Tag Archives: #AI

Stross, Charles; Iron Sunrise (2004)

Considering this is my third or fourth time reading Iron Sunrise, it should come as no surprise that I like it. Iron Sunrise is a science fiction thriller space opera lingering within certain degrees of believability. There are two main characters. One of them was apparently in the previous Eschaton story, Singularity Sky.

Rachel Mansour is Black Ops, i.e. top-secret with/without wet-work (e.g. killing people). I’ve never figured out why politicians, academics and the military use so many substitute words in an attempt to camouflage what a soldier often has to do. Although, in the case of politicians, in real life and in Iron Sunrise, I expect it has to do with living in pretend worlds inside their own heads. Pretenses and pretty words do nothing to save people like Rachel from having recurring nightmares. She is the kind of person, who instead of asking “Why should I do this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” asks “Why not me?”. She is who the UN sends out to clean up their or other worlds’ messes. In the first part of Iron Sunrise, Rachel has a nasty encounter with Emperor Idi Amin. She manages to save Geneva from him. After that, she is sent off to save humans from themselves.

One of the people who experienced the start of the mess Rachel is trying to fix is our other main character, Wednesday Strowger. The first few pages are about her experiences three years earlier when  her invisible friend, Herman, asked for her help.

She’d read the papers in the strong room, realized how important they must be, and pushed the door ajar, thinking to leave – yanked it shut barely ahead of the snarl and the leap. Acrid smoke had curled up from the hinges as she scrambled into the duct-work, fled like a black-clad spider into the service axis and though the pressurized cargo tunnel and the shadows of the almost-empty dock, panting and crying as she went. Always hearing a scrabble of diamond-tipped claws on the floor behind her.

After the evacuation of Old Newfoundland Four, we next meet Wednesday three years later. She is now 19 has people out to kill her. Wednesday ties them to her past. Again, with the help of Herman, she jumps, once more, into the fray. That jump eventually brings her into contact with Rachel.

Another person sent by her government to clean up after other people’s stupidity is U. Portia Hoechst. Same thing, only she belongs to the other side, the enemy to Wednesday and Rachel’s beliefs about right and wrong. Portia is as convinced of the need for the ReMastered as Rachel believes in the need for Eschaton. Two people, each trying to bring the galaxy back into their kind of order. Take what it may. Already, Wednesday’s home-world, Moscow and her second home on Old NewFoundland have been destroyed or made uninhabitable for humans. Once more, Wednesday and millions of other people stand to lose their lives.

I’m on Wednesday and Rachel’s side, but that is because Stross has written the story with them made out to be the quasi-goodies. Yet I can see the attraction of a tyranny run the way the ReMastered do. Only if I was considered one of the usable ones. The only good tyrannies, in my mind, are ones with leaders who put the needs of their people before their own wants. Yeah, not likely.

There are some technologies that Stross describes that I wouldn’t mind. Smart pigments for hair and skin could be incredibly fun to play with. But not really practical unless you’re trying to camouflage yourself. I’m not sure about brain implants (basically a smarter brain) because the concept seems too easy to hack. Plus they seem kind of clunky. Plus I’m not sure which parts of the brain they would be hacked into. Our brains are only electrical impulses traveling along a fragile network easily disrupted by neurochemical signals. I imagine our calorie intake would have to increase to make up for the extra energy requirements of a global implant such as Stross describes. Cause we would have to be able to energize these networks by ourselves, the way we do with our meat brains. Which is why I’m not buying all the “hard science fiction” labels that Iron Sunrise has gotten. Not when it comes to Eschaton either.

Faster than light travel, wormholes, null spaces or even almost up to light travel are never going to happen for humans. We are too stupid to come together as a planet for long enough to get it done. Hell, we’re too stupid to make our own planet more environmentally sound. Even me, and I know what is going on. But that doesn’t make this stuff any less fun to read about. Iron Sunrise is an excellent thriller that is already, more or less, happening here on Earth. This is how stupid people are. And how dedicated. And how terrified yet willing. And how terrifying. And how greedy. Greed. Ain’t it wonderful. Where would thrillers be without it or fanaticism.

If ever an Artificial Intelligence comes about that is somewhat like Eschaton, it deserves a UN citizenship.

According to Stross, the set-up of Iron Sunrise

“allows for narrative structures that map onto intercontinental travel circa 1880-1914; we have railroads space elevators that link national planetary populations to ports space stations where steam starships dock, to transport passengers and cargo slowly between stops; and we have trans-oceanic telegraph cables causal channels to allow instantaneous (but expensive and limited-bandwidth) information transfer.”


My reviews of other Charles Stross stories