Woo hoo! More from Charlie Stross! This book, subtitled The Essential Collection, is pretty much that – an excellent selection of the man’s shorter fiction – not a complete collection, but enough to be going on with.
After an introduction in which Charlie explains why he likes to write shorter fiction, and why sf is a good home for it, we get down to the stories. I’ll babble about a few of them in my usual way:
OK, this manages to be an interesting bit of serious sf while causing loud squeaks from geeks. Well, from me, anyway. I suspect other geeks would behave similarly.
The set-up is nicely classic sf. At some point around the Cuban Missile Crisis, the whole surface of the Earth was apparently scraped off and moved through some kind of deeply weird space/time thingy. The continents, complete with their occupants, were spread over the surface of an unimaginably vast disc located somewhere in the vicinity of the Magellanic Clouds. Our own Galaxy can be clearly seen in the sky, showing signs of massive high-level mega-technological activity. Oh, and there are much bigger gaps between our continents than we’re used to. And there are other landmasses on the disc…
So far, so high-concept. Could be a massive series of novels in that. But Charlie couldn’t resist having some fun. Fun of the name-dropping variety. For instance, your actual Yuri Gagarin is in it. That would be cool enough, but when he’s sent on a mission to command a bloody enormous nuclear powered Ekranoplan, my geek meter started twitching nicely. And when he’s told to take his new ship
on an historic five year cruise. You will boldly go where no Soviet man has been before, explore new worlds and look for new peoples, and establish fraternal socialist relations with them
my geek meter exploded. And if that’s not enough for you, Carl Sagan is in it.
And there are other lifeforms on the disc. Alien termite thingies with some very clever tricks.
And there’s one more bit of advanced geekery: watch out for a character called Gregor Samsa, a US government agent who might not be quite what he seems. If the name rings a bell, you’ll probably guess what he’s up to. It took my brain a little while to remember where I’d heard the name before…
A Colder War
A darker, more serious take on what might happen if all that H P Lovecraftery that we know and love from the Laundry books was let loose. Not as much fun as those books, but good stuff.
Down on the Farm
And talking of the Laundry, this is a short story featuring our old friend Bob Howard, who has to pay a visit to the Laundry’s very private and very unusual funny farm. He doesn’t get a lot to laugh about, but we do…
A collaboration with Cory Doctorow, which should set a few more geek meters twitching. Fun and games in a USA where open internet access is very illegal. And when something gets banned, there are always people trying to get around that.
This reminded me quite a lot of the classic Isaac Asimov novel The End of Eternity. It’s got a very similar idea at its core – there’s an organisation that exists outside of time as we know it, and which has set itself the task of ensuring the survival of humanity. In a particular way. And with a distinctly ruthless streak – new recruits have to kill their own grandparents before their parents were born, and that’s just for starters. It all happens on a massive sweep of time, and it’s well worth reading.
There is more, but you can discover that for yourself.
 Crazy Cold-War era ground-effect plane. There was a documentary a few years back called Caspian Sea Monster about one that the Soviets built and tested. Huuuuge thing. But Yuri’s is bigger.