the reason most of the SF authors avoid such device is because it sounds as silly as if I went around claiming my word processor has "more writing power than 2 medieval cloisters full of monk scribes". It just doesn't make sense for future characters to refer to events and technologies that are so far in their own history.

As a whole, Singularity Sky is as chock-full of bizarre and interesting ideas as the reviews made it out to be. Unfortunately, the grand canvas of ideas that Charles Stross has created is used to paint a boring story that never provides emotional resonance. Add to it a number of annoying writing habits, and all I can say about Singularity Sky is that it totally fails to live up to its own hype.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
April 26, 2010
6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" novels. This is one of those novels (like some of Neil Gaiman's and Neal Stephenson's books) where I kept finding myself saying "WOW, how did he come up with such a cool concept." This is a great novel full of big, mind-blowing ideas and concepts. It is space opera for the 21st century. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!

Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2004)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2004)
Profile Image for Scott.
290 reviews299 followers
March 15, 2018
Thousands of phones start falling from the sky all over your town, scarred and melted from entry into the atmosphere. They litter the streets, sit on roofs and leave dents in parked cars. You pick one up – an old Nokia 3210 - and a strange voice answers - "Entertain us, and we will give you what you want.”

Tell the voice a story, a scientific theory or a joke and it will grant you your every material wish, giving you food, weapons, cybernetic augmentations, a house, or even a cornucopia - a machine that can make anything. Of course everyone in your neighborhood uses the phones, shattering your town’s commerce with their free cars, vaporizing the peace with their free weapons and even abandoning Earth for life as an uploaded digital being.

This is how Singularity Sky begins, on Rochard’s World, a colony world in a technophobic, feudal society that keeps its subjects primitive. This society is about to be socially and economically smashed to pieces by the unrestrained desires of its citizenry given free reign by providers of the magic phones: The Festival- an enigmatic travelling civilization of uploaded minds that traverses the galaxy in search of information.

This engaging beginning is set against one of the most interesting set ups I’ve encountered in SF. Stross could never be accused of thinking small. He aims big and he scores big, parading a stream of colossal ideas in Singularity Sky that blew me away.

The singularity has happened. A super AI has grown organically and burst from humanity's information networks to become The Eschaton: The Most Powerful Entity In The Galaxy, and it’s pretty damn scary. The Big E, as people refer to it, is generally hands-off for a near omnipotent being but there are a few rules it's prepared to go old-testament on, particularly regarding people using relativity to mess with time. (The E isn't keen on anyone using time manipulation on the off chance they might try to change the circumstances in which it was born, or otherwise threaten it's existence)

Anyone messing with timelines like this soon finds a gigantic asteroid taking out their planet, or their sun going nova, or any number of other civilization ending events which may take out neighboring societies too.

Oh, and I forgot – at some point in the 21st century The Eschaton randomly and instantaneously transported ninety percent of Earth’s population to worlds scattered around the galaxy, where it gave them the tools to survive and then abandoned them. Humanity is now established all over the cosmos, but is understandably very aware of what crossing their AI god could mean for their future health.

With this as our backdrop we find ourselves in the in a repressive technophobic society known as The New Republic, a society straight out of late 19th century Russia, a Tsar-like dictatorship oppressing peasants while the secret police use illegal-tech implants and starships float overhead powered by tiny black holes within their engines. Among a series of characters three stand out over the course of the novel:

Hired by the New Republican government, Martin Springfield is an expert ships drive technician, able to calibrate the monstrously complex engines that power interstellar vessels but with his own host of ulterior motives.

Rachel Mansour is a UN operative, on a mission to ensure that the New Republic doesn't turn warlike and attack its neighbours, or attempt to use causality breaching weapons that could piss of the Big E and threaten the safety of (galactically) nearby Earth.

Burya Rubenstein is an anti-government revolutionary on Rochard’s World, hoping to overthrow the New Republic government and install a soviet-style people’s government, whose plans are both accelerated and thrown into chaos by the arrival of The Festival.

As the New Republic readies its warships to attack The Festival, and plans to do so in a way that would come very close to breaking the Big E’s covenant on timeline abuse, our protagonists begin to move towards their inevitable meeting on Rochard’s World.

All this is told with flair and charm, making Singularity Sky a genuine pleasure to read. Stross is also a skilled hand at space battles, generating some real tension in his naval engagements, tension that runs for pages at a time and had me frantically pawing my e-reader in a race towards the conclusion of each conflict.

I wasn't sure what to make a novel that began with telephones raining down from the sky, but this turned out to be one the best novels I have read this year, and a magnificent SF novel in general.

I can’t wait to read more of this series – if The Festival dropped a phone on my house I’d ask for all of Stross’ published books, and a comfy chair in which to read them.

4.5 big supernova-ing stars.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,623 reviews325 followers
July 18, 2022
2020 reread notes:
A great debut, better than I remembered. Lots of cool details: Nuclear-powered steam locomotives! MiG battle cruisers! The looming threat of the Eschaton.... Rachel Mansour, Special Agent for Earth's UN-SIG: "If the Big E decided to pop the primary here, we'd need to evacuate 50 star systems!"
“I am the Eschaton. I am not your God.
I am descended from you, and exist in your future.
Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone.
Or else.”
This is a first novel, with the expected rough spots. And it could have used a final edit. "Large, vast, cool intellects seek to stabilize. . ." Chronomentagram to author, circa 2002 AD: Stick with the Wells!

Rachel Mansour: quite a gal! I have some notes, but here's what I remember: she'd been on that shithole world for what seemed like forever, starved for civilized company, so when she met woosisname, the MiG engineer who was refitting the Empire's battlecruiser, the sparks really flew. She takes him to dinner, and propositions him over the (second?) bottle of wine. They're trying to spoof their secret-police minder: "Try to look like you want to take me home & fuck me senseless." Even a socially-clueless engineer could take a hint like that. Yes, the Engineer gets the girl!

The ending, well, just kinda tails off, with a setup for #2, IRON SUNRISE. Which is what I'm reading now. This one: 4.5 stars, rounded down for the ending & other 1st-novel clumsiness. But pretty much 5-stars for fun!

First read , 2004:
Stross's first novel, and it's a good one. Lots of cool techie stuff and some great ideas. I think he borrowed the Eschaton from his pal Ken MacLeod, and there are lots of other neat call-outs to other SF books and authors. It's a bit scattered, but well-worth reading. 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Here's a good review, from my friend Susan Stepney:
"This is a very clever and wonderfully witty first novel. The culture clashes, the sheer alienness of the Festival and its fringe elements, how a planet reacts to going through two hundred years of technology advancement in a week, and the look at life after the Singularity, are all handled very well. It is dense with wonderful little descriptions, such as describing battlecruisers as looking like "a cubist's vision of a rabies virus crossed with a soft drink can."

She is a professor of Computer Science at University of York, a serious SF fan, and has been a reliable book guide for me over the years. Now that you have extra time, you want to spend some at her book review pages. For SF, her favorites are here:
I just added a couple of TBRs, myself.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews779 followers
November 28, 2013
My first attempt at reading a Stross novel was Accelerando. I abandoned it after about 50 pages, we just did not get along. I had some problems with the prose style, the characters and the confusing plot. Still, I have always intended to give this author another try as I have been reading his blog for a while and I like them, no problem with the writing style there. Also, he is one of the most respected sf authors of the newer generation working today. He comes highly recommended by David Brin and others.

I have always been interested in the subject of singularity, especially as a science fiction theme. As mentioned earlier I attempted to read Accelerando and failed miserably. Happily I found Singularity Sky much more to my liking, and shed much light upon the ramifications of the singularity for me. The story is set in a post singularity universe where a posthuman species called the Eschaton wield God-like power and scattered a vast proportion of the human race to the four winds, across space and time on planets light years apart forcing said human to colonize wherever they are placed. The story starts when a totalitarian and backward human colonies is visited by a transhuman race called Festival. The Festival offer the colonist absolutely anything they want in exchange for "entertainment" in the form of stories, philosophies, jokes or any information they find interesting. The goods they give in exchange for "entertainment" are produced by "cornucopia" machines which remind me of the nanotechnological assemblers from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. As anything can be had practically just for the asking, the planet quickly reaches an economic singularity where possession, employment, property and commerce is no longer meaningful.

This is a fascinating scenario where a single event causes huge planet wide changes, and it is just the tip of the iceberg where outlandish scifi ideas are concerned. Including a question of human sapience, where a posthuman creature hilariously poses the question of whether humans are "zombies or zimboes?", not to mention the Eschaton outlawing of "causality violation" which is basically cheating by time travel via Faster Than Light technology. A lot of the hard science went right over my head but it did not hamper understanding the plot as far as I can tell.

The writing style is somewhat workmanlike for the most part, but enriched by some witty dialog. The main characters are likable without being particularly noteworthy. While not an "sf comedy" the book does have a lighthearted feel to it. The whole endeavor is worth about 4.5 stars for me.

The next Stross book I read will most likely be The Atrocity Archives which looks like a hoot. I may get back to Accelerando once I have accumulated sufficient goodwill for Mr. Stross.
Profile Image for Lee.
351 reviews192 followers
February 12, 2014
I am hovering around the 3.879435 out of 5 for this book. No quiet a 4 but way better than a 3.
Stross is ....... well, he is....... you see he write like.........

That sums up Stross. He is just out there on his own little planet, one minute writing hi tech scifi, where causality effects are detailed in a Stephen Hawking kind of way, then slams you back to earth when a talking rabbit toting a shotgun and a belt of farmers scalps asks you what you think are staring at.
If you have read any Stross you'll know what I mean, if you haven't you should give him a try, because it is hard to take him seriously and I say that in the best possible way. Sometimes the hi tech gets intense and you need to come back to earth and he finds some really quirky ways to do that. This type of writing just keeps things 'out there' as you have no idea what is going to come next.

The story has some very interesting themes to it. Basically a far flung world has stuck to the doctrine of old Soviet Union and had serfs and no technology rules to the people. There was a revolution in the planning when a alien entity turned up and gave every citizen three wishes. (true honestly, could I make this up?). What happens next is a roller coaster ride in the collapse of an empire when literally overnight possessions and currency has no value. You want a castle? boom, you have one. you want anti ageing? boom your 6 years old.

Secondary to the story is the fleet flying from the mother planet to take out the three wish aliens, but they want to get there before the aliens did, but breaching Causality, by going years into the future and sling shooting back into the past. Whilst in the future, they could pick up messages they are going to send to themselves, when back in the past to tell them of the battle they are going to have and have already had. I have lost you haven't I?

Needless to cause, causality violation is a big part of this story and I found it fascinating. I am definitely recommending this book because it is FUN! Stross has the ability to make me laugh out loud and I don't often do that when reading scifi.
Profile Image for Michael Burnam-Fink.
1,487 reviews221 followers
May 25, 2022
Singularity Sky is where Stross gets it, chewing through the insulation of insufferable singulatarian techno-optimism to bite into the high voltage wire of Awesome that makes for a great and surprisingly deep space opera. The New Republic is a deliberate anachronism patterned after one of the Great Powers of the 19th century, and the bucolic colony of Rochard's World has fallen prey to The Festival, a self-replicating interstellar civilization that trades radical cyborg enhancements and nanotech cornucopias for folk tales. In response, the New Republic has dispatched it's proud battlefleet of heavily armed space cruisers on a course that threatens to trespass the Third Commandment. "I am the Eschaton. I am not your god. I am descended from you. Do not violate causality in my light cone. OR ELSE." It's up to a cynical warp-drive engineer and a UN diplomat to keep the hapless militarists of the New Republic from inviting a disaster from a god-like force they can't even begin to understanding. Great action, great characters, great cosmology, and a great book over all.

** 2022 Reread **
Yeah, Singularity Sky still slaps. Just one of my favorite books. Everything I've said above remains true.
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
519 reviews199 followers
January 27, 2015
Okay, so the opening of this book is really damn solid: telephones raining down from the sky on a repressed backwater colony world, all of which say, "Entertain us." And from there it's all a bit...standard. And dull.

I get this feeling from Stross every time I read him, which is that he has great ideas in isolation, but no way to string them together to form an interesting and novel setting, culture, world, universe. Or plot. So what you get is a very standard book with some extremely shiny frippery grafted onto it: singularity! A wish-granting telephone repair system! Godlike beings obsessed with preserving causality! But it all boils down to the same sort of story Ian Fleming was telling in the 1950s.

I don't know. I found this mildly entertaining, but it didn't give me what I hope for from hard SF: new ideas, new worlds, new futures. And it didn't give me what I hope for from espionage and thriller novels: heart-pounding tension that compels me to keep turning the pages. And it didn't give me what I want from every novel: interesting characters who feel like people. What it did give me was some words to move my eyes over that reminded me of better things I've read. And for me that's not enough.
Profile Image for Dirk Grobbelaar.
550 reviews1,064 followers
December 22, 2022
Incomprehensible review

This is one of those books that is going to take a while to assimilate. I am attempting a review, which may or may not actually be a true reflection of my reading experience.

This leads us deep into the forest of ethics, wherein there is a festival of ambiguity.

There is bucketloads happening, mostly pertaining to a singularity event on a far flung and isolated colony of future, post diaspora humanity, and initiated (or driven) by something called The Festival (an “information plague”… or something else entirely...).

’It’s beginning. Better strap yourself in – we’re way too close for comfort.’

Since there is a lot going on here, there is a lot to either like, or dislike, depending on your leanings.

What did I like? The space battles, such as they are. It’s a unique-ish approach, dealing with closed time loops / causality events (among other things), grey goo (nanotech, for the uninitiated), as well as (more conventional, in a manner of speaking) exploding and kinetic objects being accelerated over vast differences.

What did I dislike? Well, it’s an occasionally bizarre story with some humorous elements that I struggled to get a handle on. It’s hard to describe, but this is either something you will appreciate… or not at all. After all, the book pretty much starts with cell phones raining down from space.

Fortunately I don’t have to write too much about Singularity Sky. There are lots of reviews posted here, and the book was hot property when it came out in 2003 (it was nominated for a Hugo award in 2004) so there is enough discussion already to keep the curious satisfied.

Riding a chicken-legged hut through a wasteland that had recently gone from bucolic feudalism to transcendent posthumanism without an intervening stage, [he] drifted through a dream of crumbling empires.

The revolutionaries were ideologically committed to a transcendence that they hadn’t fully understood - until it arrived whole and pure and incomprehensible, like an iceberg of strange information breaking the surface of a frozen sea of entropy. They hadn’t been ready for it; nobody had warned them. They had hazy folk memories of Internets and cornucopiae to guide them, cargo-cult assertions of the value of technology - but they hadn’t felt the elephant, had no sense of the shape the new phenomena took, and their desires caused new mutant strains to congeal out of the phase space of the Festival machinery.

In the end, it is the nature of the Festival, or the big reveal, that pretty much makes or breaks the novel. Or, that’s to say, the nature of the Festival in conjunction with the author’s depiction of human socio-political behaviour in extreme circumstances. The novel is also a commentary on censorship / freedom of speech and the nature of information and interpretation thereof.

In conclusion, it’s a clever novel, but possibly too clever for me. I enjoyed it well enough though, although I suspect that some of the nuances were lost on me. I would have loved to give this exactly 3.5 stars (a bit of a cop out) but now I am sitting with the dilemma of rounding up or down.

Houses grew and fissioned in slow motion, great sessile beasts prodded hither and yon by their internal symbionts. It was all unspeakably alien to him: an eerie half-life crawling over the once-familiar city, echoes of the way he’d lived for years, lying like a corpse in an open casket. Even the searing light of a nighttime shuttle landing at the field outside the city could-n’t bring it back to a semblance of the life he’d known.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
September 11, 2018
-En situaciones complejas y peligrosas, tono casi de telecomedia en demasiadas ocasiones.-

Género. Ciencia ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En el libro Cielo de singularidad (publicación original: Singularity Sky, 2003) y en el siglo XXI, una entidad casi omnipotente conocida como el Escatón, de origen en la tecnología humana de siglos venideros, aparece de improviso y derrumba la sociedad humana, mientras controla el nivel tecnológico alcanzable y reparte a los habitantes de la Tierra por multitud de mundos distintos, en la acción conocida como Diáspora, con la amenaza de acciones drásticas sobre cualquiera que intente alterar la causalidad o trabajar en tecnología prohibida. Con el paso del tiempo, algunos de esos mundos comienzan a entrar en contacto pero son sociedades diferentes e incluso, algunas de ellas, han pasado mucho tiempo en solitario. Al Planeta de Rochard, parte de la Nueva República, a doscientos cincuenta años luz de la Tierra y formada a partir de humanos tecnófobos de Europa de este, llega el Festival, una inteligencia alienígena de comportamiento sorprendente y tecnología avanzada. A pesar de las advertencias de los enviados de la Organización de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Festival, los líderes de la Nueva República deciden tomar medidas militares susceptibles de infringir las normas del Escatón y dos personas tratarán de oponerse a ello, cada una a su manera.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Noah M..
88 reviews9 followers
June 3, 2009
Charles Stross's first novel is a very good first novel. Packed full of crazy ideas. Espionage. Space battles. Post-Singularity humanity with all its craziness. Just a crazy book in general.

I'm doing a poor job of reviewing this.

There are quite a few POV characters in this book, and while they're all distinct, I developed some favorites early on and was not usually pleased when I had to spend a chapter or two with other, less interesting characters. So, I suppose it was a bit unwieldy at times.

The book is packed with crazy leftist political philosophy, which is interesting in the beginning, but gets a bit heavy handed towards the end. The whole book is about the tendency of free information exchange to lead to the downfall of restrictive government. Information demands to be free, after all.

I liked that Stross actually addressed the fact that faster than light travel must also be a form of time-travel. There's an AI deity (Eschaton--the product of Earth's mid 21st century singularity) who forbids certain forms of time-travel because he doesn't want anyone messing with the fact that he exists. I very much liked the world Stross created, and it made for wonderful, grand scale space opera.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,920 reviews1,255 followers
September 12, 2009
From the first line, this book hooked me: "The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd." A post-Singularity descendant of humanity, the Festival, arrives in orbit around the backwater Rochard's World. The Festival's willingness to share anything in return for information results in economic and social upheaval as the repressed citizens of Rochard's World find they can have anything they want: technology, money, even power. As a result, the New Republic decides to launch a battle fleet to deal with the threat of the Festival.

But their strategy calls for a causality violation gambit, which could be a problem. A capricious and unknowable artificial intelligence, the Eschaton, does not tolerate such time travel ventures, which could imperil its own existence. The Eschaton has been known to retaliate with excessive force—planet-crunching, supernova-type force—and so two human agents hope to intervene before it all goes apocalyptic.

Charles Stross does a wonderful job at contrasting different styles of government and cultures influenced by how they embraced the upheaval of the technological Singularity. The New Republic is modelled after eighteenth-century Russia: technologically and socially conservative, with a strong government enforced by devastating mores and sinister secret police. Then there's Earth, homeworld of our protagonists Martin Springfield and Rachel Mansour. The only entity recognizable as a planetary government would be the United Nations, but as Springfield points out:

It's not the government of Earth; it's just the only remaining relic of Earth's governments that [the New Republic:] can recognize. The bit that does the common-good jobs that everyone needs to subscribe to. World-wide vaccination programs, trade agreements with extrasolar governments, insurer of last resort for major disasters, that srot of thing. The point is, for the most part, the UN doesn't actually do anything; it doesn't have a foreign policy.... Sometimes somebody or another uses the UN as a front when they need to do something credible-looking, but trying to get a consensus vote out of the Security Council is like herding cats.

The conflict of values between the New Republic's agents, specifically its naval officers and an inexperienced secret policeman, and Terrans, specifically Springfield and Mansour, fuels most of the conflict of the book. The rest of the conflict comes from the alien nature of the Festival; the New Republic insists on treating it like an ordinary human government with recognizable motivations and strategy. That turns out to be a costly mistake:

The Festival isn't human, it isn't remotely human. You people are thinking in terms of people with people-type motivations.... You can no more declare war on the Festival than you can declare a war against sleep. It's a self-replicating information network.

Stross also packs the book with the ramifications of technology on cultures: the Festival is an "upload society," where minds are stored in virtual worlds and physical forms are transitory. It's diverged so far from its common ancestry with humans that it's no longer human, as mentioned above, but something else, something that we can't really comprehend. In that way, it's even more alien than the Eschaton, a truly alien entity, but one that at least deigns to communicate with humans on a comprehensible level (once and a while). Unlike too much Singularity fiction, Singularity Sky mixes transhuman, posthuman, and human cultures in a way that makes for interesting but still understandable interaction.

Similarly, while this book is packed to the brim with technobabble and discussions of relativity and quantum mechanics, it never feels too heavy. I love how the characters use entangled qubits for "acausal communication" and the Eschaton one day just decided to relocate 90% o the Earth's population to various planets via wormhole. Maybe that's just because I love theoretical physics more than is healthy; I can see how people less familiar with hard science fiction or physics in general might find the exposition in Singularity Sky daunting. On the other hand, maybe it'll be educational. And to Stross' credit, all of the exposition is relevant to the plot.

As much as I must praise Stross' ideas, I can't in good conscience do the same for the story. The pacing is heavily tilted toward the end (as it should be), but the bulk of its ideas and themes reside in its beginning. As a result, Singularity Sky starts off strong—like I said, it pulled me in—but eventually that siren call of awesomeness asking me not to put down the book petered out. The sense of conflict and suspense just doesn't last, and after the New Republic fleet reaches Rochard's World, the protagonists' plot diverges from that of the fleet, and I never really feel like they're in real danger. With any sense of high stakes obviated, the story withers away into the background.

Singularity Sky starts off strong but ultimately fails to deliver. It has the same great ideas of Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns or Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon but none of their pulse-pounding action and complex mystery subplots that make those books great. People like me, who breathe physics and ponder the possibilities of faster-than-light travel, will find Singularity Sky interesting but come away from the book feeling like it had so much more potential.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 18 books1,277 followers
January 18, 2012
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

I recently had the chance to acquire every single book ever written by trippy sci-fi author Charles Stross, and so have decided to spend the year actually reading and reviewing them here for the blog; and I've decided to read them in chronological order, too (or, the general books by chronological order, then take on the themed series one at a time), which means that first up is his 2003 novel debut Singularity Sky, which along with his other early classic Accelerando are the ones that really first established him as a major genre force, and that helped cement the cliche of the SF "British Invasion" of the early 2000s. And so that's what makes it an even bigger shock than normal to find out that the novel is not a serious-minded brainteaser, like I think of whenever I think of the other Stross novels I've already read, but rather a very funny absurdist comedy along the lines of late-period Robert Heinlein. Not actually a story about Ray Kurzweil's famous theory of the "Singularity" (that is, the moment in the future that computers gain sentience, and thus usher in a new blazingly fast era for humanity where the mechanical and the biological blur into unrecognizable forms), the novel instead takes this Singularity moment as its historical start, and the fact that humans quickly figure out how to time-travel, at which point a mysterious alien force known as the Eschaton literally create a human diaspora to stop such development, by taking 90 percent of Earth's population and magically scattering them on various inhabitable worlds across the cosmos, these people now free to develop whatever kinds of societies they want but with "the big E" stepping in again whenever a "law of causality" is about to be broken, doing things like wiping out entire star systems to ensure that these stupid hairless apes don't accidentally erase the universe's existence.

Our actual tale, then, takes place hundreds of years after the events just described, when this scattered humanity have formed an endless series of different governments, tech capabilities, and even corporeal forms; to be specific, it's the story of a race of post-human creatures known as "The Festival" who exist mostly as forms of pure information as they travel the cosmos, who literally create new fantastical bodies whenever they stop at a new star system, then proceed to create a kind of benevolent chaos in that new system for awhile (the actual "Singularity Sky" of the book's title), swapping unheard-of technology for new info about the universe from that new system before finally getting their fill, dumping their temporary bodies, and taking off again for yet another century-long flight to the next habitable system, in this case the recipients being a militaristic quasi-fascist colonial dictatorship who shun technology and who clearly resemble the Bush administration that was in power when this novel was first published in the US.

As always with Stross, this is a lot of infodump to take in at once, with the above recap only scratching the surface of this expansive storyline, and with my promise that the whole thing becomes much clearer once you read the actual book; but like I said, the biggest surprise is that Stross plays all this mostly for laughs, a sort of ridiculous adventure tale about a backwards military that purposely builds outdated tech into their warships for the purpose of "tradition," and who then tries to fight a conventional war against a group that can barely fathom what the concept of "war" even is, and who are so technologically advanced over their opponents that they see the traditional battles as little more than you or I swatting at a pesky fly on a hot summer day. I know this all sounds a bit disjointed in a small write-up like this, but trust me when I say that the whole story when written out is a comic masterpiece; and it's easy to see why this made such a big splash when it first came out, after a 1990s that saw perhaps the lowest point of SF in its entire history. It comes highly recommended, and needless to say that I'm looking forward to the next book on the list, 2004's Iron Sunrise which just happens to be a direct sequel to this volume.
Profile Image for J.j. Metsavana.
Author 15 books37 followers
September 24, 2017
Esiteks maailm, stross on loonud selle taas väga ägeda. Inimkond on jagatud kunagi 21 sajandi lõpp mingi meiemõistes jumala poolt paljude tähesüsteemide vahele laiali. See superarenenud olend, leidis, et inimesed võivad enda tehnoloogiatega (nt ajaränd) muuta liiga olemasolevat universumit ja kujuneda talle endale ohuks. Mingi paarsada aastat hiljem on tekkinud inimkonna juppidest erinevad uued tsivilisatsioonid. Üks mitut tähesüsteemi valitsev impeerium on hoidnud meelega enda tehnoloogiat võimalikult madalal ja ühiskonda klassikalise feodalistlikuna. Ühe sinna impeeriumi kuuluva planeedi juurde triivib aga mingi väiksemat sorti supermõistus nimega festival. Tegemist on informatsiooni koguva olendiga (kas ta on mõistuslik jääbki segaseks, vbl on vaid viirus), kes hakkab loopima taevast alla 3d prinditud telefone ja lubama kõigile igasuguse meelelahutuse või info eest ükskõik mida (tehakse ka orbiiditehases valmis). Puhkeb muidugi kaos, anarhistid saavad kõike printida suutvad seadmed. Lihtinimesed hakkavad ka moonduma, tulevad tehiskäed, igavene elu. Osasid soove lahendab ka Festival loominguliselt. Nt üks farmer soovib kuldmune munevat hane. Hane ta ka saab aga see kasutab kulla tootmiseks nii radioaktiivset meetodit, et varsti hakkavad mehel juuksed peast langema. Impeerium vihastab ning saadab Festivali vastu enda parimad võimalikud kosmoselaevad.

Enamus romaanist toimuvast leiabki aset ühel neist laevadest . Seal tekib kahe, impeeriumit takistada üritava maa salagendi vahel armulugu. Impeerium kavatseb nimelt kasutada tehnoloogiliselt arenenuma Festivali võitmiseks ajarändu. Ajaränd aga on inimesi laiali jaganud superolendi poolt keelatud tehnoloogia ja rängalt karistav (nii mõnigi tsivilisatsioon on supernovas hävinud).

Selline tüüpiline Stross, tohutult tehnomöla, kuhu sekka visatud peoga ühiskonnateemasid. Näiteks liigub festivaliga kaasas ka parasiite. Neist üks on miskine roosat morska meenutav elajas, kes usub, et paljud inimesed polegi eneseteadvusega ja kes aegajalt lobiseb singulaarsus-õnnetuse kätte sattunud planeedil ühe anarhistiga. Väga palju on ägedaid masinate kirjeldusi, nanomasinaid, kosmoselaevade kirjeldusi ja kosmosesõja taktikat. Kuna singulaarsusest ja selle võimalikust saavutamisest räägitakse praegu palju oli sellesmõttes väga huvitav, et milline võib singulaarsus välja näha või mida ta võib traditsioonilise ühiskonnaga teha, kui anda kätte piiramatut tehnoloogiat. Strossilikult raske lugemine ka, polnud lobe ega nõtke just. Aga strossi lugemisel tulebki pool mõnu pärast loetu üle mõtlemisest. Mulle meeldis.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews74 followers
July 28, 2018
Storyline: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 5/5

Far future military space opera with dazzling technological advances engendering far-reaching social and political transformations - this is science fiction I like. Stross's Singularity Sky fits right between Ian M. Banks (author of what is my favorite science fiction series) and Ken MacLeod (techno-heavy political revolution sci fi that never quite worked for me). These three all engage with radical politics as it would look in the future. Political science fiction visions of this sort can sometimes come off as clannishly didactic, dependent on specialized vocabulary, proceeding from assumptions not widely-shared, and weighing in on debates without adequately informing the reader of the various sides or significance. I favor works that transcend these problems, ones that rarely need to employ the language of economic, social, or political theory and instead elaborately show you how they work. This first in the Eschaton duology is not as orthodoxy-stilted as Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, but you still get dialogue like this:
“War!” The old man’s bellow nearly deafened Ivan. “Victory to the everlastingly vigilant forces of righteousness waging unceasing struggle on enemies of the New Conservatives! Death to the proponents of change! A thousand tortures to the detractors of the Emperor! Where are the b*stards?
And the leftist elements speak in terms of the lumpenproletariat, hereditary peerage, and the means of production. Stross is remarkable, however, for his ability to go back and forth between characters who live and breathe these tensions and this lingo and other characters able to abstract out of the situation and see the humor, irony, and contradictions from the perspective of unbelievers. What results is sometimes insightful and often humorous, a writer seeing and dealing with two levels at once:
“Come out of there with your hands above your head and prepare to submit your fate to the vanguard of revolutionary justice!” Burya gulped. He’d meant to send something along the lines of “Can you come out of there so we can talk?”, but his revolutionary implants evidently included a semiotic dereferencing stage that translated anything he said—through this new cyberspatial medium—into Central Committee sound bites. Angry at the internal censorship, he resolved to override it next time.
In fact, this had a lot more humor than most of the leftist science fiction I've encountered. I think the authors of this disposition are so serious about what they're writing and so intent on dramatizing the political that they can forget to engage with the lighter side of human interaction. Stross's forays sometimes leaned a little too far into ridiculousness. I laughed, but just as often I winced. There was a tendency to put in too much, to take things too far. There are more ideas here than the author manages to finish, more technologies and implications introduced than the story can handle. There's a barely controlled chaos throughout most of the telling. This keeps it from being a great book but didn't harm it so much to rob the reader of the chance to enjoy the many delights herein. It is a story written in technobabble, but a technobabble that enriches the story with alienness rather than a technobabble that is simply trying trick you into trusting the author:
There were no fragile life-forms aboard these craft—just solid slabs of impure diamond and ceramic superconductors, tanks of metallic hydrogen held under pressures that would make the core of a gas giant planet seem like vacuum, and high-energy muon generators to catalyze the exotic fusion reactions that drove the ships. Also, of course, the fractal bushes that were the Bouncers’ cargo: millions of them clinging like strange vines to the long spines of the ships.
This is my first Charles Stross experience, and I was pleased enough with this to look forward to my next Stross read. This plotline resolved sufficiently that I don't feel that I have to read on to the sequel, but I like what the author has set up and is working. If his later works are only just as good, then I'll be a little disappointed while still deeming them worthwhile. I'm hoping that he's gotten better with time, and I'll be reading Iron Sunrise before long.
Profile Image for Costin Manda.
552 reviews15 followers
April 16, 2018
Charles Stross has a penchant for thinking big and then bringing that to the level of the average reader by the aid of pulp. That is why he is often discussing philosophical questions like what the world will be after millennia and what the consequences of time travel are or what if the Old Gods and magic were actually real in the context of a particularly handy tech guy who falls very easily in love and then spends the rest of the book saving the world and serving the one he loves. He is also an optimist who thinks people with all the information and power they could have will ultimately do the right thing with it.

While I love his positivism and the grandiose hard sci-fi approach, the pulp thing is a bit of a hit and miss with me. In the case of Singularity Sky, I think the pulp messed up something that could have been a very powerful metaphor of the state of humanity in the present day (and in any past day, too). But that doesn't mean the book is not good - I enjoyed reading it - but it doesn't even come close to another "singularity" book: Accelerando. I understand it's not fair to hold every single thing Stross wrote in the balance with what is probably his best work, but that's what I am doing, because I loved that one and I was meh about this one.

The story presents a subset of human starfaring civilization which chose to live in a similar way to the old Russia tzarist regime. Communication, technology and free speech and thought are strongly regulated and kept to the level of the 18th century in most cases. So what happens when one day phones drop from the sky that open two way communication with entities that could fulfill every desire you never knew you had? It is a very interesting metaphor to the way humans have lived throughout their history and how it is their choice and their addiction to monkey power games that keeps them in the dark ages. Also touches (very little) on why people would choose to live that way and how other might respect or disregard their right for that choice.

However, the main story is terminally fragmented by less interesting substories. Two spies, one in the service of the UN and the other helping the mysterious Herman, just have to fall for one another and waste precious pages. Feudal and imperial authorities have to spend pointless time to prepare a full military defense of their colony without even understanding who they were going to fight. Critics, a non-human-anymore species that starts the book as "criticizing" and the rest of it appears randomly and doing nothing interesting, except never getting the talking part right and sounding like Yoda. The list continues.

Bottom line: a fun read, but nothing more. A wasted opportunity for something a lot bigger. The author explains on his blog how the book came to be and why he won't continue the Eschaton series, which is probably for the best anyway.
Profile Image for Bill Purdy.
41 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2008
Seems to me sci-fi has come to embrace the absurd. The logic goes like this: when describing a future for humanity, a writer of necessity designs that future in terms of its technology.

Near-future stories are almost never absurd. They are frequently focused on issues arising from the technology we have now. There's nothing absurd about surrendering our rights to privacy, for instance. Or how the internet makes possible virtual worlds in which we can live our lives a second time.

Far-future stories benefit from branching possibilities. The farther out you go, the less likely it is the technologies augmenting humanity look anything at all like the ones we have now. Essentially, a clever and imaginary writer can write his or her own rules -- who's to say an imagined world is any more or less likely than any other? And since absurdities are more entertaining (and, in theory, make better stories) than dull, realistic ones... well, it's easy to see why writers venture down the absurd path when writing about the far future. On the surface, it's more fun.

But absurdity in sci-fi can also be a bit daunting for me. Here, in Singularity Sky, we have an otherworldly entity called The Festival that rains cell phones from orbit on a planet ruled by a technophobic government. The government representatives include a blabbering and senile Admiral along with dozens of caricatured military men drawn from British naval lore. We have a talking rabbit-man, among other things, and an entire society of tuber-eating ground dwellers whose sole function is to criticize. Oh, and we see time travel used as a military strategy. That, too.

All of these things (and much, much more) serve to propel a story of subterfuge at various levels: familial, societal, governmental, ideological -- even a godlike entity (the Eschaton, an all-knowing AI that inexplicably and overnight dispersed 90% of the Earth's population to star systems elsewhere) gets in on the action.

No question about it: this is as dense and far out as science fiction gets. And, provided you can get your head around all of it, it's reasonably entertaining. It's only getting three stars here, though, because I frequently found myself lost in long passages dedicated to arcane (but impressively crafted) military jargon describing strategic and tactical decision-making that ultimately did not serve the story well. I also had a bit of a hard time reconciling all the weirdness.

Still... when I reached the end of the book I saw the promo page for Stross's follow-up to Singularity Sky (Iron Sunrise) and decided I'd have to read it. So it couldn't have been that daunting.
Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,493 reviews116 followers
September 29, 2014
Three stars, really, but allowing for the fact that it's his first, and rounding up for the many interesting ideas.

Too many ideas. And I read several suggestions that Stross doesn't do rewrites, which I have no trouble believing after reading this. I had already read Iron Sunrise, but no real harm done.

I was going to say that Stross never did decide whether this would be a space opera, a social satire, on a treatise on macroeconomics. It's all that and a bag of chips, and I think it could have been better with more focus. But part of me says it's exactly what Stross was trying to achieve, and it's what makes the book unique.

There's a lot of re-explaining. Charlie seems obsessed with using the terms "timelike" and "light cone" as if he just discovered them and thinks using them liberally will make the book cool. Didn't work for me, but then I always struggled with the idea of using a 3D cone to represent a 4D concept that might go better as a set of spheres.

I think he overdid it with the Festival, and a few other things. The whole thing with Felix and Mr. Rabbit, and the idea that the cornucopiae can make ANYthing, just got silly. Why wouldn't a naval type figure it our and ask for a stepping discs and an ansible? Could they make a working magic wand or a flying carpet or a medical panacea or something like Larry Niven's soft weapon? I saw no indication that they couldn't, and any of those things would derail the plot.

The space-navy procedural stuff was a bit overdone, too, especially given how things turned out. And hey, really, they can bend spacetime but they still use torpedoes? They are pushing around a power source that masses billions of tons and only find it mildly inconvenient that the ship isn't very good at turning?

I like some critics' comparison of early Stross to Cory Doctorow. There's a bit of the same "we're so cool, and the cardboard characters around us are just, like, such losers." Although Martin's exempt from that most of the way through, as a guy who somehow is a skilled agent and a bit of a schlub at the same time.

Still, it's a heckuva story. Flawed but good.
162 reviews6 followers
December 18, 2014
“The Festival isn’t human, it isn’t remotely human. You people are thinking in terms of people with people-type motivations; that’s wrong, and it’s been clear that it’s wrong from the start. You can no more declare war on the Festival than you can declare a war against sleep. It’s a self-replicating information network. Probe enters a system: probe builds a self-extending communications network and yanks the inhabited worlds of that system into it. Drains all the information it can get out of the target civilization, then spawns more probes. The probes carry some parasites, uploaded life-forms that build bodies and download into them whenever they reach a destination—but that’s not what it exists for.”

Festival, I love you! Please probe my system and I promise I'll entertain you to the best of my ability.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,158 reviews103 followers
July 29, 2018
4.5 stars. Wonderfully crafted hard sci-fi that's fun and engaging.

Stross creates a fascinating far future world filled with some very cool visions of post-Singularity civilization among the stars. The story is essentially a crazy clash of civilizations "space opera", with battle scenes and suspense aplenty, plus frequent doses of wit and levity and occasional wackiness that make this a pleasure to read.

It's got many of the same ingredients that I love from Iain M. Banks' Culture series, though unlike Banks, Stross goes all out with his "hard" tech, blowing us away with an amazing level of detail and brilliance, but usually stops before drowning us in it.
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews349 followers
June 11, 2008
Stross seems to absolutely refuse to reign his ideas in...which means we may have a good long term relationship as reader and writer. This has some flaws(first novel)it drags after spectacular start(telephone rain) before getting its legs and exploding into mixture of Catch-22 in space, bizarre fairy tale, a revolution designed Heironymous Bosch and Lewis Carroll, a lesson in economics and Russian history. Loses points for having a boring protagonist(though Rachel is awesome... a female James Bond meets Bionic Women!..I heard she takes center stage in Iron Sunrise which is good)And the Critics and the Festival are priceless.
Profile Image for Liutauras Elkimavičius.
402 reviews86 followers
May 24, 2020
Čia toks hi tech sci fi parašytas Pratchett stiliumi. Su absurdo humoro dalyte ir šizanuto veiksmo motyvacija. Bet nelabai išradinga, o technologijų aprašinėjimai ilgi ir varginantys. Todėl užteks Soso ir serijos toliau neskaitysiu. #LEBooks #SingularitySky #CharlesStross #Eschaton
Profile Image for Antonio TL.
206 reviews23 followers
May 19, 2022
La primera novela de Charles Stross está ambientada en el siglo veinticinco, en un mundo donde la sociedad ha dependido durante varios cientos de años de viajes más rápidos que la luz hasat que se topa con una inteligencia artificial llamada Escatón El Escatón es un ser ultrapoderoso que viaja en el tiempo y controla el universo.

“Antes de la singularidad, los seres humanos que vivían en la tierra habían mirado las estrellas y se consolaban en su aislamiento con la reconfortante creencia de que al universo no le importaban.

Lamentablemente se equivocaron.

De la nada, un día de verano de mediados del siglo XXI, algo sin precedentes se insertó en el hormiguero pululante de la civilización terrestre y lo agitó con un palo. Lo que era, una manifestación de una inteligencia fuertemente sobrehumana, mucho más allá del cerebro de un humano aumentado como la mente humana está más allá de la de una rana, no estaba en duda. De dónde era, por no hablar de cuándo era, es otro asunto."

El ingeniero de naves espaciales Martin Springfield y la diplomática de la ONU Rachel Mansour, ambos originarios de la Tierra, se encuentran en el planeta natal de la Nueva República, un mundo reprimido y dividido en el que está prohibida toda tecnología avanzada que no sean las armas interestelares. Una de las colonias más atrasadas de New Republic, Rochard's World, está siendo atacada por una extraña e insondable inteligencia alienígena llamada Festival. Los Festival son recolectores de información y, a cambio de información, devuelven, “cualquier cosa que tu corazón desee”. Tienen el poder de reproducir objetos materiales sin esfuerzo y literalmente derramarlos sobre la gente del Mundo de Rochard. Se produce la anarquía. En un acto de represalia, los poderes fácticos de la Nueva República planean un ataque sorpresa. Pretenden utilizar el viaje en el tiempo para colocar su flota de guerra en posiciones ventajosas. Al hacerlo, se acercan peligrosamente a romper las reglas de Escatón y, por lo tanto, ponen en peligro todas las colonias de la Nueva República. Springfield y Mansour están trabajando encubiertos (para diferentes agencias) para disipar el conflicto entre la Nueva República y el Festival.

Nominada a un premio Hugo, Singularity Sky es una novela debut bastante buena. Presenta una escritura que se siente sin esfuerzo, un ritmo rápido que te mantiene pasando páginas, ideas buenas y, a menudo, bastante originales, y momentos ocasionales de sorpresa y humor. Space Opera para pasar un buen rato.
Profile Image for Jurgen Appelo.
Author 9 books899 followers
November 6, 2021
I honestly don't understand why some novels are praised so highly. Take Singularity Sky, for example. It was nominated for both Hugo and Locus awards. And what does it offer? A boring plot that goes nowhere, flat uninteresting characters, pages full of irrelevant jargon about physics, a cringeworthy love interest, random POV switches, and absurd technologies, strung together with cliches and stereotypes. I found myself skimming the last 100 pages because the writing was unbearable. And then I think, "Seriously, THIS was worth nominating? Why?" I honestly don't get it.

But I'm sure some offended Charles Stross fans will be able to explain it to me. 🙄
Profile Image for Maarten.
168 reviews10 followers
February 2, 2023
How have I never heard of Charles Stross or this book before? It's intelligent, funny, compelling, the works. Oh, and absolutely bizarre in places. I love it. Time travel done right, in such a way that it sent me down a wikipedia rabbit hole a few times because the concepts explored here are just so interesting!
Profile Image for Drsilent.
267 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2015
This is a funny little sci-fi book.

On the one hand, it bears many of the hallmarks of your typical "hard sci-fi" yarn. There is exotic physics aplenty, interstellar faster-than-light travel, the eponymous technological singularity (several of them in fact), a diaspora of humanity civilizations across the galaxy.

The characters that inhabit this world are more difficult to label. There are two Earthlings, one male engineer and one female operative, which the reader is clearly meant to identify with. They are both extraordinarily competent and quite charming, and stand up for the would-be universal values of progress, self-reliance and principled freedom. Opposite them, or is that below, is a large cast of largely interchangeable archetypes. There is your Russian/British-inspired retrograde military empire, complete with its hierarchy of old warhorses and also its insurrectionist proletariat element who aren't really sure if they are marxists or liberalists. There is the undecipherable alien visitor civilization, who do get something of an explanation of purpose but not much of what one would call character development. And then there is the aliens' technological spawns down on the planet, which end up being the most bizarre collection of fantasy "things" from purple trees to murderous mimes, baba-yaga chicken houses or talking rabbits. How does it all fit together? It's not given a choice, and indeed that is the source of much of the plot's underlying point (one presumes) about technological progress and social constructs.

If that is mightily confusing, and often quite lethal, to the characters, to the reader it feels somewhat like several stories crammed into one. We alternate between very serious military jargon space battle scenes, complex expositions of improbable applications of General Relativity or nanotechnology, quasi-theological musings on the nature of time or artificial intelligence, action-packed romps through alien cultures or a countryside suddenly on acid, and downright slapstick, usually at the expense of the unenlightened. I am probably forgetting a few more angles. One is tempted to read through all this a pretty simple message of "Progress and freedom good, repression bad," with a healthy dose of libertarianism thrown in. But with everything else that's happening in there, I honestly can't tell how seriously one is supposed to read into any of it.

Whatever the case, it is not dull. 3 stars fully for entertainment value.

Profile Image for Bookbrow.
92 reviews12 followers
March 13, 2017
Another good read from a British Sci Fi writer. Enjoyed this one.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
975 reviews68 followers
April 15, 2020
Some years ago, the term space opera was used only pejoratively to describe overblown tales of cosmic conflict, full of space navies and deep space battles. Maybe it was Star Trek that first changed that perception, but these days space opera is a more legitimate subgenre - although still not exactly where you would look for an award-nominated stand-alone novel. But Singularity Sky takes space opera to a new level. Yes, there are space navies and deep space battles, but Stross does it with tongue in cheek, as a space fleet naively heads off to battle Festival, an information-driven post-human singularity that is not even a force in any sense that the Habsburgpunk New Republic navy can imagine. Martin Springfield is an agent of the Eschaton, a superhuman artificial intelligence whose goal is to keep humanity from using causality-violating forms of time travel that would disrupt its own existence, posing as an engineer hired by the Admiralty to implement just such technologies in their fleet for the attack on Festival. Rachel Mansour is a UN Observer from Earth, grudgingly allowed to participate by the New Republic Admiralty, who cannot concieve that Earth might actually send a woman in that role. The book is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it.
15 reviews7 followers
May 13, 2021
Hey kids! Do you like post-Marxist libertarian revolutionaries? Rogue AI:s with godlike powers? Carnivorous fractals? You are in luck! The festival has come to town! Enjoy the technological singularity and the following breakdown of the economy and all form of social order. Accelerate into the future! Just keep discombobulating!

The plot of this novel is as convoluted and complex as anything Charles Stross has ever written but I’ll try to bring you up to speed. Sometime in the latter half of the 21st century humanity invented strong AI and immediately went through a technological singularity. A godlike AI from the future, called the Eschaton, emerged in the 21st century, teleporting nine of earths ten billion people back in time and to distant star systems according to its own whim. Before leaving the Eschaton left a warning to all humanity:
”I am the Eschaton; I am not your God.
I am descended from you, and exist in your future.
Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else.”
One of the distant planets was populated solely by reactionary luddites. People who thought 19th century Prussia was the optimal level of social and technological progress. So 20th century technology was tightly restricted, with a few notable exceptions, including a space navy of faster-than-light battlecruisers. This planet grew through conquest into an interstellar empire called the New Republic. Gives me Warhammer 40K vibes already. The novel begins sometime in the 23rd century when Rochard’s World, a colonial backwater of this ultra-conservative empire, gets visited by the posthuman collective known as the Festival. The Festival is a weird mix of rouge AI and uploaded human minds, transfigured into something unrecognizable. Its primary imperative is that information wants to be free. So naturally it starts to rebuild a significant part of the solar system into an interstellar router to connect Rochard’s World into the galactic equivalent of the world wide web. In addition to this it bombards the surface of the planet with telephones. Whoever picks up the telephones gets their wishes granted, with post singularity technology, in exchange for information which the Festival deems entertaining. This triggers a technological singularity which breaks down the reactionary social order, disintegrates the economy and triggers a violent revolution with extra nukes. Naturally, the emperor of the New Republic sees this as a declaration of war and sends the space navy to destroy the Festival. Aboard the flagship of the fleet are two secret agents from rivaling factions of the anarchic earth. They’re ordered there by their officers to prevent severe causality violations from both by the New Republic and the Festival. The reason for this is to prevent extreme retaliation from the Eschaton.

I really liked the sexy spy drama, spiced up with the secret police of the New Republic on to their trail. The fact that special agent Rachel Mansour is forced to wear really tight corsets and Victorian crinolines because she goes undercover as lady of the night brought a kinky fetish vibe to the whole thing. The space navy is also a creative setting. There’s something inherently funny about starship crews LARPing 19th century sailors inside baroquely and ornamentally furnished battlecruisers, like 20th century faster than light zeppelins. My favourite character of the entire novel was Admiral Kurtz. Imagine an ancient, severely senile, and half the time delusional Bismarck, but more frenzied and fanatical in his conservatism. What a man! The space battles alternately filled me with a creeping sense of dread and alternately dazzled me. The early stages of the revolution of Rochard’s World was also amazing and very funny for a political shitposter like me. Burya Rubensteins revolutionary and authoritarian fervour was intense, his communist rhetoric was spot on. However, as the singularity made things stranger and stranger, I felt the setting became a bit to random at times to be as absorbing as it was in the glorious beginning. Charles Stross kind of lost me at the human naked mole-rats. I get that the mimes transmitting a nano-machine-zombie-plague was an attempt to integrate a circus-horror theme into the Festival but it didn’t work for me.

Reading Charles Stross is as always an intense experience which demands one’s full attention. There’s four to five visionary concepts per page, and every page is filled with science terms, both made up and real. I found that I had to put down the book every 10-20 pages to google words and concepts. That said, he has a really beautiful way of stumbling over his own words. This novel is with no doubt worthy of a solid 8 of 10 cornucopia machines and I’ll definitely read the sequel when I’m in the mood for some high concept post-singularity sci-fi again. I’d recommend “Singularity Sky” to fans of Ken Macleod, Hannu Raijaniemi and Greg Egan.
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644 reviews19 followers
February 25, 2010
The idea of singularity rides roughshod through modern science fiction. As one fellow enthusiast I know put it, “Anyone writing a futuristic story now has to deal with the question of singularity. Did it happen? If not, why not?” For the uninitiated, the singularity is the moment (and brief aftermath of that moment) when technological progress accelerates so rapidly as to create a sea change in society at the blink of an eye. This possibility is often connected with some sort of A.I. that can build machines — once we can make machines that make machines, everything we hold dear breaks down and our future becomes uncertain.

In Stross’ world here, the singularity resulted in cornucopia machines, which allow the user to make, well, anything. As you can guess, once you can make anything, nothing is scarce anymore, and the balance of society changes completely. For a book-length meditation on this effect, check out Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Stross tells the story of a luddite world visited by an informational omnivore called “The Festival,” which exchanges stuff for information, and wreaks havoc on the world. We follow a few enlightened souls and a few despotic remnants as they try to deal with the upheaval the Festival brings.

* This isn’t hard sf, but it’s got a heavy strain of military SF, which can be kind of a drag. I found a few places where the military dialogue about incoming missiles and stuff got a little too detailed, but what can you expect from a story about a military expedition?
* I loved Stross’ choice to transplant the pre-revolution Russian society to the “New Empire,” to overlay the Communist secret police structure onto it, and to foment a new peoples’ revolution in the middle of the visit from the Festival.
* I really enjoy SF novels that include a lot of little detail ideas. The vast scale of the Festival, with its solar energy harvesting and its planet-consuming cornucopiae was fun to contemplate; the parasitic plants and beings that follow along with the Festival are pretty amazing in their own right.
* And then there are the Mimes. There’s a small sequence, mostly unresolved, that reveals one of the groups following the festival seems to be a circus… of death. There are mysterious characters called Mimes who seem to leave havoc and violence in their wake, and the circus itself causes no end of grief. But we don’t get much more out of the story than that. I’m reminded a lot of the Carnival of Industrial Destruction in B.F. Slattery’s Liberation.
* I’m also amused by the irresponsible gorging the people of the planet do once they get cornucopiae. Having only heard third-hand stories of old technologies, they ask for all sorts of things they don’t really understand, and thus the Festival (with no solid knowledge of human idiom and custom) builds all sorts of crazy contraptions to meet their requests. Someone asks for a way to surveil the city (like London’s CCTVs, for instance), but since they don’t really know what system they’re asking for, they end up with organic cameras and telepathic worms that bring the camera feeds into their minds. Like an Orwellian Babelfish, I guess.

A delightful read, with solid characters and an intriguing universe. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in modern SF and its treatment of the singularity.
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