Charles Stross – Empire Games

Woo hoo! Here we are with the first in a new Trilogy from Charlie Stross, which follows on from the Merchant Princes series.

To fill in a bit of background: there are numerous parallel worlds, between which people with certain genetic traits (world walkers)can move. In a world similar, but not identical to our own (Timeline 2), this is discovered when dodgy characters from a less technologically advanced society (Timeline 1) are found to have been using Timeline 2 as a wealth-creating opportunity (a bit of drug dealing, ultra-fast courier services). This leads to Bad Things when extreme elements from Timeline 1 use a stolen portable nuclear device to assassinate the Timeline 2 US President, which leads to the annihilation of their small nation. A small number of world walker refugees, led by Miriam Beckstein (whose history is a bit complicated) escape to Timeline 3, which has a technological level somewhat behind Timeline 2 (steam trains, biplanes…). They’re just in time to assist with a revolution, in which the king of what used to be the British Empire before the French conquered Britain is deposed in favour of a not quite democratic but might get there in the end regime.

The new trilogy picks up the story 17 years later. It’s 2020 and Timeline 2 America is a security state run in terror of further attacks by world walkers. Other worlds have been examined, but no other developed ones. But some rather old ruins have been found, with indications of a “forerunner” civilisation that seems to have been wiped out a couple of thousand years ago.

The protagonist is Rita Douglas, who knew she was adopted at birth, but doesn’t know that her birth mother was Miriam Beckstein, much less that she carries the inactive world walking genes.

So, she’s a little surprised when she’s recruited by the US Government, given treatments that activate the world walking ability and trained for covert operations in another timeline.

This all happens a bit quickly because the Timeline 2 US has found Timeline 3, and they’re a bit miffed because somebody there nuked a couple of their spy drones.

Meanwhile, Timeline 3 is approaching a political crisis, and it’s all got the potential for the crazier elements to start another cross-time war.

And it’s all done with Charlie’s usual style – lots of fun, cultural references raging from Blade Runner

Ever wondered if a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies? Because now’s your chance for a preview.

to House of Cards (and I’m sure Charlie’s thinking of the original)

You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.

Not to mention reference to an obscure sf novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy

Recommended. Will keep you reading and leave you wanting the next volume, due early next year.

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