Empire Games (Empire Games 1), by Charles Stross

When last I read Charles Stross he was still calling himself Charlie Stross. His newer work had been on my reading list for a while because I had very much enjoyed Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise. Empire Games is something else entirely.

Like many scifi writers his work closes in on our own time and without the timelines component I’d sooner call it a technothriller, or diamond hard scifi – or fantasy.

Those timelines are a fun concept: humanity, in line with how we now think about the multiverse, on crucial moments in history has made choices that split the universe in multiple versions. In each of those timelines man went through a (slightly) different history, making the world a different place.

Machines exist to transport people from one timeline to another.
Only the so-called world-walkers can do so without machines. Because of this unique gift the world-walkers used to be a ‘clan’ of traders and smugglers. After a nucleair attack they are now regarded a threat. Inconveniently, the only way to spy on other timelines is by deploying world-walkers.

So, a nice concept but it does feel rather fantasy-ish – if it weren’t for Stross’s explaining the technical sides a bit. Unfortunately he doesn’t elaborate very much. The accent is on the political and (counter) espionage. In itself that is okay and the story fits together well, with vivid characters, plot twists and a promising ending.

A fine technothriller all in all, in which Stross demonstrates he’s evolved to be a great writer. Delicious read, accessible to fantasy fans and those who are not really into scifi and fantasy but do value a good espionage novel.