Glasshouse

June 13th, 2008 by Editor B

Title: Glasshouse
Author: Charles Stross
Published: 2006

There’s usually a point in most novels where I feel the hook, where I no longer feel the effort of pushing forward and making myself read, but suddenly (or not so suddenly) find myself being pulled forward, intrigued, under the spell. I’ve noticed this usually happens somewhere around the hundredth page, which kind of sucks when you’re reading a book that’s only three or four hundred pages in length. Of course it varies; with some (rare) books I feel that hook from the very first sentence — Neuromancer comes to mind.

Sometimes it’s a distinct moment, sometimes not. With Glasshouse it was very distinct. Page 45. This is set in the far post-human future, when everyone is virtually immortal and machines can think and feel and our time is distant memory. Very distant indeed:

“We know why the dark age happened,” Fiore continues. “Our ancestors allowed their storage and processing architectures to proliferate uncontrollably, and they tended to throw away old technologies instead of virtualizing them. For reasons of commercial advantage, some of their largest entities deliberately created incompatible information formats and locked up huge quantities of useful material in them, so that when new architectures replaced old, the data became inaccessible.

“This particularly affected our records of personal and household activities during the latter half of the dark age. Early on, for example, we have a lot of film data captured by amateurs and home enthusiasts. They used a thing called a cine camera, which captured images on a photochemical medium. You could actually decode it with your eyeball. But a third of the way into the dark age, they switched to using magnetic storage tape, which degrades rapidly, then to digital storage, which was even worse because for no obvious reason they encrypted everything. The same sort of things happened to their audio recordings, and to text. Ironically, we know a lot more about their culture around the beginning of the dark age, around old-style year 1950, than about the end of the dark age, around 2040.”

So yes, we are living right in the middle of the Dark Ages. I’ve heard people remark on this problem before, but in this fictional context the idea seems to pack more punch.

I’ve read one other novel by Charles Stross, Singularity Sky. This book has a much darker tone, and I found that to be a plus. The protagonist volunteers to participate in a Dark Ages simulation, but all is not what it seems to be. There’s a lot of Varleyesque memory and identity issues, which I always dig.

In the final analysis it’s a lightweight action-oriented science fiction romp. It’s fun and full of intriguing ideas and quite smart. I enjoyed it, but I probably won’t remember much about it a few years down the road.

Toward the end there was another passage that grabbed me:

At moments like this I hate being an unreconstructed human — an island of thinking jelly trapped in a bony carapace, endless miliseconds away from its lovers, forced to squeeze every meaning through a low-bandwidth speech channel. All men are islands, surrounded by the bottomless oceans of unthinking night.

Ah, the human condition.


This paperback is on the shelves of Octavia Books now, and you can join us to discuss it there tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM. And no, I did not type the passages above by hand. I fed a couple key phrases into Google and found other blogs that I could copy and paste. So props to Jeni’s Musings and barrysarll for providing exactly what I was after.

One Response to “Glasshouse”

  1. peptide Says:

    i read that quote from ‘glasshouse’ last night and it got into my dreams – a modern dark age – doesn’t seem farfetched in the slightest. all the data was somehow freefloating in the air, but still totally inaccessible. literally ‘data smog’.

Leave a Reply