Book #18: Glasshouse

This is the first of a number of books I picked up on the recommendation of Io9's 20 Science Fiction Books That Will Change Your Life. And while Glasshouse by Charles Stross may not have changed my life, it justified it's inclusion on the list by having a wonderful idea at it's heart. What at first looks to be a generic "man with amnesia has people trying to kill him" plot becomes instead an exploration into our notions of gender roles, community and what constitutes the "greater good" against a backdrop of McCarthy-esque paranoia and virus wars that can wipe your thoughts of which side you're on.

In the future transportation, medical services, everything is conducted through the use of "gates" - think of the big ring in the movie STARGATE but smaller and capable of not only travel but disassembling, reassembling, and backing up matter - any type of matter. The "Glasshouse" of the title refers to a secret experiment focusing on reclaiming information about the planet's "Dark ages" - the period of time where mankind leaped forward with regards to technology - basically the mid-to-late 20th century. A group of people volunteer to be assigned a role in the Glasshouse where they will in effect live like the primitives of the 20th century for a minimum of three years. Robin, our "man with amnesia" hero uses the Glasshouse experiment to escape his pursuers only to be re-assigned as a woman and forced to engage in stereotypical 1950's activities - including marriage - in order to score points and thus increase the rewards given to his neighborhood.

It's this point system, and Robin's true reason for his amnesia and his being in the Glasshouse that propel the story forward. Stross emphasizes the fears and paranoia instead of fighting and action as Robin struggles to figure out the purpose of the Glasshouse experiment while at the same time understand what has happened to him. What could have been used for cheap humor instead is directed towards an honest examination of group dynamics and identification, and even the obligatory revolution at the end of the novel doesn't detract from an interesting concept well executed.

Didn't change my life, but a good read nonetheless.