Some time ago there was a Facebook questionnaire going around about your reading habits. One of the questions was about writers who were most influential, and a friend of mine challenged me when I did not mention Charles Stross in my influences. There was a good reason I didn’t include Mr Stross at that time – I had only read a couple of his books.
He’d be on the list now. More than anyone else at the moment, Charles Stross is the writer I stay up too late to read.
The first book of his that I read was Halting State, a highly engaging story of the near future (which I’ve mentioned along with its eventual sequel in talking about the perils of writing about the future). I loved the Scottishness of it (Stross lives in Edinburgh) and I enjoyed its being written in second person – a trick I’ve only seen successfully employed before in one of Iain Banks’ books, Complicity, and then only for a portion of it.
After that I read Glasshouse, a novel set in the post-singularity Universe. That was a mind-blower, that one – hard SF reminiscent of Greg Egan but with characters that I found vastly more compelling.
It’s not just that I enjoy his writing, or that his work is thought-provoking and entertaining, or that his speculation is vigorous and rigorous both: it’s all of these things to be sure, but it is also his prolific output and his great versatility. His first novel was published in 2003 and he has seventeen novels in print – that’s an almost Pratchettian level of production.
Here are some more of his books.
As I have noted before, I am a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos – he has a Mythos-themed series called The Laundry Files which relate the adventures of Bob Howard, a member of a British secret service organisation nicknamed The Laundry and tasked with suppressing and thwarting the intrusion into our Universe of malign entities which look an awful lot like Cthulhu and his colleagues.
They’re pulpy, but they are a lot of fun.
Another series, now complete, started as an effort to publish a fantasy story: The Merchant Princes are a set of families from a parallel universe who can walk between worlds. It starts wearing the trappings of an urban fantasy, but becomes a story of economics and what happens when fantasy meets a belligerent and paranoid government.
If we are talking about parallel worlds, I should also give another nod to Palimpsest which I talked about before in a post about multiverses.
Stross made his reputation as someone who wrote about the technological singularity, the point where the rate of change of technology is so fast that it becomes impossible to predict what happens next – this is where he demonstrates his chops as a rigorous writer of hard science fiction, with Accelerando especially being one of the most densely imaginative pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered (this is the book that precedes Glasshouse).
He also has a two book series, Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, which deals with a different version of a post-singularity Universe featuring the Eschaton. Wildly imaginative, and thrilling to boot.
On top of all this, Charles Stross has an interesting blog.
So, if you haven’t encountered Stross before, go and read his stuff. He’s really good.