Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I read the first book in Charles Stross's MERCHANT PRINCES saga, THE FAMILY TRADE. It's about an ordinary gal who works in a hi-tech magazine until -- surprise -- her mum's family medallion whisks her away to another universe, where she is the heir to a vast fortune. Catch: it's a medieval society, and her fortune is made on the backs of the peasants. Oh, and heroin smuggling between the universes.

I'm a big fan of Chuck Stross's science fiction -- SINGULARITY SKY, ACCELERANDO. But this one left me cold. Why?

For one thing, the conceit is heavily purloined from Narnia: the hero is a boring person here, but a crucial person Over (or Under) There. Neil

Gaiman found a way to take the curse off it in NEVERWHERE: his restless, mundane hero makes the mistake of helping a runaway girl from Under There, and soon starts to become a nonentity Over Here. Stross goes another way: his heroine simply makes a series of logical decisions that she is in more danger Over Here and therefore ought to scamper Over There. You hardly want to be transported to a land of magic and wonder because it is the most sensible thing to do.

I wonder if the problem is the great yawning divide between SF and F. Star Wars is Fantasy; the Force is magic. Star Trek is Science Fiction: the science is balderdash but it is still science. When Star Wars tried to explain Annakin Skywalker's talent for the Force -- he had a high midichlorian count? -- it felt like a betrayal of the genre. Stross has created a fantasy premise - magic locket transports those of the Blood -- but then approaches the story rationally, like an SF author. What sort of things would you do if you could walk between the worlds? Open a courier service, natch. You can Fedex things in this world that would take a long tme to travel in that world. You can smuggle huge quantities of drugs, slowly but surely, across the Other World.

Who cares?

This, I think, was my big problem. I felt there was no real emotional issue. Nothing that could only be solved by the heart; nothing without whose solving the heart would remain forever restless.

Dorothy wants to get home.

THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE was about kids who were unimportant in this world feeling terribly important in this world. (Oh, and it's an allegory for the last days of Jesus Christ. Sorry.)

I did not know what the main character wanted. Or rather, she wanted too many sensible things. She wants safety. She wants a guy. She wants to liberate the peasants.

Yes, yes, I know.

Give me a heroine who wants one thing. One Big Irrational Thing. Juliet wants Romeo more than life itself. Medea wants revenge. Elizabeth Bennet wants to keep her Pride. (I think. Or is it her Prejudice? I can't remember.)

Guess what Morgan wants?



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