Charles Stross: Invisible Sun (EBook, 2021, Pan McMillan) 4 stars

Two twinned worlds are waiting for war …

America is caught in a deadly arms …

Sometimes, taking your premise and running with it is all that is needed

3 stars

Stross’ Merchant Princes series, of which the Empire Games trilogy this concludes is a part, is a poster child for this principle: assuming there are parallel Earth timelines in which development of society (and life, at times) wildly varies, what happens when one technologically less advanced line discovers it can travel to a more advanced one? Start with a knight armed with a submachine gun attacking your hapless protagonist, and take it from there until you arrive at transtemporal nuclear powered space battleships parked on the ISS’ lawn.

If you think this sounds like a silly, incoherent mess, you can be forgiven: in the hands of a lesser author, it easily might have been. What saves Stross are his well rounded characters and an ironclad grasp of what plotting individual arcs along the basic workings of society and history means. Add complex, richly textured world building, a healthy dose of cynicism tempered by utopian optimism and some wry humour, and you get something that is not just very readable, but addictive and fun to the very end.