Nine stories from the past decade showcase the author’s hard-science, hi-tech comfort zone, but also his desire to push boundaries.
Stross (The Revolution Business, 2009, etc.) leads with the substantial “Missile Gap,” a Cold War-era alternate reality tale that brims with existential gloom-and-doom. So do the somewhat similar “A Colder War,” which features splendidly terrifying, implacable aliens, and “Unwirer” (a collaboration with Cory Doctorow), which sketches a future America in which it’s a crime to set up a wi-fi connection. Elsewhere, humor pushes to the fore. “Down on the Farm” brings back long-suffering protagonist Bob Howard for another installment in the author’s established computational-magic series, and Stross even tries a fantasy Jeeves and Wooster pastiche (A for effort, B for execution, C- for humor). “Palimpsest,” a highly compressed, previously unpublished novel about time travel and reality control, would have been more effective if it hadn’t taken as its premise the central idea from Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity. Overall, stylistic limitations become apparent as the author reuses the same literary devices: cute subheadings, textual slide shows, paranoid bureaucracies, etc.
Fans will want to check this out, but newcomers will be far better off with any one of Stross’s vastly superior novels.