Singularity Sky, Eastern Standard Tribe

Today’s reviews of works by up-and-coming authors were made possible by the new book shelves of the Boston Public Library, without which my reading would be restricted to old and hoary writers. Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross is the tale of an outlying colony of a backwards, faux-Russian bureaucratic empire visited by the mysterious Festival. The visit swiftly turns their society hilariously upside-down.

Whenever you see the word hilariously associated with a work of science fiction, it’s a safe bet the author is British. Usually these imported novels that never quite take themselves seriously annoy me, but in Singularity Sky the flaw is minor. I found it hard to care about the menagerie of loosely-associated characters - the novel follows some of the hapless colonists, a civilized engineer working for several parties outside the Empire, the secret policemen assigned to spy on him, a UN liaison, a shipload of the Empire’s inept forces, and possibly others I’ve forgotten.

But for sheer fun, it’s a must-read. You’ll never forget telephones dropping from the sky, the goose that laid the golden egg, or the poor engineer’s difficulties convincing the locals that the UN isn’t a world government.

Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow hangs together much better, perhaps because it’s hardly more than a novella. Happily, the dimensions of the hardcover fit the reduced length. That the world can be divided up into tribes living in different timezones is just one of the witty reflections of our slightly unbalanced narrator. He’s an idea guy with girlfriend problems who’s contemplating a new musical toll system for the Mass Turnpike - things get crazier from there. The novel held lots of gratifying local interest for me, being a resident of both the EST time zone and the city of Boston. Perhaps a member of one of the enemy tribes would have been more annoyed.

EST is short, fun, twisty and snarky - you really can’t go wrong with this one.

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