Jumpdrives & Cantrips


The Family Trade
February 17, 2008, 2050
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

The Family TradeCharles Stross is best known for science fiction, and in the last few years has published quite a few award-winning books. But The Family Trade is not a science fiction book. It is a fantasy novel at its heart, one which reads much the same as more mainstream suspense novels. Stross sticks parallel world stories, Cinderella-esque inheritance transformations, and The Godfather in a blender and pulses liberally.

The story begins when Miriam, a journalist who covers the tech beat, does two things that change her life. The first is pitching an article about a massive organization-wide cover up that includes money laundering–unfortunately by the same firm that pays Miriam’s wages–and ends with a security escort from the building, pink slip practically stapled to her forehead. The second involves discovering her heritage as countess when she finds out her mother’s locket enables her to travel to a parallel universe. The aristocracy of the new world happens to be deeply entrenched in the organized crime Miriam discovered earlier, and desperate to maintain their world’s non-modernized status quo to maintain their power via the inter-world drug trade.

Stross credits Roger Zelazny’s Amber books as a partial inspiration for this book, and the influence is obvious. However, the family politics and worldbuilding fall flat in comparison to Zelazny’s, which had more kick. I was most fascinated with the hereditary nature of world-walking (the locket simply enables the ability), how Stross portrays it as influencing social relations and how it creates a need for a violent family monopoly. Given the dire warnings that various characters give her and the amount of times people try to kill her, I was surprised that Miriam emerged unscathed. The politics themselves seem clumsy for a family supposedly involved in organized crime and perpetual behind-the-scenes in-fighting.

The Family Trade also has a substantial blindspot in the relationships between characters. I didn’t really buy that Miriam (a divorcee and hardened journalist who–by her own admission–is used to being on her own) would jump into bed with a man she was barely attracted to a paragraph earlier. It’s also curious that Miriam doesn’t try to find out more about her own direct family connections between dodging assassination attempts. Stross’ strengths are in speculating on business and economics rather than character interactions, which makes machinations a little one-sided, and tends to leave emotions on the back-burner.

The focus instead is on logistics, plot, and constantly questioning who Miriam can trust. This makes The Family Trade into a fast read, but there isn’t enough action to justify calling it a page-turner except in the last third of the book. Be aware that the story does not end with a feeling of closure, almost feeling like someone chopped the first draft manuscript in half without constructing a proper cliffhanger.

The Family Trade is a middling to good read that plain and simple lacks the heart to match its cerebral nature. With numerous unresolved subplots, I am interested to read more in this world, but I’m just not sure I care enough to bother.

Stross, Charles. The Family Trade. New York: Tor, 2004. 303 pages. Bargain bin purchase at $4.99 (Canadian).

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6 Comments so far
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Just wanted to say welcome to the world of book blogging. I’ll add you to my rss reader and link-up. Love the name by the way.

Comment by John (Grasping for the Wind)

Thanks for the kind words and the greeting! I’ve been enjoying your blog’s analytical bent. Hopefully I’ll see you around 🙂

–Sara

Comment by admin

I just saw John’s link and headed over. When I saw you had reviewed Family Trade, I figured it would be a good way to benchmark how your taste in books equates to mine. I absolutely adore Stross’ speculative fiction, as well as his Lovecraft crossovers. He numbers among my top ten active authors. But the Family Trade… well, you’ve pretty much encapsulated my feelings. Most of Stross’ books don’t rely so much on characterization to see them through (though he does his best job yet on that front in Halting State). I think you nailed Family Trade! I look forward to reading your future reviews.

brc

Comment by Bruce Cordell

Glad to hear it, Bruce! I haven’t had a chance to read any other Stross yet (Glasshouse is in the TBR pile and has been there for some time) so this is my only exposure. I’ll have to try his other stuff and see how I like it 🙂

–Sara

Comment by admin

I haven’t read anything from Stross unfortunately (although Halting State and Accelerando are on the to-buy-sometimes-in-the-future list), but regarding your review – I really like the way you tackle books. nice one

uroš

Comment by uroš

Thanks, I appreciate the compliment 🙂 Do you have any favourite authors?

–Sara

Comment by admin




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