Review: Wage a future time war with Charles Stross in Wireless

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

If there was any doubt that Charles Stross is one of science fiction's best authors of this decade, having a hardcover short fiction collection from a major publisher should dispel it. Wireless (Ace Books, $24.95) collects nine stories, include a new novella, showing a wide range in voice and tone, mixing cynicism with humor, some alternate 20th century and some far future, but all distinctively Stross.

Stross' Cold War angst results in two of the best stories, "Missile Gap," a brilliant novella set on a 1962 Earth that has been moved by alien forces to an immense disc outside the galaxy in the far future, and "A Colder War," set in an alternate 1980s where Lovecraftian horrors are unleashed in the Iran-contra scandal. Another, "Unwirer," co-authored by Cory Doctorow, is also an alternate history, set in a U.S. where Internet access has been restricted, creating an illegal countercultural underground and a government war on net access piracy. "Down on the Farm" is set in Stross' Jennifer Morgue milieu, where government agents use mathematics to create magic.

Stross' trademark humor is also evident in such stories as "Rogue Farm," when human gestalts meld both mentally and physically with the goal of reaching Jupiter orbit through creative biology, "Snowball's Change," a Scot-accented deal-with-the-devil tale, "Maxos," where spam explains the Fermi paradox, and "Trunk and Disorderly," a nicely handled far-future P.G. Wodehouse pastiche.

The new novella is "Palimpsest," a future time-war tour de force, telling a complex story of a time agency that for billions of years repeatedly rescues mankind from self-extinction every few thousand years by reseeding a small population in a later time.

Most of Stross' distinctive qualities are well represented here, his cynicism about humanity, his humor, his cybernetic obsessions, his Cold War trauma and, most importantly, his vivid imagination. If you have been out of touch in recent years and have not yet been introduced to his brilliant work, Wireless is a good place to start.