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(Mar 02, 2007)
Glasshouse, by Charles Stross.
What do galactic civil war veterans do after the ugly war is finally over? They sign up for a mind wipe/backup, social rehabilitation, and a new life. What do galactic civil war mastermind war criminals who are sore losers from losing the war do? They open up a rehab center, and sign up as many violent killing machines and war criminals as they can find, all in the name of “social experiments”.
Stross continues in his futuristic world we were introduced to in Accelerando last year. His future is one of natural and man-made worm holes, all connected through a series of gates which can pass and save information, replicate anything material, and move things and people from one end of the universe to the other. So while your fabricator gate is fab’ing you a new saute pan, you might as well back yourself up, just in case you didn’t prepare that blowfish correctly. If you can wipe your own memory, or pay someone to do it, what’s to stop someone from doing it without your knowledge, or consent?
We learn all this through Robin, our main character, and war veteran who signs up for the Glasshouse under the pretense that it will be a safe place to rehabilitate, and hide from people he is sure are trying to kill him. He can’t quite remember because his last mind wipe seemed to be a botched job. When Robin wakes up in the Glasshouse, he’s in a woman’s body (named Reeve), and has to learn the rules of the new world, and learn them fast. Her life depends on it, and the first rule is to find a husband, and act like the perfect wife. The Glasshouse world is part The Prisoner, part Survivor, part Stepford Wives and part dark satire.
What Reeve learns in her dreams, about the Glasshouse, about Robin, about what she was in the war, and what she did, is emotional and evocative. Stross gives us an intimate look into his world, but also forces his readers to wonder: are all soldiers created equal? Are all war criminals created equal? There’s a reason why all these people are having mind wipes.
This just might be my favorite Stross novel. He blends dramatic thriller with detective noir-ness, with his trademark cyberpunk dark future of where every human is wired into the world of big brother, and no one would ever think of living any other way. I spent most of the book being utterly creeped out by actions fueled by mob mentality, yet amused by the way Stross’s futuristic characters attempt to recreate a “pre-acceleration” environment, complete with washing machines, church meetings, and the fashion police.
Although it took me a few days to sew my brain back together after reading this, it was quite the enjoyable read – successful cyberpunk with characterization, rather than overblown with technobabble. Stross is improving as a story teller, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.