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{Read Kindle} õ Singularity Sky ⛅ , 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 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. 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 clich 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 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 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. 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 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. 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