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Book Note: Charles Stross, The Family Trade

I read this book about 8-Oct-2007. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2004. This note was last modified Friday, 26-Oct-2007 21:23:01 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Start of a series. And an interesting premise for playing with plot and economic theory; there's this family, who if they look at a particular complex Celtic knot, can switch between their Earth and our Earth. They've got a certain amount of history now, and complex entanglements with the feudal nobility of their homeworld, and a modestly successful business, moving high-value items securely. In other words, they're heavily into the drug trade here (the family trade from the title).

So our protagonist, an investigative reporter, stumbles too close to them, and gets fired (turns out her company is heavily invested in the biotech companies that are being used to launder drug profits). Her researcher gets fired too.

And when she goes to see her mother, gets a shoebox with some odd stuff in it, including a locket with a weird celtic knot pattern. Turns out she's adopted; she was found with a woman who was murdered, and who was never identified.

So she crosses to the other world, accidentally the first time, survives that, and eventually makes somewhat-peaceful contact with a duke of her line of the families. Family politics are murderous, culture is a weird blend of feudal and modern. The Earth-educated children are, some of them, a progressive element, but perhaps too agressively so.

There's quite a lot of good world-building thought. The Families aren't stupid, at a tactical level. If assassins can come into any world from another world, then security the same space on both sides becomes important. And modern skyscrapers go so high the people on the other side don't have access to the higher floors, so they're safe even though they're conveniently located in the middle of the city.

There are great pitfalls to a British author writing an extended work set in America. It's a brave thing to try, and generally speaking he pulls it off decently. It was several chapters before I found out the early setting was supposed to be in America (Boston), but there wasn't any big glaring glitch to confuse me, either. It was later that the one glitch showed up—a couple of casual references to "electric showers", a phrase that's nonsense to most Americans.

He also manages to make the big standard mistake about guns (this is very common among American authors, too): revolvers do not have "safeties". Really. They don't. They don't need them, and they don't have them. Especially modern ones. (Yes, I know of the Webley-Fosbery, and I know there were a couple of others that did, but they were never very common, and a Webley-Fosbery would be a crazy thing to encounter as a self-defense weapon on modern Boston.) The more I see it, the more I find this mistake annoying. It frequently shows up in articles on common gun mistakes, and simply showing that chapter to anybody with any experience with handguns would turn up the error. And yet it happens, over and over and over again!

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David Dyer-Bennet