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The Clan Corporate
Charles Stross
Tor, 320 pages

The Clan Corporate
Charles Stross
Charles Stross was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and he now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He sold his first short story in 1987 to Interzone. But it was his first sale to Asimov's SF in 2001 that provided his big break into the US market.

Charles Stross Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Glasshouse
SF Site Review: The Hidden Family and Accelerando
SF Site Review: The Atrocity Archives
SF Site Review: Singularity Sky

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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This is the third of a continuing series of books that began with The Family Trade, followed by The Hidden Family. In those books, New York journalist Miriam Beckstein learns that she is actually part of a family of "world-walkers," a Clan, based in a parallel world, and that she shares their ability to go between worlds. The other world is much more primitive than ours. She also learns of a third world (sort of technologically in between our world and the Clan's), and travels there, setting up a corporation. Her hope is to make a lot of money for herself and her family, but the Clan is more used to women obediently bearing children. To make things worse, a traitor betrays the Clan's secret to the U.S. government, killing Miriam's lover in the process. In the resulting chaos, Miriam is more or less confined to her nominal "home" world: it's too dangerous for her in the U.S.

That's pretty much where The Clan Corporate begins. And, as may be clear, it's not a standalone novel. You really need to have read the first two books to properly follow this one, and this one (as with its predecessor) ends with a cliffhanger. The book has other "middle book" problems -- lots of it is just setting up things for the next book. There is not really enough action, especially for the first two thirds of the book or so, and there isn't really enough new going on. I'm not sure there was a way out for Charles Stross -- this book does do important things for the series arc. And it is not unenjoyable reading -- but it is also not brilliant stuff. Still, by the end the excitement factor is ratcheted way up, and the next book promises to be pretty thrilling.

There are two primary threads. One follows Miriam, as she struggles against her confinement. She makes some political blunders trying to make space for herself, and she finds her mother not exactly on her side. To her despair, she finds herself threatened with marriage to the mentally handicapped younger son of the King. And she has made an enemy of the sadistic elder brother to her putative future husband. The other thread follows Mike Fleming, a DEA agent assigned to the secret investigation, back in the U.S., of the problem presented by the revelations of the existence of a possibly inimical foreign government with agents that can literally disappear to another world. Mike is the lead interrogator of the defector who betrayed Miriam's Clan. He is also, by a rather outrageous coincidence, an ex-boyfriend of Miriam's. Eventually he is tasked with crossing over to the Clan's world, in hopes that he can get to Miriam and persuade her to help the U.S. But he gets there at an inauspicious time -- Miriam is caught in a palace uprising, and things have just gone politically pear-shaped again...

So, as I said, the next books promise to be pretty fascinating. Charles Stross's realistic view of political behavior is central to these stories -- there are several political entities acting, with completely different objectives, from multiple worlds at different tech levels. Some characters are mostly evil, but most are just out for their own side's advantage, from their own limited perspective. Miriam is an appealing character for whom we root -- but she isn't perfect, and she makes believable mistakes. The whole setup is intriguing, and a huge political brouhaha, involving three (or more?) worlds is clearly coming. So -- this isn't by itself Stross's best work, but the series as a whole is still worth following.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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