Blog : Posts tagged with 'Charles Stross'

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In which we discuss “Halting State” by Charles Stross


This month I have mostly been reading: Halting State by Charles Stross, a near-future techno-thriller set in an independent Scotland, ten years or so from now. It’s a very good book; I recommend it; full of where-tech-might-be-going extrapolations. When reading it, though, I couldn’t help thinking: I have a bit of an advantage on the average reader.

It’s set in Edinburgh, you see, where Stross lives and where I used to live; and just about all the locations in the book are real locations. There’s the city mortuary, for example; an inconspicuous 1970s flat-roofed building built of dark shiny engineering brick, at one end of the Cowgate. I can picture it exactly in my head, because I spent four years in the university buildings which overlook it. The characters retreat to the pub over the road from the mortuary: when I was a first year, we’d go in there every Friday afternoon.* A few years later, on my way to work, I used to walk past a flat that gets raided by the police near the start of the book; and I always wanted one of the little houses in the Colonies where one of Stross’s protagonists lives.

I’m sure it’s a very good book even if you don’t know all this; but if you don’t, you probably won’t realise just how well-researched it is. Every location is realistic, because every location is real; and the science fiction becomes real too.

* all Edinburgh residents will have noticed a small geographical mistake in that section, actually: he gets one of the street names wrong.

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Books I Haven’t Read (part five)

In which we fail to complete Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross


Books I Haven’t Read was supposed to be a regular sequence of articles, but has been on pause since – ooh, last November, by the look of things. It fell by the wayside because of a post I never wrote, about a book I couldn’t finish because I came across a passage in it which seemed to have been blatantly lifted from an obscure Victorian memoir. I’ll manage to write about it, one day. In the meantime, here’s another book I haven’t read. Iron Sunrise by Charlie Charles Stross.

I’m not someone who reads much SF, but I do read some selected things. Iain M Banks, for example, because I liked his Iain Banks books* and wanted to expand. Neal Stephenson, because I liked his historical novels and, well, ditto. And Charlie Stross, because – although I don’t know him – we used to drink in the same pubs.

So, last July, I was heading down to London for work, for a week. Planning it all in advance, I bought an unread Stross book – Iron Sunrise – to read on the train. I was catching the train down to Kings Cross on Sunday, July 10th.

I got onboard my train at Doncaster and opened the book, hoping that it would distract me from worry. Unfortunately, it opens with a mass terrorism attack, one which destroys an entire planet. I struggled to read it until Peterborough, and gave up. I haven’t looked at it since then.

At the time, I didn’t even make the connection as to why I couldn’t read it. The planet-destroying opening was distressing for me to read, with characters in the midst of planning their lives, suddenly realising that their world is being completely destroyed. I didn’t draw the parallel, though, between the characters in the book, and the friend I was worried about.*** The thought would have been too raw at the time. Looking back, though, the connection is obvious.

I’m planning to go down to London again in a few weeks, and I’ve bought a different Stross book to read this time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to. Hopefully, too, I’ll be able to finish Iron Sunrise one day. I’m not sure I’m ready to try reading it again, though.

* in case you’ve never heard of him: he writes his SF books with his middle initial,** and his “literary” ones without.

** although you might think it would be easier to write them with a word-processor.

*** The characters in the book – at least, the ones who were worth writing about – realised exactly what was happening to them. I still hope, whenever I think about her, that the friend I’m talking about here didn’t know what was happening to her. Back on that train, it seemed certain that she must be still alive and in hospital unidentified somewhere.

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