Reading: Charles Stross — The Bloodline Feud

A little excessive in the reading acquirement this week; I pretend I didn’t see what I just did, and instead enjoy the large pile of new stuff. I’m on a sci-fi fantasy bender at the moment (probably to be followed by more of the same plus a mountain of gender theory stuff in an attempt to get my wish list out of the three-figure range), and decided on whim to order Charles Stross’ The Bloodline Feud, which is the first of the Merchant Princes trilogy, which I already own and have read at least three times in the original six-volume set.

So why would I spend money on something I already have and have already read (aside from obviously enjoying it enough to repeatedly read it)? Firstly the cover is well pretty, unlike the mass market editions I picked up previously, which fall into the sphere of ’embarrassing’. Just because I read fantasy doesn’t mean I deserve a cover with embossed, cursive silveriness, castles and fair maiden / grim prince, with all the artistic finesse of high school art homework – even though I do have some bearing such tropes which I look at and think, “mmm … nice!” but generally, and with the Stross originals, this stuff feels like a punishment for reading ‘female’s books’.

The new covers are oooh much more masculine! Strong colours and bold lines and graphic art in a suede matt finish. Which of course give a completely different reading to the contents, and should appeal very much to the broad his broad readership (based on the commenters on his blog). Stross originally wrote these on advice from his agent to do something different, somewhat early in his career when he was just getting started as a serious sci-fi writer. They are unabashedly playing with and within the fantasy genre of castles, royalty and peasants, though without dragons, wizards, and other implements of magic-ness. It’s only by (from memory) the third book, that it becomes unambiguous Stross is in fact still writing sci-fi, though equally never entirely completes that jump.

He’d written somewhere on his blog that he had a much larger world in mind, which would have been continued in some form in subsequent novels, journeying explicitly into sci-fi, though at that time had no intention of writing them. Somehow in the intervening years things changed and the decision to continue the series became tied with the wish to deal with the messiness of the first six, which were meant to be three, and the cleaving introduced much unnecessary backstory-ing, and other inadequacies he dealt to in a massive re-writing last year.

This then is the Merchant Princes as it could have been. A little like Lucas’ Star Wars perpetual re-releases, or maybe Bladerunner which added and subtracted but substantially left it the same. I suppose I’ll buy all three of the new version, just to calm my compulsive need for completion. I always think the last two (I guess now Volume 3) went off the rails, got distracted, became really too fixated on current events as they were in the early-2000’s (the whole Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush era) and seemed to write itself onto a path that really wasn’t where it had been intending at the outset.

The first two books though, now Volume 1, were excellent weekend escapism, which is precisely what I’m doing now.