Empire Games: Charlie Stross starts a new phase in the Merchant Princes series, blending spycraft, Leninist thought experiments, and parallel dimensions


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/02/09/dieselpunk-leninism.html

Charlie Stross’s longrunning Merchant Princes series are a sneaky, brilliant techno-economic thought experiment disguised as heroic fantasy, and with Empire Games, the first book of the second phase of the series, Stross throws in a heavy dose of the noirest spycraft, an experiment in dieselpunk Leninism and War on Terror paranoia.


And, no spoilers, but the second book also ends on a similar scale of cliffhanger. I love hate it.


Although Cory says there’s seven previous books, the original six books have been (slightly edited and) republished as a trilogy, starting with The Bloodline Feud.
When he first started writing them, they were supposed to be broadly broadly fantasy, to get around a publishing contract that specified how he could sell sci-fi stories. There’s not an obvious point when the sci-fi starts to get introduced, but the first book or two is definitely leaving the how of worldwalking to one side.

You don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy Empire Games and Dark State, but the recent books do pickup and fire a few Chekhov’s guns left lying around from the first series. Kids, don’t leave your unexploded plot devices lying around!


I absolutely loved that series until the nuclear bombs dropped. As far as the story went, they made sense, but as far as my guts go, that ended it for me.


How does this compare in tone to the last few preceding Merchant Princes stories? I finished the last one mostly out of some masochistic completist impulse. I loved the overall concept but Merchant Princes became downright painful to read by the end. Felt like the narrative was being forced into some box that it really didn’t fit.


I think that was the point, really. The retrospective elevator pitch could be “Portal fantasy meets realpolitik”, specifically the realpolitik of early 21st Century America. So the super-special person with magic powers discovers she’s a princess in another land — but the other land is an s-hole, run by a-holes, and try as she might she can’t change a lot about the situation, and the whole thing blows up in her face. It’s a post-imperial British kind of sci-fi.


Yeah, I put it down at that point and never picked it up again. Basically just went “everyone on both sides of this conflict are monsters and reading about monsters killing thousands and thousands of people does not entertain me.”

If you want something with a similar premise but less crushingly dark, I’m reading The Rise and Fall of DODO by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, and it’s quite good.


With you both there. Stross is clearly a Really Smart Guy, but his books drag for me, compared to Stephenson (not normally noted for brevity!) or indeed our host CD.


Will do.

At the same time as I was reading this, I was reading another series that had a preemptive attack. That was a fantasy series by L.E. Modesitt Jr. I also stopped reading that series.


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