Although not quite as elegant as his recent short stories, British writer Charles Stross's first novel Singularity Sky will please his fans and no doubt bring him many new readers. In the 21st century, 90 percent of the Earth's 10 billion people are involuntarily relocated to other planets by the Eschaton, a newly sentient artificial intelligence. Jumping forward 400 years, we arrive on the New Republic, the leading entity in a four-planet empire which was politically frozen around the year 1900. One of the planets, Rochard's World, has been visited by the Festival, an entity that began as an automatic interstellar repair system and has since gathered passengers, followers and hangers-on some of whom are decidedly dangerous. The New Republic's leaders, systemically unable to comprehend the Festival's decentralized nature, make the unfortunate, and ultimately useless, decision to launch a battle fleet to protect Rochard's World.

The war is merely a side event as Stross uses the dispersal of the Earth's population to compare and contrast political systems in much the same way Ken MacLeod did in his recent Engines of Light series. Inventive and occasionally very funny, Stross is a writer who wants to entertain but also to be taken seriously. If he can meld the depth of his short stories to the breadth of vision shown in Singularity Sky, he will be well on his way to his goal.

Gavin J. Grant writes from Northampton, Massachusetts.

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