The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross
|Charlie Stross doesn't write bad books. I'm quite certain that's a quantifiable scientific law. If he were ever to steer close to mediocrity though, it might look like The Clan Corporate.|
The Merchant Princes series began with a bang in The Family Trade. Miriam Beckstein, after being summarily fired from her job as an investigative journalist for digging in the wrong grave, discovers a horrible family secret by way of a locket that induces teleportation to an alternate world (The Gruinmarkt). As Miriam discovers she is not who or what she'd always thought, we're thrust into brutal familial politics, a culture of blackmail and assassination, and an ongoing blood feud with family members from a hidden third world (New London).
In The Hidden Family, Miriam (or Helge as her new family knows her) strikes out on her own as a start-up capitalist in New London by marketing existing modern patents of inventions not yet discovered in this alternate world. She is markedly succesful in her venture and succeeds in turning her clan on its ear, when a family betrayal brings the entire clan to its knees. A high ranking cousin in clan security has become an informer to the U.S. government, made authorities aware of the Gruinmarkt and the security nightmare of their inhabitant's teleportation abilities, and now all clan activites in the U.S. are at risk.
The Clan Corporate begins with Miriam as something of a prisoner. She has upset the balance of power in the clan, and is being reined in by the powers that be. Her relatives are insistent on her marriage to a brain damaged prince so as to align the clan with royalty, a match which Miriam rails against. However, unlike the first two books, Miriam seems to have lost her heroine proclivities. She sits idly by while insults pile on after injury. She seems to be a different character; her will has been broken. That is probably why the story feels so wrong.
Much of the book is told through alternate points of view; Miriam is not center stage at all times. I'm not certain that the complete story could be told entirely from her POV, but the book suffers from the diversity. I understand that Stross was trying to make us feel bad for poor Miriam, but at times I was screaming for her to act in defense of herself. I was emotionally distraught over her treatment, and while that goes a long way in complimenting Mr. Stross's characterization skills, that's little comfort while reading the book.
There is a superb ending, a great shake-up of the status quo, but it feels like too little, too late. I wonder if The Clan Corporate was also intended to be the first half of a single volume, like The Family Trade. If so, it would make more sense. We are left stuck out on a tenuous branch, and it will be months before we find out if we'll make it back to the tree and climb down, or simply fall to our doom. I suppose it's an opinion thing, but I do not like my novels to end in such a manner, serialized or no.
The Clan Corporate was not a bad book, indeed it succeeded on many levels, including advancing the plot and making readers feel for their heroine. However, I wanted more. I expected more. I anxiously await the next installment.
This series is well worth picking up, indeed every Charles Stross book is. However, if you've not read this series yet, I would suggest purchasing the books now, but waiting until the next book is released to begin your reading. This ending is bloody torturous.
Charles Stross will be numbered amongst the all time science fiction greats. Buying his books in first edition hardcovers is a no-brainer. Someday in the not-too-distant future when people speak of him with Heinlein, Asimov, and Zelazny, you'll be thanking me.