There’s nuts and bolts science fiction, and then there’s science fiction where the ideas are all drawn from some other field. In the case of the Merchant Princes, underneath the second world fantasy meets techno-thriller car-crash, there’s a science fictional examination of a topic that seldom gets air-play: the political determinants of economic development and industrialization.
The world of the Clan is mired in a classic development trap—a situation that prevailed for the vast mass of humanity until roughly 1800, and which we have no actual deep understanding of how to break out of. All we really know is that, prior to 1700 or thereabouts, Great Britain was economically not very far out of line with the rest of western Europe. But by 1860 the UK had achieved a mind-boggling industrial Great Leap Forward, becoming the first truly modern superpower: with naval basing rights in 130 other countries, a navy larger than the two next largest combined, and a staggering 60% of planetary GDP, it occupied much the position in the late 19th century that the USA occupied by the late 20th century.