Glasshouse – Charles Stross (2006)
It is the 27th century and Robin is recovering from a voluntary memory removal procedure. Human society is now multi-stellar with space-habitats, planets and vast ships connected by T-gates (which are basically wormholes). A-gates on the other hand, can break down one’s body and reassemble it, sometimes somewhat differently; rejuvenate and repair; assemble any artefact or object whose pattern is in storage, or backup one’s entire body just in case one is killed.
Humanity is recovering from a war in which a tailored virus called Curious Yellow rewrites one’s memories and loyalties – and therefore public history – and through its spread the Human Polity broke apart into quarantined republics which sought to guard its borders against Curious Yellow.
Robin, on the advice of his therapist, decides to sign up for an experimental project whereby he will be locked into a sealed environment, along with many other people, for a minimum of three years. He is keen to do this as, for one thing, someone is trying to kill him.
However, when he emerges from an A-gate backup he finds himself in the induction room of the project and also discovers that his body is now female.
The project is ostensibly a sociological one. The participants have to live in a stereotypical society of the Nineteen Fifties. They are divided up into groups and each group is awarded points based on whether the individuals are conforming to the social mores of the time.
However, things begin to get sinister and Robin (who is now known as Reeve) starts getting messages from her old self in her dreams, telling her that she has been placed there undercover to find out exactly what is going on in the project.
Stross seems to like his feisty female characters. Granted, this is a male whose mind has been placed in a woman’s body, but to all intents and purposes it’s a female character. Despite an initial preference for men’s jeans and boots, Robin/reeve settles down and embraces his new gender with some aplomb.
Stross also has a lot of fun with looking at the society of the (American) 1950s from the perspective of the 27th Century, especially since a lot of records and history were lost in the war, and much of the rest compromised by the effects of the virus.
Every Sunday the residents must attend Church where the Rev Fiore (one of the three founders of the project) publicly scolds those who have transgressed moral laws and praises those who haven’t. At one point they also sing the ‘hymn’, ‘First We Take Manhattan’ which, for those of you who know this Leonard Cohen song and imagine it being sung this way, is a very surreal experience.
It’s much darker novel than ‘Singularity Sky’, although just as inventive in terms of the infrastructure of the background to the text.