Tuesday, November 02, 2010

BOOKS: The Revolution Business by Charles Stross

The penultimate chapter in the six-volume Merchant Princes series, ends, like its predecessor with a BOOM! And threats of many, many more booms to go. The slow build up Charles Stross has been conducting in the series up until this The Revolution Business has all been about scene-setting. It's been an outstanding ride, but one you have to read in order. Cuz this book can't be read as a standalone.

That said, Stross does his best to weave the threads of what has gone on before through the first few chapters of this book, without resorting to anything as crass as a "What's Gone on Before" section. The fact that he can do that for such a complex story with more than a thousand preceding pages spread over four books is a demonstration of his Hugo Award-winning skills. But he cut a fine line with this reader, given the almost two year gap since reading The Merchant's War. And THAT one was read after about a similar gap after reading the initial three volumes in one weekend.

Oh, and did I mention a cast of hundreds with DOZENS of viewpoint characters spread throughout the book. I didn't stop to count, but there are a LOT of people with something to say and to contribute in this book.

The Revolution Business
is a science-fiction novel centred around the Clan, an inbred family of world-walkers, able to slide between dimensions to parallel Earths. The series started with our Earth (later revealed to be off in a couple of places, so it isn't OUR Earth) and a feudal-era version where the Clan started, living in the upper New England area, called Gruinmarkt there. Later, a third version was added, dubbed New Britain. Think steampunk with the Brits winning the American War of Independence. In this one, the Brits have moved whole clothe and royalty to New York, while the French have run roughshod over them everywhere else. By the time The Revolution Business closes down for good, there is at least another world having been accessed out there and good guy Huw is looking for (and probably finding) more. Soooo, in addition to lots of characters, we have lots of settings.

Speaking of characters, our 'main' viewpoint character, Miriam Beckstein, AKA Lady Helge AKA Queen Widow Helge, doesn't get a LOT of play in this book. She's more or less swept along for the ride,  helpless and pregnant with a future King of the Gruinmarkt, as the politicians around her scheme aplenty. The attempt last book to get the Clan out of the drug mule business was a good idea, but too late to the table. Plus the Clan didn't believe her dire prophecies. With the US Government having discovered the Clan and creating both human and biomechanical means to world walk themselves, the resulting atomic bomb attack on Gruinmarkt is a definite STOP THIS order.

Of course, that's not the only nuke in play, as the closing moments of the book so amply play up. The missing six devices talked about in the opening chapter are very much the subject of the conclusion. An explosive conclusion.

In between all things going BOOM! there's plenty of skulduggery by all of the factions. It's hard to pick out actual heroes but there's plenty of bad guys. Stross even pinpoints one of the bad guys as the serving VP of the USA. It's not like he had to work hard on that one. And no, it wasn't that 'fact' that reveals it's not OUR Earth. It was the pining for the premature death of starlet Paris Hilton. Watch for it.

Stross requires effort to keep all the people and places straight. I'm willing to do that, despite the sections on New Britain with Erasmus being deadly dull and breaking up the intriguing goings-on on Earth and Gruinmarkt. Oddly, I get the feeling Stross, a Scotsman, probably got a bigger kick out of writing the revolution on New Britain more than anything else. If I get his politics right. Still, nothing about New Britain, other than as an escape route for the suddenly-vulnerable Clan, really interests me.

Oh, by the way, I started the sixth book, The Trade of Queens, five minutes after finishing The Revolution Business.

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