Review Date: 21 February 2004
Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross
Ace, New York, NY, August 2003, 313 pages, Hardcover, US$23.95, ISBN:0-441-01072-5
a review by Rich Horton
Singularity Sky is Charles Stross's first novel for a major publisher. (His first novel, "The Atrocity Archive", was serialized in Spectrum SF ending in 2002, and is due in book form with an appended novella, from Golden Gryphon, in 2004.) Singularity Sky is set several hundred years in the future, in a somewhat backward part of the human-colonized Galaxy, the New Republic. The New Republic clings to an autocratic form of government (complete with secret police), and outlaws most post-20th Century tech, including life-extension. One day something called the Festival arrives at one world of the New Republic, and drops a bunch of phones -- and if you answer the phone, you can get pretty much anything you want in exchange for a story. Which quickly puts paid to the local economy.
Back at the capitol world, an exhibition is put together to reclaim this world from the Festival. They plan to use the time travel properties of FTL to arrive early enough to surprise the Festival. The problem is, fooling around with causality violation is dangerous -- an entity called the Eschaton enforces a "law" against causality violation rather harshly. And two folks from Earth, a spaceship engineer (and mysterious spy) named Martin Springfield and a beautiful diplomat named Rachel Mansour end up coming along on this expedition. They fall in love, complicating their missions, which turn out to be pretty much the same -- stop the New Republic from doing something really stupid that will get the Eschaton mad.
It's a fun novel with some pretty nice ideas (particularly the Eschaton). I'm glad I read it, and I'll certainly read the sequel (The Iron Sunrise). But it's not really as good to my mind as most of Stross's recent short fiction -- the idea density is much lower, the New Republic is kind of an unconvincing political entity, the plot itself is OK but not particularly special.