Books

Book Review: Empire Games by Charles Stross

This is a spy-thriller, a cross timeline sci-fi tale, and a personal growth story. Rita has graduated from the university and still hasn’t found her direction, or she has, but getting on stage isn’t easy. Her past comes calling, and she has to face it. “Has to” is too kind, she is forced to face it. She is the daughter of a world-walker, and the US government wants her to work for them, help travel between timelines. There is a feud going on between different known timelines, which has caused the US to go into a highly paranoid state where everything and everyone is monitored 24/7. Security checks are regular, you cannot move in the streets without being noticed, you don’t have rights. I’m not sure about the last one, but it feels like the US of the book is heading there. Rita is an interesting character. I like her. I usually don’t easily relate to twenty-some characters, but finally, there is heroin not written as an airhead or obsessed with her dating life or looks. Rita feels real. She also has an amazing granddad, Kurt, the best character in the book. The strong bond with the two of them was enjoyable to read. 

At the other notable timeline, there are the remnants of the clan who bombed Rita’s timeline and caused the paranoid state. But they have their own inner struggles, and Charles Stross plays with the concept when rebels rule, what will follow from that. What will the world look like, how the power structure goes, and what do those who have been pushed from power do? I liked the rebel part, how it was planned, how the tale is told from Miriam’s perspective, and how Charles Stross snuck in an opportunity to educate. A cheeky writer, I say.

So what about the actual story, how does it play out? It goes from exciting to boring and then back to exciting and then finishes too quickly. It feels like it was only starting, and then it was cut off. Kind of annoying, but I’m not sure if it lessens the book so much that I would curse aloud. The weird part of the story is that there are no actual bad guys, not in the way usually spy-thrillers or evil timelines are portrayed. This is more like those sophisticated books, which gives more nuanced characters (flawed, human-like, this way not playing to our power fantasies) and an outcome which makes rational sense and not some hero will shoot her way out of a jam and save the day and her beloved timeline at the same time. Finally, a book which tries to say, “let’s be rational about this.” Me likes. But why doesn’t the ending feel as much emotionally satisfying as shoot your way out of moral and political conflict? Are we so used to such a resolution we don’t even entertain a rational one? Or does it cater to our primal moral convictions where the evil guy is beaten into a pulp, and also that there is an actual evil guy? I just can wrap my head around this question, never have.

Anyway, Charles Stross is an intelligent writer with an ability to entertain. I believe I will read more of his books. This one, I’m not sure if I would demand you to read; only if you find the plot and subjects, it handles interesting.

Thank you for reading, have a multidimensional day and if you see the other timeline, take a friend with you, or a cat.

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