Ah, Charles Stross. The exemplar of the writer who uses the internet effectively (unlike me). He’s a powerful man in these post-print days. He’s rightly popular, but aside from a couple of stories his work has failed to capture my imagination. (Note, this is not why he gets three stars rather than four or five. I try to put aside my personal preferences when reviewing). This is the second time I’ve tried to post this. The first time I got a very rare WordPress error message. Spooky. Stross controls the internet! From Death Ray #21.
Collection of shorts from the incredibly prolific Mr Stross, Hard-core nerd futures ahead!
Charles Stross is regarded by some as the Great White Hope of SF, a man whose imagination and expertise allow him to create the kind of story others cannot. Some of this is true, some of it simply isn’t.
There is no denying Stross’ credentials. He holds twin degrees, one in pharmacy, the other in computer sciences. This colours his work to a great degree, in a positive way. There are precious few writers out there who can convincingly utilise the terminology of both biology and IT; there’s deep science in what Stross writes.
However, there’s a degree of narrowness to his concerns. Many of his stories obsess over Cold War style spy-jinks, codenames clutter the prose whether he’s giving us a Lovecraftian pastiche or a straight-up SF tale. There’s also a cul-de-sac viewpoint to his protagonists, like they’re stuck at the end of a long a bag peering out at small circle of the universe, not really a part of it. The story ‘Unwirer’ (written with Cory Doctorow) is a good example, where the activities of one band of geeks in one branch of technical endeavour is paramount in shaping our world. You could look at today, from a certain viewpoint, and say the same, but what about all else that happens around it? There’s a sense of detachment to these stories, they feel ungrounded. Stross sets the stage for his ideas, then has mouthpieces deliver his point in long dialogues. Character is not much of a concern, nor is reader experience. These are lectures thinly coated in narrative.
Of course, Stross is not alone. Many SF writers have done and continue to do the same. SF is about ideas after all, but this focus on them to the exclusion of all else is peculiarly old school. While there is a lot to admire about Stross – and when he is good he is very good – his work is not for everyone.