My rating: ★★★★☆
Read From: 9 October 2013—16 October 2013
So there’s a Clan of jumped-up tinkers from an alternate timeline who can world-walk between timelines. They grew massively wealthy through a simple physical arbitrage. They pick up medicinal grade heroin down in Florida or Central America. They switch over to their home timeline, still stuck in the medieval period. They load the heroin into a caravan, guarded by Clan members with automatic weapons. They transport the heroin all the way north to their home base of the Gruinmarkt. Then they switch over to our timeline and deliver the heroin to the Boston based buyers. Voila! A secure, completely untraceable conduit for drug deliveries, worth millions.
They make money the other way by acting as a super high speed courier service. Take a letter from a king or a duke or a count in the Gruinmarkt. Switch to our timeline, catch a plane to Seattle, and carry the letter with you. Pop back to your home timeline and deliver the letter, next-day post, to the recipient, neatly avoiding the bandits and the multi-week horseback trip that would be required in your home timeline.
It sounds like a neat setup, right? Good family men, good business men, providing a needed service on both worlds. But what would happen if the DEA were to find out about these untraceable heroin couriers? Worse yet, what if a highly trusted individual were to sell out the Clan to the DEA, telling them everything he knows about safe houses, transfer points, and delivery networks?
Well, let’s just say that America’s ever paranoid security services wouldn’t react well. At all. After all, if these people can securely transfer heroin, who’s to say that they’re not transferring bombs? Or terrorists? Or nukes? What if they might be hostile? It’d be far better to treat them as a hostile government and take them out first, before they take you out, wouldn’t it?
And so it goes for Miriam Beckstein. Right as she’s establishing a toehold in her family’s business and starting to gain a little freedom for herself, the Clan ends up in a clandestine war with the U.S. government. Everything goes to pieces and Miriam gets herself even more tightly restricted than she already was.
Stross once again superbly plays the realistic reaction card. You, the reader, can understand and sympathize with both the government security forces and the Clan. Their both acting rationally according to the information they have, the cultures they’re from, and the interests they need to protect. And it’s probably not going to end well for either of them. It’s a train wreck that you see coming from miles away, drive by the logical decisions of each character. It’s unsettlingly realistic and slightly depressing. There’s no authorial deus ex machina to make everything turn out well for your favorite characters. There’s only the inexorable march of inevitable events.
That’s refreshing to read in a science fiction story. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends.