March 04, 2007

BOOKS: Glasshouse, Charles Stross (2006)

It's the 27th century, and the Censorship Wars have recently ended. Robin, who was a soldier in those wars, has just gone through a memory removal process, not uncommon for veterans who'd like to forget the most hellish parts of their experience. He's still going through post-op rehab when he realizes that someone is trying to kill him, apparently in the belief that he still knows things they'd rather he didn't.

Looking for a place to hide, Robin signs on for a 3-year research project, agreeing to live in a simulated community from "the dark ages" -- the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Participants are given new identities and discouraged from talking about their 27th century lives, so Robin figures this will be a great place to avoid whoever it is that's after him. And hey, it's only three years, which is nothing when people live for centuries. But a community that you can't escape may not turn out to be such a great hiding place after all, especially if those pursuing you are also taking part in the project.

There's a lot going on here, and Stross does a terrific job of laying it all out clearly, especially since his first-person narrator is still mentally and emotionally somewhat unstable from his recent memory erasures. The scene in which Robin wakes up in the Glasshouse is a small masterpiece of misdirection, which establishes his unreliable memory and tendency to leap to conclusions; those things will pay off in big ways later in the book. (To be precise, I should be saying "herself" and "her" at this point; in Stross's 27th century, people change bodies and genders with about as much thought as we give to changing underwear, and Robin's Glasshouse identity is a housewife named Reeve.)

There are moments, especially in the first half of the book, when we -- like Robin -- are floundering a bit, unable to figure out how all of the pieces fit together, but Stross always gives us just enough information to keep us from being too frustrated, and it's great fun watching all of the puzzle pieces fall into place in the final act. I did think it unlikely that his characters would be quite so pleased with their ultimate situation as they are, but then again, it may be another case of nothing seeming quite so awful to people with centuries of life ahead of them. Despite that minor reservation, I liked Glasshouse very much.

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