Merchant’s War

Merchant’s War Charles Stross
This is a six part alternate history series where it is proven that the Bush II era could actually have been worse; say he’d died in office for instance, and then … It is also instructive to note that as far back as 2003 some people might have been happy to be over Paris Hilton’s funeral coverage.
Charlie Stross is not one to let the action flag and nor does he fail to take on a few big ideas. One part of the storyline revolves around the processes of economic development and it is easy to see why people like Paul Krugman like these books. The premise of the story is that there are a number of inhabited “Earths” in which history has played out differently such that one parallel world equates to a high medieval non Christian Viking civilisation from which a limited number of “world-walkers” are able to move back and forth between the USA and the parallel Gruinmarkt, geographically co-located with New England.
The world walking Clan are able to achieve wealth and position in the Gruinmarkt by enabling the transit of high value, low volume goods around the USA through the Gruinmarkt; ie drug trading. As their wealth grows the Clan provoke the aristocrats in the Gruinmarkt into attacking them. Strategically attacking a group with access to high technology weaponry when you are fighting with Battle of Crecy technology is not necessarily a smart move, but aristocrats have typically assumed that status equates to military superiority. The Clan itself has been fighting internecine battles between its own conservative and modernising factions, largely around the issues of the illegal trade in the USA and the need to adapt Clan reproduction to the requirements of the more modern world, thus recognising the rights of women.
The main protagonist, Miriam, is a 30 ish journalist who has been raised as an unknowing Clan member in the USA when a sequence of events destroys her American life and propels her back to the Gruinmarkt where the various battles between the aristocracy and the Clan are coming to a head. Events in these two worlds also impact on a third world which is historically intermediate between the Gruinmarkt and the USA and which has been host to a ‘lost’ Clan group for several generations.
Miriam finds herself dragged increasingly to the centre of Clan politics becoming the unwilling bride of the king’s younger brother prior to the king launching a suicidal civil war which also kills his brother, leaving Miriam as the pregnant Queen-widow of the Gruinmarkt. This occurs just as the USA launches a massive retaliation against the Gruinmarkt after discovering that the Clan had world walked some stolen nukes onto Pennsylvania Avenue 400 metres from the White House. And so it goes. A plot summary is a woefully inadequate way to convey the wonder and excitement of this very accessible thriller / alternate worlds fantasy.
Stross throws off ideas and plot twists at a higher rate than most authors and the characters are all plausible and anchored in their various timelines, or combination thereof. The processes of political and economic development are well integrated into the storyline and never overwhelm the plot or the characters. The series never degenerates into didacticism and each book concludes with a “24” style blast of action to set up the next instalment.
Stross is still considering where to go with this series and it may be a while before the next book in the series.

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About Greg

Middle aged male, resident at the finest of all latitudes, 37. Reputedly an indoor cricketer.
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