They include Paulie, a research assistant from her former job with some experience in the field of law; Roland, a distant relation, economist, and potential love interest who would also like to be free of the Clan's machinations and prefers the United States to the feudal Gruinmarkt; Duke Angbard Lofstrom, Miriam's uncle and head of security for the Clan, as well as leader of its Boston operations; Olga, a young and flighty noble who helps explain to Miriam the politics and notables of Gruinmarkt; and Briliana and Kara, two lesser noble ladies-in-waiting assigned to Miriam's service in Gruinmarkt's capital of Niejwein.
Reviews of the book often note its rather abrupt ending.
The Big Idea: Charles Stross
It completes the story began in The Family Trade of Miriam Beckstein's attempts to understand and explore the new worlds she has access to. As the title suggests, the existence of families with the power to "worldwalk" unknown to the Clan comes of importance in this book, as a shadow war to undermine the Clan continues. The story also includes Miriam's exploration of a third world largely unknown to the Clan, where Massachusetts is part of "New Britain" and the British monarchy fled to America; this nation has roughly Edwardian mores and s technology.
The existence of this third world also complicates security expectations, as it provides an angle to attack the Clan from locations which might seem safely guarded in both worlds, but are unguarded in the third world. In The Hidden Family , Miriam correctly hypothesizes that the Clan civil war that took place around the time she was born was caused and intensified by a third party — a distant branch of the Clan that, while weaker, was unknown and had access to a different world. They were thus able to perform attacks that seemed as if they must come from a rival world-walker within the Clan, but actually came from the Hidden Family.
Miriam also believes this third party to be behind the attack on her birth mother.
For reasons she can't entirely understand, this branch family considers her existence a threat as well. Miriam also has to contend with elements in the Clan who distrust her. She is warned that in 6 months, a large Clan meeting will occur at Beltaigne, and her rivals — including her own blood grandmother Hildegarde — are likely to motion to have her declared incompetent, which would deny her the funds held in trust that was her inheritance.
Lastly, Miriam believes that Duke Lofstram's security forces have a mole working for the Hidden Family, after several security lapses and attempts on her life that seemed to know too much. Both to research the hidden family, as well as to build her own personal base of power separate from the alternative of marrying a Clan noble and throwing herself under his faction's protection, most of the book concerns Miriam's efforts in New Britain. Miriam gained access to it via taking a New Britain locket off one of the hidden assassins who attacked her at the end of The Family Trade.
There, she ships gold — tightly regulated under mercantilist beliefs that the government requires a large supply of bullion — and allies with the Levellers , dissidents from the Royal government who demand something like the rights secured in the American Revolution in Miriam's world. Erasmus Burgeson, a Leveller quartermaster and pawnshop owner, helps set Miriam up with false identity papers, and Miriam moves on to her next money-making plan.
After shipping gold to get some initial funds, she will instead ship ideas.
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She buys a business and begins to take old patents from the s—s unfamiliar to New Britain there, and sell rights to the ideas. Publishers Weekly in their review said "Stross continues to mix high and low tech in amusing and surprising ways.
However, while giving a gritty SF portrait of the marvels of modern market economics and correcting the too pretty portrait of too many medieval fantasy lands, he sometimes overlooks the realities that constrain both. Still, less historically minded readers can lose themselves in Miriam's attempts to survive the Clan's equally dangerous high-stakes business and social games. Stross weaves a tale worthy of Robert Ludlum or Dan Brown. It is the first part of the series' second story.
Her experimental corporation in New Britain has been somewhat abandoned with other Clan minders overseeing it, officially due to concerns she might be assassinated, but actually due to political rivalries. The Clan still does not trust the upstart; Miriam is largely kept isolated in the first parallel world of Gruinmarkt, a virtual prisoner, and unable to travel unchaperoned. Miriam escapes surveillance for a time and finds out about the "insurance policy", a plot by the more modernizing faction of the Clan to create hundreds more world-walkers by offering mass artificial insemination at compromised sperm banks, then attempt to recruit the resulting children.
She stirs up enough trouble in her investigations that she is quickly re-imprisoned, her activities even more strongly circumscribed than before. Mike is pulled into a secret government task force that is investigating the Clan's activities; from the US Government's perspective, the Clan is "transdimensional narcoterrorists".
This "Family Trade Organization" has a key asset in the Clan defector from the first two books who had arrived seeking a witness protection program. The defector's aid helps the government arrest other Clan couriers, seize Clan assets, and begin to compile an English — Hochsprache dictionary.
This language study will allow agents to communicate if they can reach Gruinmarkt via captured couriers outfitted with Battle Royale -esque time bombs on their heads. The government is also alarmed to learn that the Clan possesses nuclear weapons, while Mike is concerned by the quasi-legality and loose morality of the operation. The plan goes awry as their defector source begins to grow restless and realizes that he is being held by the military now, not by law enforcement, and witness protection is not forthcoming. In a desperate bid to take a hostage and escape, both the defector and Mike's co-worker Pete are killed.
A trapped Miriam learns her fate: she is to be spared for her indiscretions, but only to be tied down in a political marriage, the only thing that can satisfy the more conservative instincts of the Clan. The Clan seeks to tie itself to the royal family so that it can rule Gruinmarkt. The King's two sons each have problems; the eldest son Egon has a cruel streak and is known as the "Pervert", while the youngest son Creon has PKU and is considered an "Idiot" after being poisoned with sweetener at a young age.
Egon does not bear the recessive world-walker genes from the Clan-member that had managed to sneak into the royal line, while Creon does, thus making the Clan favor Creon. Miriam's great-uncle Henryk, the king's head of spies, explains that if she marries Creon, his affliction would not affect his children, so she could produce potential world-walker Clan members to eventually reign.
Miriam is treated by a Clan fertility doctor and reluctantly goes forward with the plan after she is threatened with her ailing mother losing access to medical care, despite her strong aversion to marrying for "duty". In the final act, Clan allies gather for the banquet to celebrate the forced engagement of Miriam and Creon.
Agent Fleming is sent by the government to the banquet as well as part of a plan to make contact with her and turn her into an informant, posing as a captured West Coast courier. All the plans fall to pieces when the anti-Clan Prince Egon launches a coup , correctly fearing he would be denied the succession and potentially murdered had Creon produced an heir.
Reviews noted that The Clan Corporate suffers from a similar issue as the first book; it is clearly the first part of a two-part story, and ends on a cliffhanger with its plot threads still hanging. Protagonist Miriam Beckstein is on the run in the world of New Britain after narrowly escaping an attack in Gruinmarkt.
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The Clan itself struggles with a war on two fronts: one against Prince Egon's coup forces for control of Gruinmarkt, and another against the secretive US government taskforce investigating the Clan. The situation in New Britain is not good: the King has dismissed Parliament, another colonial war rages overseas, and the Treasury is paying its bills by printing money, leading to stagflation. The Levelers wish to create a democratic system, but are wary of moving until the burst of war-fueled government support wears off.
Miriam still fears elements of the Clan out to murder her. She reconnects with Erasmus, dodges both Clan agents and the police, recovers her laptop she stowed into Boston, and heads west with Erasmus to meet a noted Leveler intellectual and leader. However, Miriam feels strangely sick, especially while briefly world-walking to Gruinmarkt to evade the police.
Duke Angbard Lofstrom of the Clan charges his agent Briliana d'Ost with recovering Miriam, or, failing that, to ensure she no longer poses a threat to the Clan. The laws of physics in our universe include a number of fundamental constants, such as the speed of light. However, many scientific models allow for the existence of a vast ensemble of universes called the multiverse , which might include places where the laws of physics differ.
Many researchers have previously suggested that sufficiently large variations in the laws of physics would result in lifeless universes, so that only small differences in the fundamental constants would be permitted. To examine this idea further, astrophysicists examined universes where nuclear forces might differ and speculated on the potential habitability of these alternate places.
Related: Parallel Universes: Theories and Evidence. Still, "by doing this thought experiment, we are helping to answer a fundamental question — did our universe have to be the way it is, or why did it have to be?
In doing so, we learn more about our own universe," Howe said. The scientists focused on the weak interaction, also known both as the weak force and the weak nuclear force. This force is responsible for radioactive decay — for example, it causes neutrons to decay into protons, electrons and electrically neutral particles known as electron antineutrinos. One key way the scientists measured habitability was to estimate whether the worlds in these universes could host liquid water on their surfaces.
There is life virtually wherever there is liquid water on Earth, so the search for life outside Earth often focuses on water. Previous research found that a universe where the weak force is entirely absent could still be habitable. They were able to create a window that could bend the fabric of reality and provide a way to physically see the Other Side. The two also experimented with children through the use of a drug called Cortexiphan , hoping to discover a method by which they could cross over to the Other Side. After the death of his son, Peter, Walter wanted to make sure that the other Walter Walternate was able to save his son.
While looking through the window, Walter realized that Walternate was distracted and missed the color change in the chemical that signaled a cure had been found for Peter. Knowing that Walternate would not go back to discover what he missed, Walter took it upon himself to duplicate the compound and bring it over to the Other Side. He set up a machine similar to the window, yet which allowed him to be able to physically cross over. Doing so set into motion the biggest cataclysm to ever be unleashed on mankind. Walter bent the rules of reality, and as a result, tore an irreparable hole into the fabric of both universes.
The two universes began to slowly merge together, an act that will eventually lead to the destruction of one, if not both, worlds.
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Olivia Dunham was a test subject in the Cortexiphan trials. As a child fleeing her abusive stepfather, her fear activated a chemical that momentarily transported her into a field on the Other Side. She witnessed a blimp flying in the sky before quickly being transported back. She transported again a few days later. Again, this was a result of her fear. She had a brief conversation with Walternate about Peter, not knowing that the man she was speaking to was not the doctor she had known for so long.