Rebecca's Reviews > Glasshouse

Glasshouse by Charles Stross
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Jan 07, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: future-earth, speculative-fiction

Glasshouse is a loose sequel to Accelerando, but you mostly need to know that for what the world is like. You might be able to read Glasshouse as a stand alone.

Anyway, it's late in the third millennium. Humanity has been kicked out of the Solar System by intelligent computer programs who'd rather turn all solid matter into more memory and RAM and photovoltaics, and has taken up residence living around wormholes linking brown dwarfs throughout the galaxy. The presence of massive amounts of data storage and matter manipulation has changed humanity remarkably -- at this point, you can look like whatever the heck you want (seriously, you can change sex like changing clothing, and things like being a centaur or growing two more arms are no problem), death is unusual (pretty much you have to have a bad accident or be killed), and you can keep a backup copy around anyway. However, a lot of times people accumulate too much emotional baggage in their long lives, so they end up having to wipe out most of their memories to get a fresh start.

Robin is one such person. He's not quite sure why he had it done -- sure, his past self left him a letter, but it wasn't that helpful. And someone wasn't satisfied with the job and is trying to kill him. Between that, a sense of purposelessness, and a woman he met who was also interested, Robin decides to sign up for an experiment that would keep him off of the net for a couple of years.

See, a lot of the late 20th and early 21st century was lost thanks to data forms going obsolete too quickly to be converted. So some social scientists were going to try to reconstruct it using volunteers. They created a clever social system to encourage participants to play their roles (and mimic the social constraints they believed existed at the time) and beamed everyone into new bodies in a simulation of 1950s America (or Western Europe). Robin became Reeve, a woman, and was partnered up with Sam, another volunteer, as her husband.

At first this is a funny (and a bit unnerving) take on the 1950s. Reeve struggles with norms that make no sense to her (like why the salesclerks won't sell her pants), her female teammates who are 'score whores' and obsessed with racking up points for good behavior and making sure Reeve does the same, finding Kay, the woman Robin knew on the outside, and worrying about Cass, who's husband/partner was turning quickly abusive.

Then Reeve gets a dream message from her previous self, who tells her that something is fishy about the experiment. Previous infiltrators were compromised, so her previous self had volunteered to have a memory wipe to better hide himself to get in.

Overall, I enjoyed this -- it had a mix of Stepford Wives and high tech, and probably would have been better than the recent remake. it does get a bit confusing at one point, since you have to accept that being able to treat human consciousness as data means a lot of things that aren't true right now. Can't say much because of spoilers. But, it was a good read, and the fact Robin/Reeve didn't remember a lot of things made it interesting since it allowed for us to discover Robin/Reeve's past as we read without artifice.
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