“Glasshouse” by Charles Stross

In this “technological singularity” example of science fiction, post-humanity has all of its physical needs taken care of by a network of A- and T-gates.  A-gates (A for assembler) can restructure matter into anything on demand.  T-gates (T for transport?) provide instantaneous,wormhole driven teleportation between points.  Energy needs are satisfied via T-gates drawing energy directly from stars.  Computer technology is also similarly advanced.  If someone gets tired of their body, they go to the nearest A-gate, make a digital copy of their mind, then instruct the gate to create a new, different body for them and download their consciousness into it.  People frequently make back-up copies of their minds, just in case they get accidentally killed.  Pretty much everyone is immortal.  They can also make multiple copies of themselves, useful if they need to be in two places at the same time, for instance.

This wild future fantasy just sets the stage for the book.  The plot took a while for me to get going (mainly because I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on – the future described in the above paragraph isn’t as clearly explained in so many words), but when it did it was kind of interesting.  Besides the bizarre future setting, part of the reason for confusion early on in the book is that Robin, the main character, has just gone through memory-redaction surgery and can’t remember clearly who he is or what he’s supposed to be doing; he just has some vague impressions.  His background, as well as the events of a civil war in which a computer virus infected the gate network, is revealed throughout the book via flashbacks.

The glasshouse is an experimental recreation of a “dark ages” era society (circa 1950-2040, ha-ha), meant to explore and identify the history (lost in the aforementioned civil war) of events that has led to the current technological singularity state of things.  Once the protagonist gets into the glasshouse, this setting is refreshing from the preceding introductory chapters because it at least gives a familiar framework to the reader.  Anyway, not all is as it seems in the experimental society…sinister forces are at work!  (Of course.)  I don’t want to spoil the plot; suffice it to say there are a number of twists along the way.

All in all a pretty good read, once I got into it.  Some of the “adult content” scenes were a little too graphicly described for my tastes, but that’s my only complaint.

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