Re: Palimpsest (by Stross)

Palimpsest,” by Charles Stross had great buzz at Readercon, even inspiring a panel. When I finally squeezed it into my reading, I could see why. It’s filled with great mind-stretching concepts.  There are beautiful passages that are easily the best things I’ve ever read by him. You’ve got to respect a time-travel story that goes to 19th century Germany and Never Mentions Hitler. Like “Sinner, Baker,(etc.)” it builds an amazing edifice, with multiple histories of the universe. And yet, the story falls short. It opens in second person: your first assignment, Pierce, is to kill your own grandfather. This has the dual purpose of proving your ruthlessness (like a gang initiation) and unmooring your existence from the timestream. The Stasis has a avowedly high-minded purpose:  populating all of time with contemporary humans. But the more you learn about them, the more pathological this devotion looks, and the more they reveal themselves to be one big gang.

In this story, not just a city, but all of time is a palimpsest, being written over by time travellers. The Stasis is preserving human civilization and at the very end of time, they have converted all the carbon on the planet into memory diamond to hold the library of all human experience.  Once it has built that structure, the story don’t seem to know what to do with it except to tear it down. I got lost in the variant timestreams, conspiracy theories, backstabbing, throat-cutting, and random nuclear attacks from orbit.

The story also closes in second person, sending Pierce off to sort himself out.  This use of second person gives a sort of framing effect, but I’m not sure what exactly that effect is. Mostly I noticed that the story uses second person.

Collected in Wireless.

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