Charles Stross’s name inevitably appears in SFF circles: he’s a prolific writer on top of numerous award ballots—one of those Legends with a capital L that you’ve heard about, but have never actually gotten around to reading (at least I hadn’t).
My first Stross novel went a lot better than expected (I am trying to read all of the 2014 Hugo Award nominees with an open mind, but two things were immediately against it: 1) it’s not a Fantasy novel and 2) it’s a damn tiny book. I make no apologies for my lack of impartialness).
Right off the bat it’s clear that Charles Stross can write. And I mean write. The language is both beautiful and precise, with nary a word wasted. It’s impressive how much he managed to fit into a paragraph, a chapter, a book.
You see, Charles Stross is not only serving you a prime cut of steak, but he’s also a master chef who knows how to grill it to perfection. Substance and execution come together in a way that few authors can ever manage.
That being said, the writing is tough. Not because of the language in a cuts-your-reading-speed-in-half way like Steven Erikson, but because of all the math, chemistry, physics, and general science-speak. You don’t need a college education to read Neptune’s Brood, but you sure as hell need one to have written it.
The biggest appeal of the whole book was imagining a future ruled by commerce (in a benign impartial sort of way where the math and equations rule, not greedy bankers). The marketing graduate in me constantly squeed at all the concepts about money and trade. If you’ve any inclinations whatsoever for financial markets, instruments, and incentives, this book is for you.
There are “character” books, “plot” books, and “idea” books and this one falls into the latter category by a parsec. Not to say that the characters or plot were flat, but it wasn’t the main focus. The neat thing about sliders like this is that if one category is good enough, the others don’t matter. (A character can be a total asshole as long as he’s competent and proactive, a plot can be unbelievable if it’s funny and entertaining, etc.).
One thing that turned me off at first were the info-dumps. Not just your amateurish slip of the pen, but full-on narrative breaks for espouncing on a topic. Like, CAPTAIN TO ENGINEERING, FULL STOP ON THE STORY, IT’S TIME TO EXPLAIN A CONCEPT OR FIVE.
It had me worried, but honestly worked in the end. It’s almost enough to make me revisit my opinion on info-dumps, because it was interesting to the point of not caring. Like reading a really fascinating article about science, or watching a documentary—it’s information that you’re glad to have absorbed.
In conclusion, Neptune’s Brood is a definite contender on this year’s Hugo ballot. Not my favourite book of the year, but a hard science novel worth your attention.