cover image Empire Games

Empire Games

Charles Stross. Tor, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3756-6

The multiverse teeters on the edge of a new cold war in this overly long and complicated novel, a continuation of Stross’s popular Merchant Princes series. In 2020, Rita Douglas, an aimless 20-something, is pulled into a plot by the Department of Homeland Security. Her mother—who placed her for adoption when she was a baby—is Miriam Beckstein, a world-walker who can pass into other timelines. Newly developed tech can awaken Rita’s world-walking abilities, and DHS recruits her as a spy. Meanwhile, in a different timeline, Miriam and other world-walkers are embedded in the government of the Commonwealth, emancipated from the British Empire in 2003. Both Rita and Miriam are forced to navigate the apparatuses of their governments: the bloated bureaucracy of the American panopticon, and the scheming intrigues of post-revolution power players. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Miriam and Rita must try to negotiate peace or prepare for an interdimensional war. Readers new to Stross’s saga might have unanswered questions, but this novel stands on its own. Stross roots his alternate histories and futures in discussions of privacy, democracy, and technology. These big themes (fun as they are) tend to overpower the small details, and the characters and relationships feel underdeveloped. (Jan.)