Stross, Charles

Tagged: Author

(1964-    ) UK author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as journalist on other subjects. (He has published work in computer and Role Playing Game magazines.) He began publishing work of genre interest with "In Search of a Fergussen Event" in Focus for August 1985, though his first professional publication was not until "The Boys" (Winter 1987 Interzone), and he continued publishing throughout the 1980s and 1990s, occasionally in collaboration with Simon D Ings and once under the pseudonym Charles Davidson (see Games Workshop). However, he only fully came to prominence in the late 1990s, when he began publishing fiction on a more regular basis; the publication of Toast: and Other Rusted Futures (coll 2002; exp vt Toast 2003) was perhaps the first occasion on which his distinctive voice fully emerged. Although clearly influenced by Cyberpunk, the volume demonstrated his willingness to evoke other tropes: the Club Story, Mathematics, and the extrapolations of Hard SF.

But it was his engagement with Vernor Vinge's concept of the Singularity that has shaped his career more than any other influence, beginning with the publication of "Lobsters" (June 2001 Asimov's), which became the first of nine sections of his novel Accelerando (fixup 2005). Accelerando marks the fullest attempt yet in sf to depict the impact of a Singularity on human life (see Communications; Information Theory). Its speculation- and information-dense telling, along with Stross's willingness to follow through the consequences of the smallest hints in the earlier parts of his story, made it one of the most memorable works of the decade. It won the Locus Award as best sf novel. The standalone novella Missile Gap (in One Million A.D., anth 2006, ed Gardner Dozois; 2007 chap) is also of interest for its depiction of an Alternate World in which an unknown number of iterations of Earth are laid out flat on an astronomically huge flat disc (see Macrostructures), where humans beings, now in effect creatures in a Zoo, are displayed for inspection by Aliens. This too won a Locus Award as best novella.

Stross's first-published novel, however, was Singularity Sky (2003), a post-Singularity novel set in a Space Opera cosmos watched over by a vast and potent AI known as the Eschaton; a grimmer sequel, beginning with a colony world's destruction by an artificial supernova, is Iron Sunrise (2004). Both foreground Stross's ability to make use of ideas from across the field of the fantastic. Perhaps most surprising is their closeness in tone to the work of Douglas Adams: Stross has a very keen eye for the potential absurdities inherent in his worlds. Saturn's Children (2008) is Stross's most direct engagement so far with issues of Gender, and also explores Robot society and some philosophical implications of the Laws of Robotics. Saturn's Children acknowledges its debt to Robert A Heinlein's Friday (1982), and like that book has a female artificial human as protagonist. The distant sequel Neptune's Brood (2013), set long after the action of Saturn's Children, imagines a galactic Economic system based on "slow Money" intended to remain stable and safe over the long time-periods of relativistic interstellar travel; it emerges that safeguards have been subverted by a scam operation involving a fake planetary colony (see Colonization of Other Worlds).

His subsequent novels have fallen into a number of sequences. The Laundry sequence beginning with The Atrocity Archives (November 2001-November 2002 Spectrum SF plus additional story; coll of linked stories 2004) – the added story, "The Concrete Jungle", won a Hugo as best novella – posits a secret British government department (the Laundry) whose chief purpose is to fend off the intrusions of Cthulhu Mythos-like beings from other Dimensions. Despite this premise, the tone is often joky, with much time spent on the horrors of office bureaucracy (a recurring Stross theme). It also allows Stross the chance to guy the conventions of spy novels, with each of the first four books in the sequence pastiching a different author; this is most visible in the second, The Jennifer Morgue (coll 2006), which nods wryly to Ian Fleming's James Bond; the first two volumes of the sequence were assembled as On Her Majesty's Occult Service (omni 2007). The sequence continues with The Fuller Memorandum (2010) and The Apocalypse Codex (2012) – the last of the spy-novel pastiches, which features a version of Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise and won a Locus Award. The Laundry books now take a new turn with the progression of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, which is the Laundry codename for the Lovecraftian apocalypse: the occult equivalent of increasingly catastrophic Climate Change, manifesting as a rising magical noise level with various side effects. The Rhesus Chart (2014) introduces rationalized Vampires; The Annihilation Score (2015) sees a plague of UK Superheroes; The Nightmare Stacks (2016) centres on a kind of Alien Invasion by human-related beings whose prehistoric residence on Earth spawned legends of elves; and The Delirium Brief (2017) thrusts the now-public Laundry into direct conflict with political and business interests, the UK government being far more concerned with opinion polls and short-term damage control than CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. Related sidebar stories include Equoid (24 September 2013 Tor.com; 2013 ebook), which won a Hugo as best novella, the author's third; his second novella Hugo had been for the non-series Palimpsest (in Wireless, coll 2009; 2011).

The Halting State sequence, so far comprising Halting State (2007) and Rule 34 (2011) is a series of Near Future police procedurals set in Scotland (where Stross now lives). Though perhaps distractingly told in the second person, they enable Stross to engage with some of his long-standing interests. In addition to the effects of the Internet in general, these include Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, and the post-9/11 security state; there is a conscious avoidance of male heterosexual characters. The Merchant Princes series beginning with The Family Trade (2004), though premised on the idea of travel between Parallel Worlds, operates principally as Fantasy rather than sf – however, as with Terry Pratchett's Discworld sequence, the effects of Technology become an increasingly prevalent issue, with travel and commerce amongst the parallel worlds even more technologized in Empire Games (2017), where one of the worlds closely resembles a Near Future America.

Glasshouse (2007) is set mainly in a kind of Pocket Universe within an isolated Starship, featuring issues of Gender and Identity as the male protagonist is afflicted with Amnesia and placed, as a female, in a Dystopian artificial society recreating the sexism and oppressive Religion of the forgotten "Dark Ages" (the latter twentieth century); there are interesting twists on Matter Transmission.

The impact of Stross's work, and its often dazzling density of ideas, is perhaps in danger of being blunted by his astonishing rate of production. Some of his productions feel all too visibly spun out to their required length. At his best, though, in a work like Accelerando, he creates worlds in which the reader feels compelled to believe. His popularity with readers is attested by his three Hugo wins to date. There is no question that he is one of the central sf writers of the moment. [GS/DRL]

see also: Basilisks; Carnacki: Cities; Dyson Sphere; Hive Minds; Holocaust; Interzone; Matter Duplication; Memory Edit; Mercury; Prometheus Award; Rays; Sidewise Award; Skylark Award; Time Police; Upload.

Charles David George Stross

born Leeds, West Yorkshire: 18 October 1964

died

works

series

Eschaton

Laundry

Merchant Princes

Halting State

  • Halting State (New York: Ace Books, 2007) [Halting State: hb/Sophie Toulouse]
  • Rule 34 (New York: Ace Books, 2011) [Halting State: hb/Alberto Seveso]

Saturn's Children

  • Saturn's Children (New York: Ace Books, 2008) [Saturn's Children: hb/Joe Williamsen]
  • Neptune's Brood (New York: Ace Books, 2013) [Saturn's Children: hb/Tony Mauro]

individual titles

  • Accelerando (New York: Ace Books, 2005) [fixup: hb/Digital Vision]
  • Glasshouse (New York: Ace Books, 2007) [hb/Rita Frangie]
  • Rule 34 (New York: Ace Books, 2011) [hb/Alberto Seveso]
  • The Rapture of the Nerds (New York: Tor, 2012) with Cory Doctorow [fixup: early version first appeared May-June 2004 Argosy as one of two standalone volumes: with one further story: hb/uncredited]

collections and stories

  • Approaching Xanadu (Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Back Brain Recluse, 1989) [story: chap: pb/]
  • Lobsters (no place given: Fictionwise, 2002) [story: ebook: first appeared June 2001 Asimov's: na/]
  • Toast and Other Rusted Futures (Holicong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 2002) [coll: pb/Juha Lindroos]
    • Toast (Holicong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press/Cosmos Books, 2003) [coll: rev vt of the above: hb/Juha Lindroos]
    • Toast (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press/Wyrm, 2009) [coll: exp of the above: hb/Steve Montiglio]
  • Missile Gap (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2007) [novella: chap: first appeared in One Million A.D. (anth 2006) edited by Gardner Dozois: hb/J K Potter]
  • Wireless (London: Orbit, 2009) [coll: hb/Peter Cotton]
  • Scratch Monkey: A Novel and Two Essays (Framingham, Massachusetts: NESFA Press, 2010) [coll: intro by Roz Kaveney: hb/Gregory Manchess]
  • Palimpsest (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2011) [novella: first appeared in Wireless (see above): hb/J K Potter]
  • A Tall Tail (New York: Tor.com, 2010) [story: ebook: na/]

nonfiction

  • The Web Architect's Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co, 1996) [nonfiction: pb/]
  • Japan 2007 (Birmingham, England: The Birmingham Science Fiction Group, 2007) [nonfiction: chap: essay: pb/nonpictorial]

about the author

links

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