It’s been several books and I still haven’t decided how I feel about Charles Stross’ work. This seems kind of important as well – I’m helping to run Swancon 2013* and Strozza** will be one of our headline guests. I figured I should probably have an opinion about him that isn’t just “He runs a pretty sweet blog”.
My introduction to Strozza was Glasshouse, via the university SF club’s bookclub. I mostly remember Glasshouse for the girl I have a massive ridiculous crush on ranting for hours about dualism and how the basic premise of the book is wrong. Ah, hot philosophy students, I love you guys.*** Even, it turns out, to the point of forgetting half a book I want to write about.
I enjoyed it well enough though. The idea of using gamification to criticize suburbia and 20th century gender roles was fun, and it was clever enough, if not exactly groundbreaking. I mean, wow, the role of suburban housewife is depressing and awful, even for a man (literally) stuck in a woman’s body! Who’d have thought?
Halting State was next. A friend loaned me a copy which had a recommendation from one of the creators of Doom and Quake on the cover.
The first couple of pages had me hooked and I didn’t touch another book until I finished.
So you know, sold.
It’s mostly a fun and entertaining book, a murder mystery with a cyberpunk twist, with real and virtual worlds becoming integrated. There are reviews commenting, amongst other things, on the early 90s style in the idea of VR goggles. But really, sunnies that provided an online overlay over the real world seemed quite sensible to me, and the comments seemed to be missing the bigger picture. It did lack quite a lot though – it was overlong, had an annoying tone and some fucking disgusting characters that put me right off.
On the other hand, Saturn’s Children and Accelerando were fucking amazing. Saturn’s Children in particular had me absolutely captivated. I am completely in love with its universe and still so smitten that I can’t even begin to try and organise my thoughts coherently enough to review, let alone analyse competently, the book. So I guess I’ll leave that as really fucking high praise here, and save an actual critique for some other post. The flaw was the strength of the ending though.
Really, the trouble with Strozza is just how fucking smug some of his writing is. This especially goes for Halting State, less so for Saturn’s Children and Accelerando. Don’t get me wrong: in some ways that smugness is well deserved. He does write a very good, intelligent story. He also writes, when he wants to, very interesting, if not always likeable, human and nonhuman characters. And the ideas are clever. It’s just that sometimes, they’re not quite clever enough to justify the smugness. Part of this is probably my English student wanker coming in here, but I just don’t see a reason, if you are going to be show-off, to be so freaking obvious and unsubtle about it. Unless, maybe, you’re damn sure noone is going to be able to see what you did there, but then half the arrogance should be flying over our heads as well.
Originally, when trying to put this post together, the notes I had were over three pages long, so I’m going to stop here for now. I haven’t even gotten into any deep and meaningful substance from these books, and there is a lot of substance there, let alone the discussion on post-cyberpunk Strozza’s work seems to create. To give the vaguest overview, themes lean heavily towards post-humanism, transhumanism, postmodernism and explorations of gender and queer theories. The books are heavy on the intertextual references too, and use a huge amount of high-concept scientifics (that may or may not be bluffed) to push plots and characters foward. Strozza even mostly manages to avoid the books getting bogged down in this.
Right, I was going to stop. For a final thought, the fact I can’t stop spewing out a mess of thoughts in every direction about each book is a good sign. I’ve gained an understanding of why all the academics I know seem to be enamoured, yet I can also understand why people who just want fun SF-action love him as well.
I’d still rather not have been left so irritated though.
* Yes, I still haven’t worked on that website. Shuddup, I’mma volunteer. A very tired, nearly burned out one.
** It’s a long story. Basically for some reason I always want to hear Stross’s name in a rural Aussie accent. Hence Strozzzzzaaaahhh.
*** Hot student is in fact much smarter than me (and is currently doing her PhD in something sciencey). We are also good friends and the jokes about objectifying her go all sorts of ways.