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Six volumes, about 1,900 pages: The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, The Clan Corporate, The Merchants' War, The Revolution Business, The Trade of Queens

Complicated. Journalist Miriam Beckstein gets embroiled with her family's enterprises and ambitions in three separate, parellel worlds. Deals with commerce, politics (of court, nation, empire, revolution and sex), friendship, family and sexual relationships. Starts off in standard fantasy-mode as Miriam, introduced in our USA a few years post 9/11, finds herself in parallel worlds and tries to adapt. Segues fairly seamlessly into political thriller culminating in inter-dimensional nuclear war.

Um. This is good old-fashioned SF. I wish I liked it better. And I wish I had more time to write about it.

Plus points: It was good enough to keep me reading until the end. Interesting use of principles of economics to drive the plot and character motivations. Valid female points of view (multiple) from a male writer, and passes the Bechdel test. And actually, for this female reader, rather better than that, as the plot is driven by the politics of reproduction and the stance taken is decidedly feminist, for certain values of that term.

Characters mostly fairly cardboard, though Stross tries hard and succeeds better than many. But should he really have involved named living politicians in his plot, especially given the deeds and objectives he imputes to them?
Very brutal. Lots of death.
And everything happens too quickly and too easily: that people try to do the things described is credible, that they succeed is often not: people just do not adapt so easily or so well to working with people with different ways of thinking.

Outright minus points:
Repetition: every twenty pages Stross recapitulates the plot and/or state of relationships in case we've forgotten where we were, which is acceptable in a part work but downright irritating in a novel.
Character flipping: Stross is keen on showing rather than telling, and multi-viewpoint narrative with this purpose is not in itself a problem. But it grates when in order to be shown something you spend a few pages with a character you have barely met before and do not meet again afterwards, and gets positively annoying when not enough work is done elsewhere to set that character in context and integrate the particular events of those pages into the overall plot.
Loss of plot, or perhaps that should be loss of character: Miriam gets lost. After four volumes of being the main protagonist driving the plot, she gets to be Queen, and ironically is more-or-less ignored thereafter. She gets a happy-ever-after ending, of sorts, but it all seems like a bit of an afterthought. Stross gets deeply involved in techno-geekery (nuclear weapons design and the logistics of inter-dimensional warfare) and the emotional ending of the series is actually encompassed in a few pages depicting a nuclear holocaust.

So not an unqualified literary success. But overall much better educated than its fictional predecessors and I'm glad I read it.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
7th Jun, 2010 05:33 (UTC)
I think Miriam is the most compelling sympathetic viewpoint character that Stross has created (at least so far). And he had a great plot structure following her as she learns that what she thought she knew was wrong, and then comes up with yet another clever new scheme, which seems to go great until the next learning experience. The story could have had all the same things happen, but some of them needed to happen offstage, and be told through Miriam's reaction. It could have had a lot more emotional impact. The techno-geekery really worked against that, and I'm a techno-geek.
7th Jun, 2010 12:54 (UTC)
Yes, you're right about Miriam, I think, though I haven't read enough Stross to compare her to other characters.
7th Jun, 2010 14:08 (UTC)
I know what you mean. I've read most of the series, but it doesn't really draw me in. I've no urge to go and seek out the final volume.
7th Jun, 2010 16:38 (UTC)
I embarked upon volume 6 because I had set out to read all six, but then enjoyed (if that's the word for what you do when you are a fellow traveller at a genocide) more than I had expected beforehand.
7th Jun, 2010 17:57 (UTC)
Would you recommend my skipping the last two volumes? I have plenty of other books to read...
8th Jun, 2010 09:09 (UTC)
On balance, if you're asking the question, then skip them. They reward less than the first four.

Do you want a plot summary?
8th Jun, 2010 09:42 (UTC)
Yes, please. I'd really like the plot summary. A good way to find how it all worked out, without actually having to wade through it. I can read better books with the time saved!
8th Jun, 2010 10:44 (UTC)
Ok. Briefly:

The Pervert blows up the palace killing his father and brother and a big chunk of the nobility of Gruinmarkt, causing civil war. The worldwalkers mostly escape. The Pervert never realises he is in the middle of an inter-dimensional war. The civil war is resolved when the worldwalkers nuke one of their beseiged palaces taking out the Pervert and his army.

Miriam has been artificially inseminated with the Idiot's baby and is proclaimed Queen by the anti-Pervert faction. She can't world walk while she's pregnant, and spends the rest of the two novels being looked after. Although she drives action, she doesn't actually do very much. Eventually she loses the baby, though by then it doesn't matter much.

There is a revolution in the Lee's world. The evil doctor Egon gets there and causes trouble. The world walkers fight back successfully, and negotiate an agreement with the revolutionaries to accept refugees from Gruinmarkt.

The US authorities get fully on top of the world walkers there, and the Clan business in our world is shut down. A world walker faction nukes The White House (bomb in the holocaust museum!) which takes out Washington. Cheney (not named, but clearly identifiable) inherits the presidency, and it turns out he was a Clan double agent and knows all about them. The US gains world walking capability, declares its operations on the North American continent in parallel worlds legal because not international, and drops nuclear bombs on the Gruinmarkt creating a firestorm and killing 4 million people, very few of them the world walkers who have caused the trouble. Cheney dies of a heart attack and Rumsfield (named) inherits the presidency.

At the end the US is a police state with world walking capability, though the only world they have an address for is that of the Gruinmarkt; that world is essentially now owned by the US but does not yet know it. The world walkers themselves have split into factions: some have stayed home, a few are more-or-less stranded in the US, most are refugees in revolutionary Boston where they hope to earn a living by technology transfer. Miriam and Brill are there, and Miriam is getting off with Erasmus Burgeson who is one of the revolutionary leaders. Paulette and Mike are is in the US. Pretty much everyone else is dead. Rules in the US and New Britain now know about world walking, and yet more worlds have been visited briefly. History continues. So it goes.

Worth noting that people who read for plot and action rate the last two higher than the middle two, by the way.

8th Jun, 2010 12:34 (UTC)
Crikey! That really doesn't sound my cup of tea at all. cynic though I am about the US, I would find it hard to believe them nuking 4 million people.

I'm not really an action fan...

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


Caroline M

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