The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd. Some of them had half-melted from the heat of re-entry; others pinged and ticked, cooling rapidly in the postdawn chill. An inquisitive pigeon hopped close, head cocked to one side; it pecked at the shiny case of one such device, then fluttered away in alarm when it beeped. A tinny voice spoke: “Hello? Will you entertain us?”(1)

Charles Stross’ reputation for excellent short stories has made his first novel one of the most anticipated of the year. Singularity Sky has been nominated for a Hugo, and both James Patrick Kelly and Gardner Dozois (Asimov’s) place Stross on the “cutting edge of science fiction.”< So, how good is it?

General Information

Title: Singularity Sky.

Author: Charles Stross

Original Publication Date: August 2003

ISBN: 0-441-01179-9

Buy from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Cover Price (paperback) $7.99 U.S. $10.99 Canadian.

Premise:

Humanity and post-humanity have spread throughout the cosmos. In the New Republic, an autocratic collection of colonies, the government strictly limits access to technology and communication with the rest of the galaxy. Suddenly, their colony on Rochard’s World receives a visit from an alien entity calling itself “the Festival.” The New Republican homeworld treats this as a declaration of war.

Two Terrans travel with the warships to Rochard’s World. Martin Springfield, engineer, has been contracted to make some alterations to the fleet. Rachel Mansour, diplomat, represents the UN. Neither understands the Festival, but both believe that the New Republican Navy doesn’t have a prayer. They have, however, ulterior motives which bind them to the voyage.

The Festival, meanwhile, has wrought significant changes to the colony, which we see through the eyes of a revolutionary, a de-aged official, an alien Critic, and an anthropomorphic bunny rabbit.

High Points:

Will nanotechnology destroy science-fiction? No, but it has changed the genre. Stross brings together old space opera conventions, new technologies, and his own voice with a satiric sense somewhat reminscent of Vonnegut’s. I don’t know about a single, definable “high point,” but I enjoyed most of this book. It’s a fun read which contains a many ideas.

Low Points:

The book starts to disassemble in the last fifty pages. Stross devotes too much of his conclusion to political pontification, concept exposition, and nerdish in-jokes.

The Scores

Originality: 4/6 We’ve seen many of these ideas and conventions before, but Stross does give them a unique spin.

Story: 4/6 This would be higher, were I scoring only the first 200 pages or so.

Characterization: 5/6 Dare I say it? I want to see more of Mr. Rabbit.

Imagery: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 5/6. The battle scenes could use some revision, but overall, Stross writes very well.

Overall Score: 5/6.

In total, Singularity Sky receives 33/42

Charlies Stross is a writer to watch.

The 2004 Hugos:

I’ve read all of the Hugo-nominated novels, save Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls, the sole fantasy . If I get to that, it won’t be until after the Hugos have been awarded.

I’m not at WorldCon this year, but were I voting, I think I would rank as follows:

Dan Simmons, Ilium. I actually enjoyed Singularity Sky a little more. This also suffers from a weak ending– but that’s because it’s only half of a book. I suspect Simmons would get my first vote, and he likely will win over the lesser-known Stross.

Then again, Singularity Sky received the same ranking as Ilium in my reviews.

Robert Charles Wilson’s Blind Lake has greater commercial potential than the first two. Blind Lake would appeal to some readers who aren’t much into SF, whereas Simmons and Stross may be incomprehensible to a non-SF audience. It’s a good book, too; I just don’t think it’s as good as the other two.

Robert Sawyer, Humans. I didn’t find this sequel to Hominds very satisfying, and without the home country advantage, I don’t think Sawyer has a chance. Of course, I didn’t expect he would win last year– too many good books competing against each other– and Sawyer did just fine.