Novel Review: Iron Sunrise

Charles Stross created a fascinating future in Singularity Sky. His second foray into that universe is entertaining, but it lacks the inventiveness and originality of its predecessor.

Rachel leaned back against the wall. The designers had tricked out the promenade deck in a self conscious parody of the age of steam. From the holystoned oak planting of the floor to the retro-Victorian of the furniture, it could have been a slice out of some nuclear-powered liner from the distant, planet-bound past, a snapshot of the Titanic, perhaps, a time populated by women in bonnets and ballooning skirts, men in backward baseball caps and plus-fours, zeppelins and jumbos circling overhead. But it wasn’t big enough to be convincing, and instead of a view across the sea, there was just a screen the size of a wall and her husband wearing a utility kilt with pockets stuffed with gadgets he never went anywhere without (Stross 130)

General Information

Title: Iron Sunrise

Charles Stross

Original Publication Date: July 2004

ISBN: 0441011594

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A weapon, moving at 80% the speed of light, was launched years ago during a conflict between earth colonies, and several people seek the recall code. The plot expands to envelop a teenage girl who knows too much, a news blogger, characters from Stross’s previous novel, Singularity Sky, and Space NazisTM

High Points

Certain early scenes—- Rachel defusing a bomb threat, teenaged Wednesday1 encountering troubles on her way to a party—- show Stross at his best, imposing speculative technology onto dramatic situations and developing the results, without losing his sense of humor and satire. The characters, the settings, the tone and mood all work together here, and the book really engaged me. Some people will object to some of the situations (strong females, arguably, exploitatively handled), but everything makes sense in context.

Stross takes a convention of old Space Opera—-Space Nazis—-and a feature of contemporary SF—consciousness downloading—and combines them into something interesting. He does little with the results in this book, but it bodes well for the next one. Cliché origins aside, the ReMastered have the potential to be worthy villains in the Eschaton universe

Low Point:

Singularity Sky used the conventions of Space Opera, but reinvented them to suit the realities of technology undreamt of in the genre’s younger days. Stross demonstrates a remarkable ability to write while remaining aware of the effects of technology, with playful and often satiric results. In this book, he walks a fine line between satirizing and simply using clichés, and, in the second-last chapter (or the last, if you don’t consider an epilogue a “chapter”), he falters in the wrong direction.

The final chapter features clichés in the writing and in the turn of events, and not even occasional nods to parody save it. When the villain explains everything to the captive heroes, he finds a way to have the scene make some kind of sense, but I still felt like I had entered Austin Powers territory, while still being asked to take the characters seriously. And one character, who unsurprisingly turns out to be something other than we thought, approaches cartoon supervillainy before being defeated.

The Scores

Originality: 3/6. While Stross’s Eschaton Universe has an original feel, this book feels like it was assembled from disparate parts. Wednesday is a good character, but very cyberpunk; she feels like a Stephenson or a Gibson girl. The space opera conventions he had so much fun with in Singularity Sky largely function as conventions here. As for the villains, while Stross finds new and interesting things to do with Space Nazis, in the end, the ReMastered are unapologetic Space Nazis.

Story: 4/6. The story begins well. It ends in a rushed and rather conventional manner.

Characterization: 4/6.

Imagery: 5/6. Stross knows how to create and describe the elements of a world that is both satiric and yet convincing.

Emotional Response: 4/6. Stross manages, at turns, to be amusing and intriguing, and the book proves a page-turner. I found I couldn’t care much at the end; the last chapter I found predictable, and the epilogue, too obvious a set-up for the sequel.

Editing: 4/6. Stross can write very well, and this book contains some excellent passages. At times, however, Iron Sunrise appears to have been rushed. Even with the shift of the third person “limited omniscient” narrator from character to character, there’s no need to repeat things the reader already knows, unless we’re going to learn something new about those things or about the character by that repetition.

Overall Score: 5/6

In total, Iron Sunrise receives 29/42

Additional Comments

In the wake of Singularity Sky’s success with critics and fans, it appears that Stross wants to demonstrate the commercial viability of his name and his Eschaton Universe. I don’t blame him; he’s a promising writer who obviously wants to continue making a living. And, in fact, he wrote in record time a (generally) fast-paced, Space Opera/thriller which maintains the integrity of his Eschaton universe, while appealing to a broader audience. Let’s face it; Singularity Sky won’t be bringing in the Hollywood agents anytime soon; it’s too odd by mainstream standards. I applaud his ability, and I will likely read the inevitable sequel(s). (Note: Stross’s current novel, Accelerando is not set in this universe, and his next book is a sequel to Accelerando).

At the same time, Stross’s earlier writing prepared me for something more than this, and I felt a bit disappointed. Iron Sunrise will entertain many readers with its mix of SF, thriller, satire, and some fannish in-jokes (Stross entitles one chapter “set up us the bomb”), but it falls short of Stross’s best short stories, and it doesn’t live up to the expectations created by Singularity Sky.

1.What’s with genre novels and sexual relationships between older males and teenage females?