Stross was born in Leeds, England. He showed an early interest in writing and wrote his first science fiction story at age 12. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy in 1986 and qualified as a pharmacist in 1987. In 1989, he enrolled at Bradford University for a post-graduate degree in computer science. In 1990, he went to work as a technical author and programmer. In 2000, he began working as a writer full-time, as a technical writer at first, but then became successful as a fiction writer.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Stross published some role-playing game articles about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in White Dwarf magazine. Some of his creatures, such as the death knight, githyanki (the name borrowed from George R. R. Martin's book, Dying of the Light), githzerai, and slaad (a chaotic race of frog-like humanoids) were later published in the Fiend Folio monster compendium.
His first published short story, "The Boys", appeared in Interzone in 1987. A collection of his short stories, Toast: And Other Rusted Futures, was released in 2002; subsequent short stories have been nominated for the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and other awards. His first novel, Singularity Sky, was published by Ace Books in 2003 and was also nominated for the Hugo Award. His novella "The Concrete Jungle" (published in The Atrocity Archives) won the Hugo award for its category in 2005. His novel Accelerando won the 2006 Locus Award for best science fiction novel, was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and was on the final ballot for the Hugo Award in the best novel category. Glasshouse won the 2007 Prometheus Award and was on the final ballot for the Hugo Award in the best novel category; the German translation Glashaus won the 2009 Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. His novella "Missile Gap" won the 2007 Locus Award for best novella, and most recently he was awarded the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award or Skylark at Boskone 2008.
His novel The Atrocity Archives (2004) focused on a British intelligence agency investigating Mythos-like horrors; using ideas similar to those in the RPG book Delta Green (1996), Stross commented in an afterword to the book: "All I can say in my defence is... I hadn't heard of Delta Green when I wrote The Atrocity Archive... I'll leave it at that except to say that Delta Green has come dangerously close to making me pick up the dice again.":247
"Rogue Farm," his 2003 short story, was adapted into an eponymous animated film that debuted in August 2004.