Where Halting State sounds like a riff on Dreampark. Glasshouse actually has more in common with Dreampark than Halting State. Glasshouse takes place in the far future, where post-human humanity has been ravaged by war. Unfortunately, a virus was released that makes people forget the cause of the war and why they are fighting. This leads to the fragmentation of humanity as those who are trying to piece civilization back together must contend with those who are still infected. Enter Robin, who seems to have an assassin tracking him down, but he can’t remember why. Robin voluntarily under went a memory wipe to try and reprogram himself into something different. This wipe also makes him a good candidate to enter the experimental ‘Glasshouse’, whose inhabitants are recreating the time period 1950-2040, in a completely isolated environment. However, those who want to kill him may have followed him there.
I’d have to say that Glasshouse is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s filled with all sorts of future technology like post-humans, ‘always-on’ mental network connections, computer viruses that use people as vectors, as well as a ton of other, heavy-duty SF-nal ideas. And Stross manages to fill the story with this without exhausting the reading with jargon, as in Accelerando. If you want high tech speculation in a far future setting, Glasshouse is your book.
As far as the story goes, Stross gives us a good one. Robin, who is male, wakes up in the ‘Glasshouse’ in a female body. With this, he realizes that the person out to get him could be anyone, including the person he ends up being ‘married’ to. Everything Robin says or does is then filtered through the lens of cautious paranoia. Additionally, using the time period of 1950-2040 allows Stross to play around with societal conventions that we are familiar with and show just how odd some of the could seem to people who aren’t familiar with them. Of course, being from the far future, the experimenters also get several things incorrect, which the reader will realize, but the characters don’t. All of this sets up a environment that makes it hard for Robin to figure out who to trust, although its rather obvious who the bad guys are. But even here, as we learn what is actually going on, Stross has a few twists to add that change the way we view those in charge. And any book that creates a military organization, the Linebarger Cats, just as an homage to Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger), has a lot going for it.
There’s a lot of stuff going on here: ideas of what makes us human, self-determination, perception of reality, and all of it wrapped up in a really cool SF setting, filled with lots of action and intriguing set pieces. About the only criticism I have is that the story dragged a bit during the middle part as Robin is trying to get used to the ‘Glasshouse’ and is figuring out what is going on. Still, that is a minor nit in what is a very fine science fiction novel.