Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Merchant Princes, Revisited: Really, Mr. Stross? Really?

          Some while back, I mentioned I was on Book Four of the six-book "Merchant Princes" series by Charles Stross.  An interesting concept, well-executed; but along about the point where I set them down to  write my review, things started to get a little silly.

     Well, either silly or what I'd assumed to be our familiar Earth was not (and this does appear to be the case based on other evidence in the text): you see, when one of the prime villains showed up, he turned out to be Dick Cheney.

     And not just any Dick Cheney, either; the short- and/or ill-tempered political opportunist and operative of our world had been replaced by a deeply eeeevil chap who lacked only a waxed mustache to twirl.  Yes, the ham-handed shotgunner who briefly endeared himself by violating the spirit of Senate Rule 19* when he suggested Senator Leahy might want to enjoy an intimate moment all alone, that guy.  In the books, he's not the old pol who went from "most powerful Vice President in history" to retirement in 2008 but a spider more ruthless than Moriarty. If a sparrow falls, he felled it.

     The character is readily recognizable as the Mother Jones/European press version of Cheney, embodying practically everything that worries them about U.S. politicians, especially Republicans.  In hindsight, it reads so over the top that it become part and parcel of Stross's setting, one of three alternative worlds, this one very like our own and yet almost risibly different.

     If you are easily riled at caricatures of politicians, you may want to avoid this series.  If you'd like a look through eyes on the far side of the water, you may find the series offers it as a sort of unintended bonus.  And if you always suspected the man was up to no good, you'll probably find Art more convincing than life.
* The Senate at that time not officially Senating, the grade-school-type rule barring "harsh language" wasn't in effect.  (And it may not apply to anyone but actual Senators even then.  Does that mean they can have their staff swear for them?  Probably not.) A pity they have it, really; if Senators could indulge in some really vile invective while on the clock, they might spend more time doing that, less time checking for a loose fiver or billion in the public purse, and find themselves having to get a move on to accomplish their Constitutional duties in the remaining time -- but I dream.


Phillip said...

Read it, started to be put off by it, and then just decided that it was alternate history and world building and to ignore it. If I only read authors that had the same opinions I did, I'd have a lot more free time and be a bit sadder for it intellectually.

I enjoy Stross' work for the most part, but there are a few edges that if I were a more sensitive soul I would choose not to rub against. I just dismiss what isn't kosher the same way I do my best to ignore the use of "Oxygen tanks" for SCUBA divers or "flicking off the safety on a Glock" from others.

Cincinnatus said...

It was a comic opera version of even the most ludicrous characture of Cheney. That and the Paul Krugman gushing turned me off the Stross series, which I really wanted to like.

Joseph said...

I've wondered if either Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld were inspired by Geoffrey Stock in "In a Good Cause..." by Isaac Asimov.

Larry said...

I got to the same point of the series and began having the same reactions. More than once I decided to give it up, more than once I came back to it only to throw it at the wall. I eventually finished it, those last three were a terrible end to a promising beginning. I still enjoyed part of all of the last books, but then I'd hit something that dropped all suspension of disbelief (because of the strong sense of disbelief he himself evoked). I can't really recommend the series, though the first 2-3 were fun. The last three had too much in-your-face politics and really was ham-handed.

Ken said...

Haven't tried that series yet. Stross's politics are at once pitiably naive and execrable, but if you stick to the Laundry stories it's not so bad.

Windy Wilson said...

When was Rule 19 enacted? I remember a bit in Colonel Cooper's commentaries about a Senator from Arkansas who was angered by a bill to change the pronunciation of "Arkansas", and made a speech, which according to Cooper, who says cadets and midshipmen were once required to memorize it, went on for a page and a half of really creative obscenity; Supposedly the speaker did not repeat himself. In a page and a half.