Sunday, July 18, 2010

BOOKS: Charlie Stross and His Secret Science Fiction

(I wrote this about four months ago for publication today on my birthday. I thought the knowledge that Stross wasn't finished with my favourite series over the last five years was something akin to a birthday present. Obviously, some things have changed, including the decision to make this a Review Month of sorts. But I'm going to leave this posting as it was intended to appear today.)

I love science fiction. Mostly, I dislike fantasy, the exception being science fantasy. Confused yet? So was Charlie Stross once upon a time.

Sure, I've read a Harry Potter novel or seven in my time. Liked several books that I covered in my last mass of reviews that were fantasy, pure and simple. I almost always go for 'steampunk' novels that feature dirigibles or airships of that sort. So, I can't claim total disregard for the fantasy label on a book. But I have to have read a good review or two before breaking down and reading down THAT alley.

So, it comes as a complete shock when I read this past spring that Stross' Merchant Princes books were fantasy. Sure, there were sabres and axes and rudimentary gun powder through parts of the novels. But there were also airplanes and atom bombs. And politics. And economics. And even computers. And the viewpoint character was the very picture of a modern-day journalist, all female and capable and even Jewish. Not much fantasy material there.

But fantasy it is, according to his first contract with TOR, the publishers of the books. Now, according to a column Stross wrote back in March, the idea for the book series was to finesse past an existing contract he had with Ace. The column describes the genesis of the series, including the astounding (to me) decision to market the series as fantasy. I NEVER KNEW! I read the reviews, liked what I read and liked what I read when I got my hands on the first three books even more. The only issue I had was the rather abrupt ending to the third book, Clan Corporate. Otherwise, I was completed wrapped up in the world(s) Stross laid out before my eyes.

People will remember my review of The Merchant's War, the fourth book of the series, contained a suggestion to wait until the rest of the six-book series was out before devouring. In fact, the perfect way to enjoy Miriam's battles with the Merchant Princes was to get all six and allow for a couple of weeks of eating, sleeping and just plain reading, foregoing all other things like work and less entertaining entertainment. I took some of my own advice and haven't read the fifth book, The Revolution Business, which has been in my possession since Christmas. My birthday is coming up this month (TODAY in fact) and primary on the wish list is Trade of Queens, the sixth and concluding book of the series. Whilst I will still read the latest Evanovich to start off Birthday Reading Week, the day after and the day after that day will be spent finishing off the two novels I have yet to read.

The other thing about the column was the interesting news that the six books of the series will not be the last Stross plans to set in his triple-world continuum. In fact, the six books were originally set for just two mammoth volumes. He has yet a third book (to be broken up into three smaller volumes due to printing exigencies) to come some time in the future. He's been writing the series for almost all of this past decade and wants a few months off before getting down to REALLY polishing off his opus. He's saying two or three years, but I hope fandom and common sense makes him shorten that delay.

At least that's MY fantasy for right now.

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