Book Review: Glasshouse by Charles Stross
Robin lives in the 27th century where your consciousness can be switched from body to body (and not just ortho-human ones) indefinitely. Frequent back-ups in an A-gate protect you from ever really dying. Of course, sometimes people go in to get some memories wiped. This is the closest thing to a chance at a new life. Robin wakes up in one of these facilities with a far more extensive memory wipe than usual. People are trying to kill him, and he finds himself signing up for a social experiment where the experimenters are attempting to recreate the second dark ages–the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. He thinks he’ll be safe here, but he might not be. Is he really at risk though or is he just messed up in the head?
This future where Earth no longer exists and a person is a person because of their consciousness and not their bodies is incredibly richly imagined. It is abundantly clear that Stross has a clearly laid out society in mind when writing. This is all taking place within a world within a certain timeline within a certain culture. That is what makes for the best scifi reading experience, and Stross pulls it off quite well.
The plot is endlessly surprising and nearly impossible to predict until the last few chapters. Of course any plot involving people who can change bodies with a complex civil war previously fought involving a computer virus that enters people’s consciousness via the A-gates would be complex. But don’t be deterred! It is really not difficult to follow, although you may have to stop to think about it a few times.
I also want to say kudos to Stross for writing such an incredibly GLBTQ friendly piece of scifi that isn’t necessarily about gender or sexuality. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the terms “cis-gendered and trans-gendered” used in a scifi book. In this future where people can pick whatever body they want, it’s natural for everyone to spend at least a few lifetimes as both a male and a female, although they all ultimately tend to choose one over the other. In fact, a plot-point for the book involves the researchers randomly placing someone who identifies predominantly as female in a male body and the resulting depression from that. Similarly, characters identify as mono or poly, meaning both monogamous and polyamorous sexualities are recognized as equally valid. It is an incredibly welcoming environment where people are encouraged to be themselves that only makes the experiment set during our own time period all the more jolting. I could see any queer person finding this story very relatable.
Unfortunately, the strong set-up kind of lost me toward the end. I’m still not quite sure exactly what I should have taken from the ending, but I felt that it didn’t live up to the incredibly high bar Stross set for himself early on. I’m still glad I read it as it was a very different, unique experience, but I do wish he’d spent a bit more time figuring out an ending worthy of the meat of the book.
Overall, I recommend this to scifi fans, and highly recommend it to GLBTQ readers and advocates.
4 out of 5 stars