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Iron Sunrise
Charles Stross
Orbit hardcover £15.99

review by Tony Lee

This sequel to the author's superb début novel Singularity Sky, finds UN trouble-shooter Rachel Mansour back on Earth, with husband Martin Springfield, but she's still taking names and cracking heads, while coping with administrative hassles and negotiating with wacko nuclear terrorists and the like. When a mysterious power triggers a nova and the surviving military force of destroyed planet Moscow targets the colony world of New Dresden as prime suspect, Mansour's complicated job is to defuse the impending crisis and get the vengeful fleet's mission aborted. But there's simply no avoiding extremely violent conflict with the seemingly fascistic 'ReMastered'; stop-at-nothing villains led by ubermadchen Portia Hoechst, an early candidate for this year's 'queen bitch of the universe' award. Along for the bumpy and increasingly dangerous ride is orphaned misfit Victoria 'Wednesday' Strowager, who like Martin, is another of transcended-AI the Eschaton's cadre of little helpers, and Frank the Nose - a veteran war-journalist, whose blog for The Times is all set to expose the genocidal bad guys' schemes of interstellar conquest.

But nothing in Charles Stross's ambitious and energetic space opera is black and white, morally, or even as plain and straightforward as it first appears. With a skilfully fielded antiwar message, some highly imaginative technological detailing, and commendably post-feminist characters (unless there's a good reason for characters to be male, Stross frequently makes them female), Iron Sunrise is a very fine novel indeed. There's also Stross's wonderfully entertaining, sardonic sense of humour which gets sharper as the story develops, supporting the creative use of genre adventure themes, and further evidence of this British author's literary style in the erudite descriptions of various places, extraordinary situations and motives. Stross's intensely persuasive writing emphasises archly personal dilemmas over diplomatic wrangles and political troubles, and imbues the compact narrative (such brevity is always greatly appreciated!) with an engrossing rush of fantastic ideas and thrilling action sequences that makes other SF big-names' recently established space opera milieus look passé or horribly pretentious by comparison.
Iron Sunrise

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