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Book Note: Charles Stross, Toast

I read this book about 29-Aug-2004. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2002. This note was last modified Thursday, 02-Sep-2004 20:43:41 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Charles Stross has been active in various newsgroups where I also hang out for some time, so it feels like I know him. But I don't, never even met. Some things have made it sound like I should read him, others less so. I've arranged to borrow a couple of books, since he's not much available in mass-market paperback that I can see. This first one is a trade paperback; have I mentioned how much I hate trade paperbacks for fiction? They make sense for some kinds of books that need bigger pages, but not for fiction. It's a conspiracy of the publishing industry to extort money from me, is what it is. (Okay, I know; as much as anything, it's that they're returnable rather than strippable.)

It's also a collection. I hope to comment on each story.

This book exhibits one of the classic utter idiocies of book design: the running heads do not include the name of the story! I find this totally infuriating, and completely idiotic. It makes it hard to learn the title of the story I'm reading, and hard to find a particular story. (Yes, I know how to look the page number range up in the table of contents, but having both page numbers and story titles to work with is a lot better than just one, and I assure you I'd scream like hell if the page numbers were missing too.)


Cross-universe agents need to escape from earth before a soft-rapture event. Their mission to save us has failed (apparently Abrahamic cultures rarely survive this stage).

All the information about their job, their culture, and the problems happening to ours is rather nicely worked in as things they have to think about in figuring when, where, and how to run away. There's a nice feeling of being right on the edge of the singularity.

The ending is incomplete and unsatisfactory. That is, I'm too stupid to get it. There's a clear hint that things aren't actually okay back in their home environment either, I think, rather than a hint that they're going to carry back something bad from ours.


Bear Trap

A guy traveling on a spaceship has interesting conflicts between internal and external memories, and an alleged wife he doesn't remember internally shows up, too. Turns out she's the company he didn't quite make work (yes, a corporation can be an individual; why not?), and the kingdom he's going to knows more about him than he likes and wants him to do his real work for them. Then there's a brief adventure plot that feels sort of tacked on and irrelevant.

Extracts from the Club Diary

A coffee addicts club. Starting before WWI, and running through until they destroy the world. Kinda silly, though many of the "famous person considers improving coffee using his canonical insight" epsiodes were amusing.

A Colder War

Elder gods in the Cold War. Is there a Shoggoth gap?

TOAST: A con report

History of computing; rather a convention of it. And investigating people being unable to keep up with the rate of change in their work.

A Boy and His God

Great title. The Lovecraftian Elder Gods show up again, and one is bought as a pet for a small boy. He makes the mistake of worshipping it (even though he's warned), and survives only because of a well-timed Mack truck.

Ship of Fools

Set against the background of a cruise taken by people who expect Y2K to bring things down -- at least a fair risk. Things get very strange at the end (and the last line is pretty much borrowed from "The Nine Billion Names of God").

Dechlorinating the Moderator

A physics hacker's con. Strange demos. Strange people. No plot.

Yellow Snow

Considering the uses of genetic engineering and human upgrade in conjunction with time travel. Doesn't work out too well, though; he doesn't reach the past he came from.

Big Brother Iron

Orwell with computers. Software declared to not have bugs, and the computer must be right. Makes no sense, of course, and I imagine bad things will happen to pretty much everybody.


None of these stories thrill me overall. All of them have some fairly powerful bits to them. "Antibodies" and "Bear Trap" have rather nice portrayals of dancing on the edge of the singularity.

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David Dyer-Bennet