May 18, 2006

The Hidden Family

The Hidden Family
Charles Stross


(May 18, 2006)

Stross's multi-volume fantasy romp proceeds with intelligence and skill. Recalling Zelazny's Amber, Stross builds an epic of parallel worlds around a tech journalist. In the alternate earths, technology is less advanced -- one is barely post-Medieval, the other is early industrial. Are the other earths romantic havens or miseable hovels? Stross takes a close look. Why are the other earths as they are? The historical forces are complex (as they should be), and at the end of two volumes we know the background but have not yet found a simplie explanation. Whatever the explanation for the differences between worlds, Miriam Beckstein sets out to do well by doing good, brining development to these backward worlds through intelligent business practice.

An irritation of this pleasant, readable, and interesting volume is that is ends, as did the first volume, in a flurry of excitement and gunplay. Stross has plenty of plot at all times; I think it's unnecessary to supercharge the narrative simply to propel the reader across the chasm between volumes.

Stross has a knack for building rich worlds, though here the fantastic story of Miriam Beckstein seems less rich than the true story Esther Dyson, who in 1989 set out on a similar mission without the benefit of being a lost Duchess.