by Charles Stross
Ace, July 2006, ISBN 0-441-01403-8
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
Decisions, decisions. Is this the best book this year, or is Rainbows End?
Glasshouse is set later in the same univers as Accelerando, but the story is completely separate and it’s not necessary to have read the earlier book. Robin wakes up in a clinic, recovering from memory surgery which has eliminated most of his memory for the period of about an old-fashioned human lifetime. He meets a woman, Kay, who’s also recovering from (rather less extreme) memory surgery, and they hit it off—but he also quickly discovers that someone is trying to kill him. He suspects this is because of something he did during the blank period—the little he remembers hints that he was a soldier (a tank?) in the Censorship Wars. At the suggestion of his therapist, he signs on with an experimental social/historical reconstruction, which will put him in a safely sealed environment for a year or two. Kay says she’s planning to sign on, too, and they agree to look for each other inside.
Robin wakes up inside the experiment as a woman, now named Reeve. The experiment is an attempt recreate the social culture of a period about which most information has been lost—1950 to 2050. The experimental subjects have to pair off as married couples, and live according to rules that are a nightmare version of 1950s, with technology that’s closer to the early 21st century. Individuals gain or lose points according to how well they comply with the rules, and the entire cohort is scored by how well its members do overall. Reeve pairs off with a man named Sam, and suspects that a woman named Cass may be Kay.
Reeve gets off to a bad start because, quite simply, she can’t believe how stupid the rules are. No nudity. No wearing the other gender’s clothes. When she wants to buy tools, she has to say they’re gifts for her husband, Sam. Sam is assigned a job, so he’s gone all day. She has nothing to do but go shopping and do household chores, but all the money she has to spend is what he earns, which makes them both uncomfortable.
But this is the good period, before Reeve and Sam and a few others start to notice that there’s something seriously wrong. Reeve starts to suspect that the experimenters are in fact war criminals, agents of the Curious Yellow worm at the root of the Censorship Wars, very likely the people who were trying to kill him on the outside. She needs to get out, she needs to warn—somebody—but they’re all inside, not a normal habitat, spread out and linked by A- and T-gates, but a glasshouse, a military prison on board a starship, a Mobile Archive Sucker, with only one long-distance T-gate, firmly under the control of the bad guys.
And the bad guys have all the weapons, all the zombie manpower they need, and an expert and ruthless memory surgeon. Reeve has a couple of people she can almost trust, a crippled memory, and the ghost of memories of skills needed to fight back.