Noted in passing

by Henry Farrell on May 17, 2005

Matt Yglesias writes about “philosophical zombies”: which reminds me to mention that this particularly refined class of undead gets a nod in Charles Stross’s Singularity Sky. It’s a nice example of a genre trope getting picked up by the academy, spun around, then yanked back into the popular culture with its references skewed. The few moments in the last couple of days which I haven’t spent grading, I’ve been reading Stross’s The Family Trade, a novel contribution to the somewhat exiguous genre of economic fantasy. Sort of like Roger Zelazny’s _Amber_ but with real feudalism – illiterate peasants, aristocrats who are obsessed with their fishing and mining rights (even if they don’t know much about what fishing and mining actually involve in practice), and a spunky heroine determined to reform the gung-ho mercantilism of her family business. It’s all enormous fun. I don’t usually buy books in hardback, but I couldn’t wait for a year to order a copy of the sequel, which is coming out in June. Good stuff.



Randolph Fritz 05.18.05 at 1:50 am

What The Family Trade reminds me of, most of all, is a particular strain of 50s sf. There used to be a whole subgenre of modern-knowlege-oversets-ancient-shibboleth stories: de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, Pratt and de Camp’s Harold Shea stories, Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos, and a whole host of others, including H. Beam Piper, who Stross mentions in his acknowlegements. Less obviously–and this Stross has not written about, so I am left wondering about sources–the story is part court romance and intrigue, and here–aside from the collective subconscious, which loves such stories–I am most heavily reminded of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” novels, with their noble clan of hereditary psionics. It’s unusual, I think, for a man to address such a social context and I, too, want very much to know what happens next. One thing I wonder about: are there more parallel worlds accessible to the family talent and will we see them explored? It seems plausible, at least, that there are more parallels; there seem no obvious reasons that there should be only two.


Another Duncan 05.18.05 at 6:58 am

Charlie Stross writes about The Family Trade and the process he went through to write it here:


Cheryl Morgan 05.18.05 at 8:08 am

I’ve just finished the sequel, The Hidden Family in which Stross has Miriam give her family occasonal lectures on the principles of value creation and the benefits of economic development. No mention of globalisation as yet though.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 05.18.05 at 8:58 am

“Are there more parallel worlds accessible to the family talent and will we see them explored?”

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say: yes and yes.


TexAnne 05.19.05 at 8:43 am

Randolph–yes, Stross sets it up quite neatly. Remember that scene in the first one that makes no sense whatever, with the Canadian reeducation camps? (I mean, really. *Canadian* camps??? That’s going to be the worst dystopia ever invented.) And then there’s the locket that feels all wrong to Miriam. So we know there’s at least one other world, which I am sure she will end up fixing, in her capacity as Year’s Best “Fantasy” Heroine.


Randolph Fritz 05.20.05 at 1:52 am

[spoiler alert!]

D’oh! The two-page teaser at the end of the paperback seems to be in the same world with the reeducation camps; one in which North America is a monarchy called New Britain.

What was I thinking when I read it the first time. Oh, well.


TexAnne 05.20.05 at 8:33 am

Randolph–I missed it too, at first. I’m going to say I was befuddled by the slam-bang Action! Adventure! Excitement! of the last couple of chapters. (And the more I think about that other other universe…yeesh. When the Canadians have become uncivil, the rest of the world must be a truly rotten place.)

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