Singularity Sky (2003)
The first book I read on a Kindle, Stross's début is a fun romp. In the mid-21st century, extremely weird things happened on Earth. Nine tenths of humanity disappeared and were scattered among the stars, even in Earth's relative past, only to reconnect after (relative) centuries. Also, the Eschaton made itself known. Not a god, by its own admission, although a fairly good simulacrum of one, it decreed a singular rule: Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else. Relativity is valid in this universe, FTL is possible, and so perforce is time travel, but after the odd planet-busting example was made, humanity is mostly resigned to live by the Eschaton's rule.
Much of the book is centered on the New Republic, a backwater human civilization reminiscent of Tsarist Russia. When something very strange, calling itself the Festival, makes contact with one of the New Republic's colony worlds, the planet is dropped into a maelstrom of change overnight. The New Republic responds by sending a battle fleet. On board are our two protagonists, both from Old Earth, whose view approximates the perspective of the reader: Martin, a harmless engineering consultant for the fleet, who also has another agenda, and Rachel, a diplomat/spy for the Terran UN. Things go pear-shaped all the way, and then some.
Stross certainly knows the transhumanist tropes and he has a lot of fun name-dropping cool technology and generally painting a world wild and weird beyond human comprehension, but sometimes he overdoes the technobabble. Stross frequently resorts to an ironic tone which goes well with a theme running throughout: a bumbling spy, a hapless revolutionary, military commanders without the faintest idea what they are up against—from the idiot to the capable, the story is populated with characters that are completely out of their depth, overrun by events and forces they can't comprehend. And did I mention that things tend to go wrong?
Taking itself never too seriously, the novel tries to picture what happens to ordinary humans caught up in a technological singularity or the world thereafter, buffeted like leaves in a fall storm.
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