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Wireless by Charles Stross

01/10/2009. Contributed by Gareth D. Jones

Buy Wireless in the USA - or Buy Wireless in the UK

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pub: Orbit. 352 page small hardback. Price: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-771-6).

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I stood next to Charles Stross at Eastercon a couple of years ago. He was signing books in the dealer hall. I didn't know who he was until he walked away and I could see which books he'd signed. At that point I'd not read any of his work, so I was relieved that I'd not spoken to him and had to admit as much. I was very pleased therefore to be reading 'Wireless', the new short story collection that showcases his work with stories ranging from flash fiction to novella length.

First and longest is 'Missile Gap', a story that demonstrates the ability of Science Fiction to operate on the largest scale with ease. Earth has been peeled and pasted onto a vast disc, along with the surfaces of millions of other planets. The cold war continues to cause tension as the superpowers scramble to explore and colonise the new territories, all the while wondering who else is out there. The characterisation and the portrayal of paranoia is brilliant. Despite its length, I whizzed through the story and thoroughly enjoyed every page of it.

'Rogue Farm' introduces the concept of bio-engineered human agglomerations who absorb like-minded members before blasting off for Jovian orbit. It's a very bizarre idea, but the setting on a remote farm where the locals speak with country accents and hang out in the pub gives it an air of normality. Even the talking sheep dog seems perfectly reasonable. The farmer and his wife both have disturbed backgrounds that give them depth and tie the two disparate ingredients together.

There's a paranoid, secretive backdrop to 'A Colder War', with top secret files and government departments. The Russians and Americans are harbouring secret, alien technology, appropriated through 'Stargate' type devices. One government agent watches on in despair as the whole mess begins to unravel. It's an effective cold war homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

The most enjoyable story of the collection is 'Trunk And Disorderly', a futuristic take on 'Jeeves And Wooster'. Complete with orbital sky-surfing, nefarious scheming and a miniature mammoth, it's a non-stop adventure. The upper-class narrator is as clueless as poor Wooster ever was and manages to get involved in a series of bizarre goings-on while maintaining a stiff upper lip. It's great fun.

The book finishes with the previously unpublished novella 'Palimpsest'. The premise of the tale - immortal guardians of history - has shades of Asimov's 'The End Of Eternity' and Poul Anderson's 'Time Cops', but on a far grander scale. The time span runs to a trillion years and involves stellar engineering on a vast scale. The secretive organisation known as 'The Stasis' controls all, but with an agenda that is at best murky. New recruit Pierce finds himself the centre of attention when attempts are made on his life by other unknown time travellers. Charles Stross expands on the premise of The Stasis, introducing the idea of palimpsests, where history is re-written by interference from other agents, multiple times in some cases. It's a fascinating and complicated story that for me was the highlight of the volume.

If you've not read Charles Stross before then this volume will certainly tempt you to go looking for more. It's an excellent example of the breadth and depth that can be portrayed in stories of all lengths.

Gareth D. Jones

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