The Family Trade

celtic knot by thomas herron

The Family Trade is the first book of a British writer of science fiction and fantasy writer Charles Stross’ alternate history series ‘The Merchant Princes.’

The first novel introduces us to journalist Miriam Beckstein, who finds herself in a parallel world in which her extended family holds power.

Miriam’s adoptive mother gives her a shoebox filled with items that belonged to Miriam’s birth mother, a Jane Doe who died mysteriously when Miriam was only a baby. Among other items, Miriam finds a locket. Inside is a design not unlike a Celtic knot, and when she focuses on it, she is transported to a parallel world that never developed beyond the Dark Ages—except for the men on horses who try to kill her with machine guns. Miriam quickly finds herself caught up in the feuds of her estranged family, which calls itself the Clan. The Clan has used the genetic ability to travel back and forth between the two worlds to build a lucrative import/export trade. However, one of their main sources of income is transporting drugs into and out of the United States which bothers Miriam for ethical and other reasons.

According economist Paul Krugman: ”The Family Trade’ novels involve some people who, for reasons that are not entirely clear, are able to step between alternative histories and move back and forth, and the world they come from is actually one where basically civilization has not done too well, where North America is a collection of medieval kingdoms and pretty backwards. And they of course have access to 21st-century America, so they can bring back this technology and catapult their society into the modern world. — But they don’t. The society is still backwards, with just an elite that has luxuries that they can import from our universe, but they leave both the poverty and the oppressiveness of their society largely unchanged. And Charlie actually makes the analogy. I mean, Saudi royals can go and get their education in the United States or England, and bring their western luxuries, but when all is said and done they’re still feudal lords of a feudal society, and it’s a lot harder to change a society than you might think. So the stories are very much about how just knowing that there’s a technology, knowing that an economy can be run more productively, doesn’t necessarily bring you into the modern world.’

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