Charles Stross's "Dark State": transdimensional, nuclear-tipped mutually assured destruction by way of a first-rate spy novel
Dark State is the sequel to Empire Games, a reboot/latter phase of Charles Stross's longrunning, excellent economic science fiction/high fantasy Merchant Princes series.
With last year's Empire Games, Stross restarted the series, taking it to a new phase that doesn't require the reader to be familiar with the first seven volumes (though they are fantastic reads and thoroughly recommended in their own right).
Like the first seven books, the Empire Games books are works of tremendously fun and thought-provoking political/economic speculation, in which a small clan of people with the hereditary means to traverse the barriers between parallel universes ("worldwalking") create a variety of trade arrangements across timelines with different levels of technological sophistication and paranoid surveillance states.
But Empire Games takes it to a new level; the first series was something like a police procedural or crime novel, about the potential for worldwalking drug cartels. This new series is about a new cold war, in which the nuclear tipped-arsenals of a paranoid, maddened version of the USA are seeking a lock through the multiverse for the worldwalkers, who have taken up residence in an alternate dieselpunk Earth that they are desperately attempting to bring through an accelerated information revolution so they can attain nuclear deterrence before the US finds them.
Stross's police-state America is darkly hilarious, incredibly capable and also quite mad, a rogues' gallery of Dominionists and Scientologists whose religious doctrines are the only thing standing between the awesome might of the state and total dominance over its citizenry. Meanwhile, his revolutionary parallel timeline, gripped by a succession crisis and internal rivalries, is a beautifully realized parallel society whose dizzying rate of change is something like post-Deng China, but driven by a WWII-style military-industrial pulling-together for mutual defense against an all-powerful foe.
Meanwhile, the actual spy novel that animates all this poleconomic speculation is first-rate: sporting a rogue cell of abandoned deep-cover Stasi families, worldwalking missions to spirit high-level defectors across multiple timelines, and a ticking-bomb McGuffin in the form of a parallel universe in which a vastly technologically advanced civilization seems to have deliberately turned the Earth into a tame black hole the size of a walnut...
Like Empire Games, Stross ends this book on a precipitious cliff hanger, with a note to expect another volume next January.
Dark State: A Novel of the Merchant Princes Multiverse [Charles Stross/Tor]
For centuries, many fine books have held a magical secret not within their pages but on the edges. Stunning fore-edge paintings are only visible when the book’s pages are slightly fanned. Great Big Story introduces us to Martin Frost, one of the world’s last fore-edge painters.
It wasn’t until she became an adult and a librarian, Nancy Pearl writes, that she “began to question my commitment to finishing each and every book that I began.” Now she has a simple method for dropping a bad one, one obvious and plain and yet fair enough: the Rule of 50. Give a book […]
Librairie Mollat has a lovely ongoing project where they try to match patrons and staff with book covers, and the results are often inspired.
Summer’s here, which brings not only warmer weather but also the unsettling realization that the year is more than halfway over. So, for those who weren’t as productive as they would have liked during the first half of 2018, we’ve rounded up 5 skill course bundles you can start learning today to help you finish […]
It’s good to be proactive, but when it comes to preparing for an emergency situation, one of the most important items you can pack is a flashlight. After all, whatever else you include in your kit won’t be of much use if you can’t see what you’re doing. The Viper 1000-Lumen Tactical Flashlights not only […]
Chances are you took a handful of language classes in high school, and aside from a smattering of conjugations and vocabulary words, the only things you likely remember are the dry, rehearsed sentences that did little to make you speak like a true native. If you’re still hoping to learn a new language but want […]