Tag Archives: Charles Stross

The trouble with Star Trek

Science fiction writer Charles Stross ruined his Merchant Princes series for me with its explicit anti-Bush politics, but I agree with him about Star Trek. I liked it when it was new in the 60s, even retained some interest in it in the 80s. Now I see it’s as bad as the old Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tales of Mars.

That’s because, as CS says, ST merely pastes the sci and tech on top of its storyline, whereas good scifi builds the storyline out of plausible sci and tech which informs the story’s world. Now if he’d just forgone using his fiction for his personal political propaganda, I’d still be looking forward to his books.

Via Instapundit.

The Revolution Business

They say that science fiction is the Literature of the age. Scfi author Charles Stross, who has written some good ones, unfortunately churns out mere political propanganda with The Revolution Business,  the new part five of his Merchant Princes series. As usual, there’s plenty of bad guys to go around, including, as always, a few bad girls. But this time, right up there at the top of the evil heap is, wait for it, former vice president Dick Cheney. And Haliburton, of course. Pathetic.

Then, it actually gets worse. We learn of another evil actor named Wolfowitz, and, lo and behold, with their choice of museums and other buildings to blow up, the bad guys, who don’t know Jews from penguins, choose D.C.’s Holocaust museum. I’m not saying Stross is anti-Semitic. Maybe he just wants to look that way. In a further cheap aside, he whacks the Nixon administration for allegedly being so callous as to plan to set off a nuke in an American city. In case we might have missed which American political party Stross dislikes.

I was enjoying the series. I went so far as to pay extra for the new one, in hardback. Let that be a lesson to me. Now that it’s become specifically politically partisan, it’s far less entertaining. I might have known: the blurb on the front cover was a tipoff. I thought it was coincidental, but not now. NYTimes pundit Paul Krugman, one of the prime authors of Bush Derangement Syndrome, is the blurber.

I can’t say the book, itself, is bad. It’s got more cliches than ever before, but that’s to be expected, I suppose, in a popular series. The editing seems to slip away as the money rolls in. See Harry Potter. If the chief bad guy had only been fictional, it would have hung together a lot better for me. As it is, I wouldn’t recommend the book or the series to anyone who doesn’t have BDS real bad. Not any more.

The coming Singularity

I mentioned the Artificial Intelligence version to a computer programmer friend the other day, whose son was at Mr. B’s birthday party, and he smiled and, in effect, said that I shouldn’t hold my breath. That seemed about right to me, as I have always thought AI was mainly hype.

SciFi writer Charles Stross calls this stuff "the Rapture of the Nerds." Nevertheless I tend to think the Nanotechnology one is actually close, and invisible, injectable robots someday will be scouring the plaque out of Mr. B.’s arteries. For starters.

Iron Sunrise

The sequel to Singularity Sky and the last Charles Stross modern SF book it looks like I’ll be lucky enough to read until his publishers get around to releasing another one. What makes his books so much better than the run-of-the-mill space opera is the integral plot use of computing and, especially, the Internet and email which are shown to have spread not only across the solar system but out into the stars. Once again the Eschaton is involved and, well, you really should read this one for yourself…

The Merchant Princes

I have read almost all of Charles Stross’s SF, so even though this series is more fantasy than SF, I decided to give it a try. I sort of cherry picked the first book I could find, the fourth one, actually, The Merchant’s War, which is about alternate universes. Three of them. The sword-and-sorcery dialogue was off-putting but the segments without it were compelling enough that I kept thinking about the plots I had read (not all of them, actually) long after I finished.

So I bought the first three installments, The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, and The Clan Corporate, and inhaled them in a week. The heroine is a bit annoying. Not an airhead, but a liberal ditherer who is accident-prone to say the least. But there are other main characters I find more satisfying. After the first three, I reread the fourth one, including the "by-your-leaves" and the "my lady" stuff, and finally understood it all. There’s even what looks like a new, interlocking plot to come that’s actually going to be SF. Alas, the fifth book in the series isn’t due out until April. I’ve preordered it. Waiting is going to be hard. Come on, Charles, hurry up and finish it, okay? (Looks like he has and he’s working on the sixth one, which will be the end. Oh, dear.)

Conserve Earth, Colonize Space

Nice sentiment. Makes a great bumper sticker. I used to have one. But the reality? Not so much.

SF author Bruce Sterling: "I’ll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach."

SF author Charles Stross: "Space itself is a very poor environment for humans to live in. A simple pressure failure can kill a spaceship crew in minutes. And that’s not the only threat. Cosmic radiation poses a serious risk to long duration interplanetary missions, and unlike solar radiation and radiation from coronal mass ejections the energies of the particles responsible make shielding astronauts extremely difficult. And finally, there’s the travel time. Two and a half years to Jupiter system; six months to Mars."

Nevertheless, Stross, at least, foresees a Moon base in twenty years and ten years later, one on Mars. I would add that both will probably be Chinese. American pols are too gutless and greedy.

Saturn’s Children

I suppose eroticism has always been a part of science fiction, at least in the cover art, though I don’t recall any as explicit as this tale, where a femmebot created to serve humanity’s sexual needs is left to look for love in all the wrong places because humanity has long been extinct. Extinct by it’s own hand, in fact, not through war or environmental disaster, but through selfish unwillingness to replicate–life with pets, instead, and all those forty-two-inch flat-screen boob tubes, I suppose.

I’ve now read three of Stross’s works, this one, Halting State and Singularity Sky. While I enjoyed HS, which is more about the Internet’s future than robotics, and SS had its moments, Saturn’s Children was the most memorable. Not only, or even especially because of the eroticism, but because of the suprisingly bleak assessment of what life beyond Earth really would be like for "pink goo," us, in landscapes and interplanetary propulsion systems awash in deadly radiation where only robots with replaceable parts can thrive.