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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Glasshouse by Charles Stross. New York: Ace Books, 2006. ISBN: 0-441-01403-8

It took quite a while for me to really get into this book. In fact, I almost abandoned it initially. I don't remember if I had reached the Nancy Pearl specified number of pages or not, before I made my decision to continue, but it was a near thing, indeed. The premises on which the book is based are just too bizarre, and not very well explained at the beginning. I don't feel that I have to have everything handed to me on a platter, everything neatly explained from the get-go, but there are limits to what I'll endure for the sake of a story, and this book definitely pushed those limits, strained them severely.

Here are a few terms and concepts one has to deal with in the first few pages. “The body she's wearing is roughly ortho, following the traditional human body plan.” Identity reindexing and rehabilitation. Memory edits and memory surgery. Reintegration. Postsurgical identity prosthesis. Assembler gates. T-gates and A-gates infected by redactionist worms. Orthohuman. Xenohuman drag. A totally foreign time-keeping system that uses measurements like gigaseconds, subseconds, diurns.

I'm not even sure that now, having actually finished the book, and having enjoyed it, I can really give you a very accurate account of the milieu, the universe in which the book is set. First off, it's in the far future, when humankind has long since reached the stars and set up an extensive galactic civilization.

People travel through the previously mentioned gates, which seem to be wormholes of some kind. In so doing, they are apparently disassembled down to the microscopic level, and reassembled at the other end. What's more, these same (I think) technologies can be used to store and dump one's memories, so that if an accident happens, or someone or something kills you, you can be resurrected from the time of your last memory backup.

The story quickly takes a quirky sideline, however, when the protagonist and his new friend both volunteer for some kind of historical experiment, in which they are ported into new bodies, and put into a re-creation of, to them, an almost prehistoric time period. A period which turns out to be sort of like our 1950's or as close to it as they can get. Their knowledge of such ancient times is somewhat spotty, at best, so the reproduction isn't entirely accurate.

But then it turns out that the people in charge of this supposed experiment are actually bad guys, trying to resurrect some horrible computer virus-like terror that caused a recent upheaval and breakdown of intergalactic civilization. And that our protagonist, unbeknownst to himself (or herself, since he finds himself in a female body inside the experiment) is actually a secret agent with his memories edited to protect him/herself, sent to infiltrate and stop this plot. At this point, the story gets quite a bit more interesting, and finally worth the time and effort you've put into it up until now.

So, yes, the book is recommended for SciFi fans, but be prepared to have to work for a while to get to the good stuff.

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