Daily Illuminator

June 5, 2007: Scary Fan Moment

As in, "a moment when I got to be a scary fan." To set the stage:

A few years ago I acquired, as a convention freebie, a science fiction magazine: Spectrum SF 7. I dropped it into a to-read stack, and didn't get around to it for quite a while. Eventually, though, I read it. Some good stuff there . . .

And half of a novel. Half of The Atrocity Archive, by Charles Stross.

I quite enjoyed it. Basically a modern-day spy thriller, in a world where magic works all too well, especially with computers to help it along, and governments do their best to suppress the inevitable rediscoveries of Bad Things.

But all I had was the first half. So I added The Atrocity Archives (it seems to have become plural in the course of book publication) to my rather long Find This list, and went about my business.

Except that not many months later, as I prepared for Penguicon, I noticed that Charles Stross was going to be one of the guests there. "Cool!" I thought. "His books will be on sale in the dealer room." I also hit his Wikipedia entry, just to see what else he might have done, and found out that he used to do quite a bit of game writing. Among other things, he created the slaad, a now-popular race of AD&D monsters.

So at this point I was definitely looking forward to meeting him.

Flash forward to Penguicon. I'm in the dealer room. Where no copies of The Atrocity Archives are for sale.

So I bought some other Stross books . . . more on this in a moment . . . because we're approaching my Scary Fan Moment. Which was when I introduced myself to Charlie and told him that I really liked his work, even though I'd never actually finished the book.

To his credit, he did not flee screaming. We had a pleasant chat, I got him to sign a couple of the books that I had bought, and we went our separate ways, though I had the pleasure of hearing him on a couple of panels, where his comments were just as interesting as the novel that I still hadn't gotten to finish.

Further flash forward: I'm at home, reading the newly-purchased books, The Family Trade and its first sequel, The Hidden Family. Very good stories . . . and nothing at all, in tone or plot, like The Atrocity Archives. The covers call it fantasy. This is marketing. These books - Stross calls the series "The Merchant Princes" - are what I'd call straight SF. No magic in it anywhere, just the ability to "worldwalk." He makes one far-out assumption and proceeds from it logically, which is a style I like very muich. You could campaign these stories perfectly well with one existing GURPS power and a couple of historical sourcebooks. And if you're looking for a new campaign world, I recommend the series! Good stories. He's written two more in the series.

So I went looking for more Stross. And what did I find but Accelerando, a near-future SF story that touches the standard posthuman/Singularity bases very nicely, and then tosses the reader a couple of curves. Furthermore, although the above link will let you buy hardcopy at Amazon, you can download it free, with the blessing of author and publisher, at the novel's website. Which makes excellent thematic sense, when you read the story. And, in tone and plot, this book is nothing like either of the others.

This Mr. Stross, he demonstrates rather impressive flexibility.

So I'm really looking forward to reading more . . . he's done several others, both stand-alone novels and continuing series. And he's clearly an author who's got a lot to say, and a lot of ways to say it. We will be hearing more from this Mr. Stross.

And having posted all those nice Amazon links, I'm going to use the first one myself, and buy my own darned copy of The Atrocity Archives.
-- Steve Jackson

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