Iron Sunrise


Charles Stross


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

Febuary 20, 2007

ron Sunrise refers to a star going supernova- when the star burns its gases, it fuses them into heavier and heavier elements (hydrogen into helium, helium into lithium, etc), the process continues until it reaches the element of iron, after which point a star's core can fuse no further and the sun goes supernova. G2 stars do not normally explode into supernovas, they are not massive enough. So when the G2 star that the planet Moscow orbits explodes in an "iron sunrise" - it is the clearly the result of hostiles using an advanced weapon.

No one survives on the planet Moscow, but there are survivors in small stations that orbited the star at enormous distances - they must all be evacuated before the deadly wave of gamma rays and high energy particles from the supernova pass through them. Humans possess faster than light space ships in this novel, so a rescue is possible. One of the evacuees is a teenage girl called Wednesday. (Is her name a tribute to Heinlein's Girl Friday? Or Fforde's heroine Thursday Next?) Wednesday and her family have boarded the rescue ship, but she grows bored with waiting and the close confinement. Wednesday begins exploring the rescue ship, and then she slips back into the abandoned station for one last look around - where she finds a dead body and some data disks and files. Wednesday's invisible friend Herman advises her to take the disks and files and hide them elsewhere on the empty space station. Herman is an artifical intelligence who communicates with Wednesday through rings that she wears - the jewelry is the way citizens in the future communicate with their version of the internet. Herman is a small piece of the Eschaton, a vast intelligence that inhabits the distant future. Wednesday returns to the rescue ship and begins the life of a refugee.

The narrative switches to secret agent Rachel and her husband Martin. Rachel is told that the colony Moscow had built a retaliatory system to deter attackers - it built three massive slower-than-light (STL) spaceships - if any planet launched an attack on Moscow, the three STL would accelerate to a good percentage of the speed of light, and then ram themselves into the aggressor planet causing destruction on a global scale. After Moscow Prime exploded, these three ships had pointed themselves at the nearby colony world of New Dresden, which had long been an antagonistic rival of Moscow. The three STL ships are now suspected to be less than a light year a way from New Dresden, which turns out NOT to have caused the destruction of Moscow Prime. Fortunately, there is a fail safe code that can be sent to the three ships telling them to abort the mission. The fail safe code must be sent by three of Moscow's ambassadors. Unfortunately, someone has been assassinating these ambassadors, and it is up to Rachel to stop the assassinations and convince the ambassadors to issue the recall message. If Rachel fails, 800 million residents of New Dresden (far too many to be evacuated) will perish.

This book a fine example of space opera: advanced civilizations around distant stars, humans with wonderous technology such as FTL starships, the book has an epic scale - whole planets are threatened with destruction. Stross introduces some creepy villans - the ruthless civilization of the ReMastered - who pith the brains of their opponents, leaving behind "meat puppets" that mindlessly act on the commands of their masters. There are several suspenseful chase scenes when Wednesday is pursued by some nasty bad guys. But the ReMastered are not stock villans, acting evil for the sake of evil - their terrible deeds make logical sense to their twisted way of thinking. Rachel and Wednesday are sympathetic characters in perilous situations - it turns out that the files that Wednesday discovered on the station contain damning evidence about who caused the supernova.

Although Iron Sunrise is set in the same fictional universe as Singularity Sky, it is a stand alone novel. However, Singularity Sky is also an inventive work and worth reading on its own. I will have to check out Accelerando and Glasshouse, Stross' next SF epics.