In the same universe as Saturn’s Children (2008) but thousands of years later, Stross invents an entire interstellar banking system, shows us how it works—and then how to defraud it.
Interstellar spaceships take hundreds of years to crawl between systems, so the fastest means of communication is by laser beacon. Fast money is cash. Medium money is represented by interplanetary investments that take decades to mature. Slow money accumulates from the vast expenditures required to establish new interstellar colonies, and therefore, it’s millions of times more valuable than cash. Metahuman Krina Alizond-114, a scholar of the historiography of accountancy practices, travels to the water world of Shin-Tethys to find her missing sister, Ana. The only way she can reach the planet is by signing on as crew aboard Deacon Dennet’s Interstellar Church of the Fragile, a church on an interplanetary spaceship staffed by animated skeletons. Before long, however, pirate underwriters capture the ship. The pirate chief, (ac)Count(ant) Rudi, claims to know Ana via an insurance policy he sold her. Krina’s real goal, though, is the investigation of a fraud of truly galactic proportions, perpetrated centuries ago under the guise of establishing a scientific colony whose purpose was to develop a faster-than-light drive. The colony collapsed spectacularly, but the debt, a mountain of slow money, still exists if anyone can prove ownership. Krina has one half of the key, Ana the other—maybe; she might equally well be dead. Rudi and Dennett clearly know more than they’re telling; there’s an assassin on Krina’s trail; and these are just the beginning of the complications, including a petulant subaquatic monarch and a society of intelligent communist squid. If you begin by thinking that a narrative about banking, debt and accountancy might be dull, Stross will quickly disabuse you—there’s always a mad glint in his eye, even when he’s explaining some seriously weird and alluring concepts.
Agreeable characters, a fascinating backdrop and brilliant plotting, with a further outlook of lengthy grins and occasional guffaws.