Dark State by Charles Stross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This second (or eighth) novel in Stross's Merchant Princes universe is continuing the new and interesting tack that began in Empire Games.
First of all, some background. There's three alternate timelines and world-walkers, jaunters, and on our timeline, there's now tech that allows us to hop timelines and possibly exploit entire green Earths, not just the three inhabited ones.
All of this gets very sticky because we have a super-paranoid State, the United States of a slightly different our world that suffered a nuclear attack on the White House in a previous book, complete with near absolute surveillance. We have another timeline where the Merchant Princes were overthrown and a different United States (called the Commonwealth) is stealing tons of tech and trying to avoid the cultural upheavals related to it, trying to catch up and protect itself from an invading and/or espionage-heavy US. And then there's a Germanic empire that never ended but is a good hundred years behind the other two.
Actually, this is pretty much a straight Spy-Fiction novel with a fantastic base and multiple settings and very detailed historical references, inferences, and alternate timelines, all of which are explored and taken to their natural conclusions in a very smart, very impressive way.
Two timelines have nuclear power and deep distrust with each other, and they share the same soil. That's pretty wicked.
This book ramps up those concerns even as we get to know all the players better. The tension only gets worse with shifting political tides in the Commonwealth and a real tangle with lies and statecraft with the old empire. It's an impressively thought-out tangle, and anyone with a thought to intrigue and alternate worlds really ought to pick up this series. :)
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