Well, I finished my third Charles Stross novel a day or so ago. This time it was Iron Sunrise. Set in the same universe as Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise is not a direct sequel, although the main characters are the same and there are some references to the previous book.
Iron Sunrise — Charles Stross
I’ve really enjoyed the Charles Stross novels I’ve read lately. Luckily, I still have some more to go, with the promise of more coming out soon. Iron Sunrise is the latest of his published novels in the Eschaton series.
If you are unfamiliar with this, the premise is that at some point in the fairly near future, experiments in quantum entanglement allow information to be transmitted faster than light. Due to special relativity, this implies that information is being sent into the past — in effect, time travel. When the future Internet starts receiving information from it’s own future, it quickly bootstraps itself into a quasi-godlike entity called the Eschaton, and teleports 9 billion of Earth’s 10 billion people onto various worlds throughout a 1000-parsec volume of space and over hundreds of years of time. When Earth recovers from the subsequent economic disruptions and starts venturing out into space again, they discover myriads of existing human societies scattered throughout the nearby stars.
The Eschaton wishes to preserve its own existence, and may have other motives that are subtly hinted at throughout the series. The only serious threat to an entity such as the Eschaton is uncontrolled faster-than-light travel and the attendant causality violations. The Eschaton would strongly prefer not to be edited out of existence retroactively, and has the power to defend itself with extreme prejudice. Of course, it prefers to act subtly if possible rather than obliterating uppity planets with killer asteroids and supernovas.
Iron Sunrise starts off with a bang. In fact, this may be one of the biggest opening bangs in a novel that I can remember, as the star in the Moscow system is iron-bombed by a rogue causality-violating device, inducing a tremendous nova that destroys all life in the inner system. As the outer stations are evacuated, a young girl guided by her “invisible friend” finds some odd documents and hides them before leaving. Years later, these documents cause several interstellar organizations to take a sudden and extremely unhealthy interest in that girl.
Charles Stross’s writing has been a pleasure to read in every book of his I’ve tried so far. In Iron Sunrise, his well-thought-out Eschaton setting provides the steel, his plentiful references to the cutting edges of physics and computer science serve as the flint, and his energetic writing style whacks them together to produce a lot of sparks to ignite the imagination. Stross uses FTL and instantaneous communication in his novels, as many authors do, but Stross’s extensive knowledge of some of the major gaps in modern physics give his versions of these hoary SF tropes more believability.
Like Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise is a space opera at its core. Stross has balanced his universe out very precisely in order to retain as much fidelity with known science as possible while still enabling swashbuckling interstellar adventure, and I think he succeeds fairly well. In many ways, I think Iron Sunrise is the better book. It benefits from human adversaries that are comprehensible and intelligent, unlike the Festival and the hierarchy of the New Republic from Singularity Sky, who were, respectively, not. Stross’s writing is also a bit calmer and less frenetic in this novel than the previous one, which I think improves it. Singularity Sky seemed to suffer from idea overload at times and Iron Sunrise benefits from a slightly slower and more consistent pace.
It will be interesting to see where Stross goes with the Eschaton setting after this. There are a number of questions that need answers, and a number of different directions he could take the series. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess. I would recommend Iron Sunrise to anyone that likes hard science fiction, particularly if you’ve enjoyed Stross in the past.