In Glasshouse , Charles Stross is playing with a number of ideas. Glasshouse is set in a future in which nano-tech “assemblers” allow the creation of anything for which you have the basic elements–including people. The wonderful and convincing portrayal of future technology and its implications is a strength through Stross’ books. This technology sets up another theme. If you can duplicate anything, including people, what does identity (and hence identity theft mean. There has in the recent past been a very nasty war in which one group effectively infected the assembler units with a virus that allowed for the cognitive control and censorship of the people within the groups control. Once you control a person and that person’s memories, you can establish a very effective and nasty dictatorship.
We meet the main character Robin. Robin has recently had elective memory surgery, presumably to forget some traumatic events. Robin is convalescing while his (he is basically human with some modifications) personality settles after the memory surgery. Robin discovers there seem to be some people trying to kill him and so he volunteers to enter an experiment. The experiment involves transferring to a reenactment of Earth in the twentieth century. This gives Stross the opportunity to do some very nice observations on the silliness of many customs that many people take for granted now. Clothes, marriage, jobs, … — these all seem odd or meaningless to Robin (who is now female) and this is a very nice use of the power of SF. SF allows us to look at our own world (and ourselves) as it might be perceived from the outside.
While in the experiment, Robin discovers that the experimenters may not be quite whom they had claimed they were. This sets up the driving plot focus for the book. I won’t go into that beyond saying that it provides a nice tightly paced setting for all of the other idea generation that is going on. Very well done.