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Stross & The Festival have arrived
on 28 September 2006
Rachel Mansour is a UN diplomat based incognito in an interplanetary Russian-ethnic society based on a historical model of class-structure and aristocratic inherited privilege. Martin Greenfield is also working undercover within the society for a mysterious paymaster called Herman.
At the outset of the novel a presence arrives in orbit around one of these Russian worlds and showers the planet with mobile phones. The bemused natives are told on the phones that The Festival has arrived and that they will grant requests for anything if they can only be entertained.
Soon, the Victorian-industrial world is thrown into chaos, revolution and worse by a plethora of advanced technological items given to the inhabitants.
On the homeworld, the Emperor decides to send his fleet to destroy the Festival and quell the insurrection. Martin, who has been waiting for his papers to be processed so that he can work in the flagship's engine room, is suddenly summoned aboard, as is Rachel, who has abandoned her disguise and announced herself as a UN observer to claim a place on the flagship, ostensibly to ensure that that the military of the New Republic do not contravene any of the Eschaton's laws.
It is only gradually that we realise that the Eschaton is not the ruling body of this interstellar multi-cultural society, but is something else entirely.
Stross succeeds admirably in blending satire, drama, political intrigue and outrageous science fiction concepts in a cleverly constructed novel.
One's understanding of the history of Humanity's interstellar cultures is revealed piece by piece and the jigsaw Stross puts together for us is weird, funny, fast paced and politically astute.
As a debut novel it's not the explosive start one might have expected from Stross who has made a reputation for himself through his short fiction. It is, however, an original and refreshing piece of work, which works well on every level.
Most importantly it's intelligently written, peppered with wit and the occasional post-modern reference.