In my opinion, theme doesn’t have to be obvious.
It definitely can be, which is the case with books like 1984 or its twin, A Brave New World.
But it doesn’t have to be. It can meander and stroll, peppering small hints throughout a story, essentially touching upon the truth, until the reader gets enough hints that they eventually arrive to the answer. But you don’t even have to do that. It is my belief that every story has a purpose, and even though every author might not set out with a theme, it inadvertently makes one.
People begin singing the words there, and clapping in time, and they don’t make any sense either. The name “Christian” features in it repeatedly, but not in any context I understand. And the message of the sing-along is distinctly sinister, all about submission and conformity and reward feedback loops. (Stross 87)
It’s funny. Glasshouse is supposed to be about this poor main character who is stuck in a bubble society made to resemble the past, and all he can think about is how strange the past is, where the Bible focuses on submission, conformity, and weird loops. Because he’s commenting on his past but our present, I think it’s safe to say Stross thinks this of society, and I have to say, I agree completely. But that’s the essence of group think and popularity right? The essence of a extremely social species?
If I was me, if I was in my own self-selected body, I’d call him out on the spot-but I’m not. In the sick pit of my stomach I realize that they’re never going to forget that I’ve been singled out, and that this makes me a target. After all, that’s how peer pressure works, isn’t it? That’s what this is about. The experimenters can’t expect to generate a workable dark ages society in just three years by dumping a bunch of convalescents in orthohuman bodies into the polity and letting them wander around. They need a social mechanism to make us require conformity of one other, and the best way to do that is to provide a mechanism to make us punish our own deviants- (Stross 88)
Direct commentary on our life. How do we get everyone to conform? Through peer pressure. And through peer pressure, we lose the individuality that is so hard to attain in our society, which was so prevalent in the main character’s…until he was forced to live now/here.
I think that’s why I liked Glasshouse a lot. It’s because it was a relatively fun read – lots of adventure, action, confusion that forced you to think, while it was still mature enough to contemplate our society, why it exists. A book stands the test of time more readily when it lends an analysis to something…besides just what it means to have fun.
Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.