I’m a big fan of Charlie Stross; I think I’ve now read all of his published fiction. I’ve mentioned his books a few times here; he’s probably my favorite author at the moment.

That’s part of why I didn’t read The Family Trade when it came out last fall–it was originally written as the first half of a larger novel and then split into two by the publisher. I didn’t want to get engrossed in The Family Trade and then suddenly have the book stop halfway through the story. The second half, The Hidden Family, came out recently, so I ordered both of them from Amazon and settled in for a bit of reading.

Stross is generally a science fiction author, but this series is more or less fantasy. That is to say that it’s based on the same premises as about half of the fantasies clogging up your local bookstore, but it’s written by a good science fiction author and he spends a lot more time dealing with technology, politics, and economics then I’m used to seeing in fantasy. In the end, I’d say that this series is fantasy in about the same way that Stephenson’s baroque books are historical fiction–deep down, I know that they’re really scifi, with the “traditional” scifi elements hidden by the trappings of a different genre. That makes me feel a lot better about these two books, because normally I wouldn’t be caught dead reading fantasy.

Another difference between Stross’s new series and most of the fantasy I read when I was younger is the protagonist–instead of a stupid (or at least inexperienced) late teen/young adult wandering around lost in some fantasy land, Stoss gives us Miriam Beckstein, a thirtysomething first-string tech journalist with a MD and a history of backing Larry Ellison-types into corners. She’s still stuck with the fantasy land, but she comes to grips with things and is good at landing on her feet.

All in all, I enjoyed the two books. Perhaps not quite as much as I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives, but more then most of the other books that I’ve read recently. Surprisingly enough, the two books actually do fairly well on their own–they were divided at a natural breaking point, where most of the early plot threads were resolved before moving into a new set of issues in the second book. There’s a third book planned for next May or June.

I’ve been able to get a lot of reading done over the last couple weeks–I’ve been taking the bus to work, so I have about 90 minutes of reading time per day (instead of 90 minutes of driving time). Here are the others that I’ve finished lately:

  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. Basically an alternative history where the Plague killed Europe off in the 1300s, so Islam, India, and China are left sharing the world. It has a few interesting plot devices–the main characters keep getting killed off and then reincarnated back together again–but it was a painfully slow read for me, and when I was done I realized that I’d have to re-read it several times to fully understand what the heck just happened. Call it 3 stars.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. Yeah, I read it too. Everyone’s read it. The ending worked okay for me.
  • Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson. I liked his Cronoliths, but Blind Lake didn’t really do it for me. It doesn’t quite pull a deus ex machina at the end, but it’s pretty close.
  • Jumper by Steven Gould. I added this to my list after a glowing recommendation on Boing Boing earlier this year. It’s obviously a juvenile, but it’s well written and manages to cover old ground (the “Wow, I can teleport!” story) without sounding like a retread. I’d probably have enjoyed it more if I’d read it when I was a lot younger–some of the coming-of-age stuff was kind of tedious.