There is a reason that much sci-fi (and most space opera) assumes easy access to faster-than-light travel. The universe is so vast that simply using physics-as-we-know-it ends up trapping the story on one planet — or, at best, one solar system.
Neptune’s Brood goes the other way though, and asks “What kind of interstellar society can exist in our universe?” It answers questions like “How do they travel?”, “How do they communicate?”, and — most importantly — “How does money work?”.
Economics lies at the heart of this book and I love it. By tying the story so closely with finance, Stross gives us a book that takes an extremely long view. The main impetus for the plot took place thousands of years ago and finally catches up with the characters’ present due to the amount of time it takes for money to travel between the stars.
This book is full of great economic ideas like new types of money (fast, medium, and slow), privateer insurance companies, “assault auditors”, and “the FTL scam”. But it also has plenty of the more pedestrian sci-fi style of ideas like re-manufactured bodies, galactic colonization, and mer-people.
Most surprisingly, this book had a lot of words I didn’t know. I have a fairly large vocabulary so it’s both surprising and enticing to have to access my Kindle’s dictionary as often as I did here. I regret now not keeping a list of the new words I was learning.
I loved this book and was excited by every page turn. In some ways, it makes me sad because it was so close to rating 5-stars. But it includes a few too many confusing action scenes (mostly chases, to be honest) that I found myself skimming over to get back to the meat. That probably says more about the market the book was written for than anything.
I believe that this is the second book that Stross has set in this universe and now I’m eager to go read the first. Anyone who likes sci-fi would be well advised to pick this one up for it has easily earned its Hugo nomination this year.