The Clan Corporate

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Charles Stross

Published: 2006

Reviewed: 2007-04-30

Publisher: Tor Books

When I noticed "The Clan Corporate" on the MITSFS shelves, I was
excited. As reported in an earlier review, I loved the previous
two books---"The Family Trade" and "The Hidden Family"---and I
hadn't even realized there would be a third book. Now that I've
read it, I know there will be more than three, and I'm not excited
any more.

It's hard to pan a book, especially when you've loved others by the
same author, but "The Clan Corporate" deserves it. Not for being
badly written, or other such pedestrian sins---it is well written and
a basically good piece of authorial work. No, I must gut it for a
much more serious sin: breaking the tone of the series and
disappointing its readers' expectations.

The previous two books are told almost exclusively from the viewpoint
of Miriam Beckstein, a tech writer from Boston who accidentally
discovers that she has inherited a talent for walking between parallel
universes. Having been educated as a modern American, she butts heads
with her alternate-universe family and starts trying to push them
toward more modern ideas.

In book three, she is muzzled. Lots of other character viewpoints start
showing up, including somebody who is clearly Important, but who doesn't
even get to interact with any of the established characters! Probably
at least half the book is from other people's viewpoints, and it's a
noticeable change of tone.

Though I found it unsettling, this is probably a good thing since Miriam
barely gets to interact with any of the interesting characters from the
other books either, since she's in disgrace. And stupid. Lots of stupid
rays keep hitting her, and she keeps getting herself more and more in
disgrace. Finally, when you think things can get any more screwed up,
the book ends in a cliffhanger, setting us up to read the sequel.

If Mr. Stross had been willing to follow his previous format, this
book could have been two chapters in the beginning of book four. Lots
of interesting things would have happened that we wouldn't have
understood immediately, since they hadn't been pounded into our heads
mercilessly, and we could have actually had the pleasure of
discovering what was going on, rather than just watching it happen to
other people while the characters we learned to care about in the
previous books sit helpless and ignorant on the sidelines.

Will I read book four? Maybe. I'll at least pick it up and see if
it's more of the same, or if Miriam gets to be interesting again.
In the meantime, I'll stay disappointed with Mr. Stross.