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REVIEW: Singularity Sky

REVIEW SUMMARY: Mediocre book that failed to draw me in.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The anti-technological New Republic tries to stop the invasion of backwater Rochard?s World by the Festival, aliens who trade anything for information.


PROS: Inventive

CONS: Story did not draw me in; misplaced humor; weak plot.

BOTTOM LINE: In light of all the positive reviews – disappointing.

I was somewhat excited when I sat down to read Singularity Sky. My expectations were high because of all the positive buzz and favorable reviews on this, Charles Stross’ first novel. I had read two of Stross’ short stories and enjoyed them, so I figured I’d like this too. Unfortunately, I’d call this novel mediocre at best.

The slow moving plot involves the invasion of Rochard’s World, a remote planet of the New Republic, the predominate government that happens to shun technology. The invaders are the alien beings known as The Festival (it is never exactly explained why this is their name as near as I can tell). The Festival drops millions of small disks, telephones, on the planet. Put them to your ear and they say, “Entertain us.” The Festival trades in information – tell them anything and they will grant your wish. This is the vehicle by which the revolutionaries on Rochard’s World begin their long planned revolution. This does not sit well with the New Republic, who dispatches a U.N delegate, Rachel Mansour, to handle things. Rachel, who really has a hidden agenda, hooks up with Martin Springfield, an engineer who has a hidden agenda of his own.

The main theme of Singularity Sky is that information is meant to be free. The efforts of the New Republic to squash the information they spurn are futile. People are obtaining whatever their hearts desire courtesy of The Festival. The asking price is as simple as telling a fairy tale.

Now, this is a fair message, as messages go, and in a more enjoyable space opera, which is how this book is classified, it would be interlaced between interesting characterizations and action. But Singularity is about 80% ideas and 20% plot/action/characterizations. Even that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for what is stuffed in that 80%. There’s way too much politics and economics, sure-fire entertainment killers for me. More time should have been spent developing the characters and, more importantly, the plot, which was thin. Also, throughout the book, there are events and dialog that are meant to be humorous. And they are?at first. But I think Stross misses the mark. The only successful mix of sf and comedy that I know of is Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. To be sure, it’s obvious that Stross is having a lot of fun in the writing. But the plot virtually stopped with the appearance of?killer mimes. If you’re going to do comedy, go all the way.

That’s not to say, of course, that there is no redeemable quality in Singularity Sky. Actually, there are lots of inventive ideas and concepts. The cornucopia machine, for example, is capable of producing anything (even another copy of itself) as long as it has the raw materials (and schematics) to do so. That’s cool. There is also the appearance of time travel. Even though they shun technology, certain members of the New Republic are not above bending the law to use time travel to appear above Rochard’s World back when The Festival first attacks. That’s a cool concept.

Ultimately, though, Singularity Sky just did not draw me in to the story.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on REVIEW: Singularity Sky

  1. And this my friend, is why you’ll never attain the heights of, say, Harriet Klausner. I’m almost done and I’d give it roughly 3 – 3 1/2 stars.

  2. i dont understand, how do you finish a book that can’t draw you in… i have enough trouble finishing books that i like let alone ones that i dont like…

  3. Good question.

    With the enormous backlog of books I have, I am usually more likely to toss a book aside if it?s bad. If it is no longer entertaining, I will waste no more of my time. However, this book, as mentioned above, was not without its merits; it had a reasonable amount of sense-of-wonder. There are other factors, though.

  4. Pete Young // March 24, 2004 at 2:51 am //

    The Festival (it is never exactly explained why this is their name as near as I can tell)

    This part of the book is allegory. ‘The Festival’is named after the Edinburgh Festival which descends on Edinburgh every year, and ‘the Fringe’ is named after the Fringe, the hundreds of surrounding events by less well known musicians/actors/comedians, that are not part of the Festival itself.

  5. Great! Thanks for the comment. There’s a bit of International culture that was lost on this naive American.

  6. Hey! Who let Pete Young in here? Is nowhere safe?

    Hi, Pete! Glad you found the site…

  7. Pete Young // March 29, 2004 at 9:19 am //

    Via your blog of course…

  8. Pete Young // April 4, 2004 at 9:12 am //

    Not sure if it will interest you, but Stross has just posted a long whine on the Edinburgh Fringe here.

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