For outstanding heroism in the field (despite himself), computational demonologist Bob Howard is on the fast track for promotion to management within the Laundry, the supersecret British government agency tasked with defending the realm from occult threats. Assigned to External Assets, Bob discovers the company (unofficially) employs freelance agents to deal with sensitive situations that may embarrass Queen and Country.
So when Ray Schiller—an American televangelist with the uncanny ability to miraculously heal the ill—becomes uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister, External Assets dispatches the brilliant, beautiful, and entirely unpredictable Persephone Hazard to infiltrate the Golden Promise Ministries and discover why the preacher is so interested in British politics. And it’s Bob’s job to make sure Persephone doesn’t cause an international incident.
But it’s a supernatural incident that Bob needs to worry about—a global threat even the Laundry may be unable to clean up…
Charles David George "Charlie" Stross is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His works range from science fiction and Lovecraftian horror to fantasy.
Stross is sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science fiction and space opera. His contemporaries include Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, Liz Williams and Richard Morgan.
I’m thinking 2013 was a weak year for the Locus Awards. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed he Apocalypse Codex, and there was a lot there that made me smile and snicker. But it didn’t contain the ideas that challenge, or writing that mesmerizes, or even characters that intrigue. It mostly just seems a high-level spoof, full of witticisms and social commentary, oft applied with heavy instrument.
I mean, yes, a phrase like: “Fucking netbooks; you can’t even use one to beat an alien brain parasite to death without it breaking” is going to make me pause, then giggle (reminding me of “[it] hung in the sky much the same way that bricks don’t“). There’s a great deal of that incidental humor, demonstrated again in a throw-away conversation while ordering coffee: ” ‘Mocha venti with an extra shot for me, no cream,’ I add. ‘Anything else?’ I shake my head and she wanders off. Johnny looks suspicious. ‘Since when do you speak Starbucks?’ I shrug. ‘It’s not as if I can help it; they’ve got our office surrounded, and they don’t like it if you try and order in English.’ “
I laughed, no doubt; I’ve purposely ordered a “medium,” curious to see if the barristas speak English.
Poor Bob; he seems destined to re-confront the scary forces that inhabit the deep. This seemed a re-tread of earlier adventures, particularly The Atrocity Archives, so it didn’t really engage me. It was pretty clear to absolutely everyone but Bob what was going on: portentous conversation with new manager, bureaucratic training, travel (to America), sacrificial goat, confront evil, portal to a wasteland, yada yada. This time, Bob meets with a man in charge of External Assets, and Bob is told that his job is to maintain contact with a free-lance witch-bodyguard team while maintaining official plausible deniability (“your mission, should you choose to accept it…”). It’s a chance for him to show managerial skills, and Bob’s willing to take the bait opportunity as the team investigate an American evangelist who is getting suspiciously close to the British PM. Arriving in Colorado under deep cover, each member of the team soon discovers their opponents are more than they appear.
Stross’ writing seemed particularly choppy this book. The introduction warns that Bob will be narrating bits alternating with reconstructed third-person view. Other perspectives include the evangelist, each member of the free-lance team, the administrator who gives Bob the mission and even an opposing operative. Considering this is book four, there is also a lot of world-building/back-story in the beginning chapters. It had two effects: one, it added to the sense of choppiness. A section covering a caper by the witch-bodyguard team showcased their skills but did little for story development. Two, the repeat world-building added to the feeling of re-creating the same story. We’re told a number of times how the Big Bad is coming, which will then proceed to eat humanity like a bag of fish and chips–otherwise known as How Bob Lost his Atheism. Then there is the routine: Bob has dinner with his wife; he trudges into the office and is surprised by visitors; he drinks coffee; he complains about management training; he accepts compliments telling him how talented he is, he has dinner with friends. I have to say, this is one book where I didn’t wonder how the protagonist managed the minutiae of daily life. In other series, authors often use the orientation time to develop other aspects of the protagonist’s life in order to create the feeling of a well-rounded character. Here, not so much.
Once we got to America, action was steady, always escalating, and if there were narrative changeovers, at least it tended to further the plot. I enjoyed some of the devices the team used to manage problems, particularly the tattoos and the paper chain. Persephone, the witch, gave insight into using power differently than in the technological world. Unfortunately, the ending was no less choppy than the beginning: it culminated in a chaotic action scene with a vague sense of resolution and then closed with a “classified” type file that explained events from another point of view. With an epilogue to boot, so while I feel satisfied by knowing the events, it’s the kind of satisfaction that comes from a debriefing, not from a build-climax-finish.
Writing is smart (see above quotes) with above average vocabulary and plenty of ideas bouncing around and references. I understand this isn’t the kind of style where I’ll get that artistic word-smithing that makes me sigh in awe. Stross does a decent job of evoking the otherworldly horror, so points for that. It just seemed like the same otherworldly horror, so no chills or anxiety. Really, they are clever works but mostly seem like a smart upgrade of the Robert Asprin I read when I was younger.
So, kudos and all for entertaining me, but really–is this the best they could come up with? Might have well been the 2015 Hugos.
Wow, this has easily been the best of Stross' books about the Laundy so far.
Bob is slowly recovering from the events of the previous book when Angleton (our favourite intimidating boss) calls him so send him to some executive training at a business school. *shudders* Talk about unspeakable horrors! He goes, not very enthusiastically of course, and is soon lent to a very secretive part of The Laundry that needs to investigate an American televangelist who has gotten his hooks in the British Prime Minister. So Bob is teamed up with a witch called Persephone Hazard / Duchess and her right-hand man Johnny. Naturally, the covert mission gets blown very soon and then the shit hits the proverbial fan immediately, leading to Bob and his friends being stranded in the US and trying to stop the awakening of a slumbering deity that could even start case Nightmare Green!
Although I've liked all of Bob's books very much so far, this was different. The action was there from the start, so was the puzzle of who had what agenda and who the actual enemy was, the bad guys were very creepy indeed, and Stross suffused it all with his trademark humour - this time not only about the corporate world, but also religion of any kind, cults, how gullible people are no matter what topic we're talking about, family affairs (like whether or not you want kids and why or why not).
Mo only had a brief appearance but it was a strong one, the author managing to flesh her out even more in a few short sentences / scenes, making her a strong but still human female MC (I like that immensely about her). He did the same with Persephone and Johnny whom I quickly became attached to.
It was a wild chase on two different continents and in two different dimensions (if not more), with emotional horror that was just the right kind of dark despite the humorous undertone of this series, as well as a healthy blend of believable action and silliness. We got some more information on some organisations we had encountered in previous books and know even more about the end game. It really is a bit like Norse mythology's Ragnarok with The Laundry knowing we're licked but preparing and being willing to fight anyway.
As far as I know, this book's style was entirely the author's, no reference or hommage to any other writer (I could be wrong though). Either way, I liked it very much as it was fast and yet the characters still were at the forefront. I can't imagine anyone not liking Bob (except for Mo if he doesn't get permission to tell her what happened maybe ;P). Welcome to Mahogany Row indeed!
A more sober read of this novel has made me realize something: I love this shit. Like, hands-down LOVE it. :)
Mahogany Row, the track for upper management, Bob's predilection for honesty and loyalty, even the enormous tongue-in-cheek bashing of American Religious Behavior. It's all fun, funny, and gloriously genre-mashed. I could read this stuff forever.
And the way things are going, I might keep re-reading these books for just that reason. I may never get tired of them. So much wry humor, so many Lovecraftian horrors, so much excellent plotting. What's not to love?
And whatever god you choose to believe in have mercy on your soul, indeed! I've been loving these books from the start, and while it took me a little time to get into yet another spy-fiction style since Mr. Stross has consciously been imitating the greats up till now, I did indeed get into it. In a few ways, it's even greater than some of the previous Laundry files.
Fascinating character developments for Howard. I think I like the new standard characters as well. I can't wait for a new novel!
Another of Stross's maths = magic and Cthulhu is just waiting to eat your soul for a light snack before dinner novels in which an out-of-his-depth secret agent tries to save us all from the horrors on the other side of reality. Except that this is book four an playing the whole plucky reluctant hero who normally hides in the office card once again wouldn't really work. So instead Stross and our protagonist admit to reasonable competence as a bunch of cultists attempt to summon Christ to Earth but don't know what they will really let loose isn't really into peace and love...can they be stopped?
This book is as good as any other in the series but Stross spends much of it setting the groundwork for a bit of a shake-up in the inevitable prospective next volume. This means one of those developments that increase the powers of the protagonist. This is similar to the arc that the protagonist of the Night Watch goes through and happens quite a bit in various types of fantasy. The potential problem is that if you do that you must also make the antagonists more powerful in order to maintain the threat level and this can lead to what I call threat-inflation which, at it's most extreme and ridiculous leads to the sort of nonsense found in the First Lensman books. Hopefully this series, which is a heap of fun, won't descend into that brand of unintentional silliness (which gets plain dull after a while). Creativity can postpone this problem but ultimately, the solution is to end the series before it's too late. In this case it's not - yet.
I picked this one up at random from the library because I have only read one of this author's book previously and was interested in trying more. I'm glad I did, because it was a really good book.
Everyman Bob Howard works for the Laundry, the part of the British Secret Service that deals with occult threats to the nation. Sent on a mission to investigate an American church that is taking far too much interest in certain British ministers, he soon finds himself in way over his head. Aided and abetted by two independent operators with a few tricks of their own, he has to stop an apocalypse armed only with a couple of chicken feet, a camera that takes more than photos, and his own wit and ingenuity. We may all be doomed...
I didn't realise that this was part 4 of a series when I picked this book up, but it didn't seem to matter that much as the author helpfully provided a brief précis of previous events whenever they came up (basically amounting to "I went on this mission and bad things happened") which kept me nicely on track with the story. I would certainly go back and read the previous books in this series now.
The idea behind an occult department combined with the tedium of local or central government (or a business environment) is nothing new (Tom Holt did a similar thing a few years ago I recall), but this is done in a smart and entertaining way. It's witty and snarky, funny when it needs to be, but with an undercurrent of horror that occasionally rises to the surface to remind us that an apocalypse is on its way. The bizarre world of American evangelists gets a bit of a hammering here but that is no bad thing in my mind, though I suspect this story may play better with cynical Brits that it would with Americans who may take offence with the some elements of this story.
I liked the characters a lot - Bob may have a few tricks up his sleeve but he is basically one of us (even if he is an IT geek). Persephone Hazard (not sure if I love or hate that name!) is sometimes a bit too good to be true but is still interesting, and her sidekick McTavish has some intriguing hidden depths that warrant further exploration. There are some good supporting characters on the side of the good guys. The bad guys on the other hand are rather more deluded than evil, especially as many of them have been possessed by something rather nasty than pushed them in a direction they might not have otherwise gone in.
If I were in the situation that Bob finds himself, I think I would rather battle eldritch horrors from beyond the veil than have to participate in a week-long management training course that includes *shudder* role-play. Such is the kind of choice that you face when you're a public servant.
Awesome science fiction thriller / horror / mystery. I loved the start of this series it is tailor made to my likes. This is my first Stross novel even though he has been on my to read list for a very long time.
Great characters. Great world. Great science fiction. Lovecraft! Gadgets. And more.
I really liked it.
The first third of this book was a drag and nothing happened. This was the weakest of the series but the ending somewhat made up for it.
Charlie Stross was one of my favorite science fiction authors a while back - Iron Sunrise, the first few books in the Laundry Files universe, and more.
I'm not sure if his style is changing or if my preferences are, but recently I've been less and less able to tolerate his writing. It strikes me as smug, self-righteous, and very VERY pleased with itself. The less clever he's actually being, the more self-regard his fiction seems to exude.
I'd pre-ordered this book months ago, and it arrived yesterday on release date.
I forced myself to read to page 100 before giving up on the novel and throwing it on the "donate to library" pile.
I know from his blog that Stross is active in attendance at science fiction conventions, and I've got a theory that the first habit that bugs me (more on this in a moment) comes from that. He seems to think that in-jokes and witt-less witicisms are the soul of cleverness. This is now the second - third? - novel in which his characters use the oh-so au-courant [for 2009] phrase "Jesus Phone" to refer to iPhones. He re-uses and re-uses and re-uses science-fiction nerdom catch phrases [ example dialogue: "any sufficiently advanced lingerie is indistiguishable from a weapon" ] that are intended to be funny, but fall utterly flat. In a single word, the nerd-to-nerd dialogue is embarrassing, and it's embarrassing on two different levels: if I worked with a self-described nerd who thought he was being clever issuing the lines that Stross' characters deploy with regularity, I'd cringe for his or her sake. ...and given that this is not actual dialogue, but written fictional dialogue that rings so false and so flat, I cringe for Stross' sake.
The final thing that made me realize that this is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly [ see the Dorothy Parker quote for the rest of that thought ] is the self-righteous smug condemnation he, through his characters, hands out to all of the mouth-breathing evil Jesus freaks from the snake handling continent of North America.
Stross' unconstrained hostility to Christianity is normally present in his blog, but it usually doesn't impact his fiction ... but in this book it's hard to go a page without being hit over the head with Stross' opinions being mouthpieced through either the characters or the plot. The villain is a cartoonish two dimensional televangelist (a totally up-to-the-minute target of hate...if this was 1982 and the 700 Club was on the air) of a TV megachurch. The preacher is a horrible man, engaging in gluttony and lust towards his daughter. Because he is a sexual pervert [ I think, having read only to page 100 ] he's castrated himself...but none-the-less he forces his daughter to mortify his flesh, as holy punishment, which involves something unspecified off in the direction of painful oral sex.
All of Stross' sympathetic characters roll their eyes in all the right places, and violently agree with each other on how evil and stupid those who don't share their sophisticated opinions are. At one point a teacher notes approvingly the de-Christianization of England (in that there are Hindus, Muslims, etc. in her class) but mention her big problem with the religious: fanatic parents - not Muslims, mind you, but Christians - take their children out of religion class. There can be no explanation for this other than the one presented - the small minded Christian parents are afraid that their children learn FACTS.
It is during this same coversation that one of the good left-wing anti-Christian characters that we are meant to identify with "sips his wine thoughtfully" in the between explaining that Christians are fanatics and, after the sip, explaining that Christians are fanatics.
Moving off of the utterly arrogant and snide tone to a new topic of critique: one of Stross' pitfalls as a writer is that he often throws a barrage of word-salad at the reader in - I believe - an attempt to come off as more knowledgeable than I suspect he actually is. In some of his science fiction the phrase "time-like curves" appears far more often than is defensible, and the context fails to provide any example that Stross actually knows what he's talking about. In this, his horror fiction, it's a barrage of theological terms. "Dispensationalism" gets used as if it's just a synonym for "fundamentalist", "prosperity theology" gets used in a similar way. The "quiverful" movement of some Christian religions teaching that large families are good is denounced as a plot because the people who adopt such opinions are seeking to either indoctrinate their children or use them for unwholesome purposes.
Despite the fact that most of the oxes that Stross is goring are not my own, I finally got SO annoyed at how he stacked the deck so strongly against his ideological enemies, so that every character sympathetic to his own point of view is wise, patient, sophisticated and urbane, and every character with the other opinions is a snake-handling con-man, I couldn't even stay with the book up to the point where - I presume - the fairly entertaining Chtulian plot begins.
It's a shame - Stross used to be a good writer.
Like Heinlein in his late period, though, writing good fiction and entertaining the reader now takes a backseat to the author's own tired rants.
Stross continues to churn out nerd flavored popcorn, but its beginning to taste a bit stale. When a work becomes this long, it either has to grow or become stagnant. So far the work isn’t maturing.
On the good side, Stross does for the most part manage to actually give this story an exciting and not anticlimactic ending. And Stross’s RPG sensibilities, and the intersection of information technology, secret services, with Cthulhu Mythos continues to charm on a basic level. I just wish the stories still felt like they belonged in the Cthulhu Mythos. Stross is bordering on committing travesties on par with Brian Lumley attempting to insert benevolent deities in to the canon, though obviously this would be far from Stross’s own instincts.
In this adventure, our fearless IT professional/computational demonologist/Her Majesty's Secret Servant is once again involved in trying to stop a plot organized by the mind of the thing slumbering in the Black Pyramid on the Leng Plateau. This time the mind has hijacked a darkly comical band of evangelicals from America, who in the name of the false Christ proceed to act out various nightmare scenarios on the poor benighted populace of Colorado. Once again we have all sorts of geek name dropping, so that with a little research you could probably figure out the specific articles and blogs Stross has been reading over the last year. But all that techno-babble – even if it is real world technobabble – more and more feels like dull exposition that we really should have been over with by now. Even more so, the story is departing further and further from its Delta Green roots, and with it from its Lovecraftian roots. The story is becoming noticeably less dark and less like a horror story, and more and more like a comic book or superhero caper with a bit of non-comic book code approved violence and adult themes. Stross is mainstreaming his story, but in the process he’s losing the numinous horror that makes a Lovecraftian story work.
One of the rules of a Lovecraftian story is that the human mind simply can’t handle the universe. The more knowledge you gain, the less stable you become. Humanity has no choice but sheltering in helpless ignorance. Lovecraftian heroes are doomed. They may save the world, but always at the cost of themselves. Bob however is increasingly sane and resilient. Faced with cosmic horrors beyond imagination, Bob is unflinching and increasingly treats his horrorshow world as normal, relatable, and even controllable. The unknowable fear becomes known. Ultimately, the high point of the series was way back in the Atrocity archives, with the young Bob running like heck to escape from a monster that threatens to eat the entire universe. The human villain of the Apocalypse Codex by contrast is a laughable sad trope TV Evangelist with a Guy Smiley grin, who never quite manages to get past chewing up the scenery and for me never got passed the really bad image on the cover.
Far from being a horror story, the novels are beginning to boil down to geek wish fulfillment. There is a lot of having your cake and eating it going on here. It’s not enough to impose your will on the cyberspace universe, wouldn’t it be great if you could hack and program the real world too? Bob is devotedly married to a hot loving wife, but he keeps being forced – forced mind you – into these situations where he has to be intimate with some hot geek spy. She even had to full tongue kiss him, entirely for his own good and against his will naturally. There is lip service given to doom and gloom about the future, but not the real existential fear of it. Bob is not even faced with as much doom and gloom as your average civil service zombie, or corporate code monkey in a cubical farm for crying out loud. Nothing threatens to overturn or undermine Bob’s basic belief systems. There are no hard choices. His hands can stay clean of the blood of innocents – and even for the most part enemies - even in the middle of a potential megadeath event with the existence of humanity on the line and everyone out to kill him while working for an agency run by Lovecraftian sorcerers. There is no life of meaningless drudgery. Life has a purpose – even if it is only fighting back the alien horrors from the dungeon dimensions (that now even get to have some dialogue). In villains, it is increasingly less Nyarthalotep and more Dr. Doom. The sidekicks have more to do with Modesty Blaise than Robert Olmstead or Henry Armitage. Bob has to deal with the fact that he sorta kinda has to give up his atheism, but not in any way that causes him real pain or difficulty. Rather, Bob gets to give up the religion he doesn’t want in an exchange for a life filled with meaning and purpose that he does want.
It’s all so far from the weighty consciousness burning all consuming horror that is found in the originals. Everyone gets their action hero shining moments of awesome, including now our affable put upon IT nerd. Indeed, it’s hard not to believe that the writer is having so much fun that he is deliberately taking steps to distance himself from all of that horror stuff. The only problem with all of that is that it makes the series far less original and far from introspective. Where Lovecraft was channeling everything from his fear of miscegenation to a phobia of fish, Stross is channeling what? Fear of Americans and organized religion? You think he could do better than that. Bertrand Russell channels Lovecraft most potently when writes, “Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.” Now that is someone channeling the fear of mankind in the face of the faceless Azathoth. Stross is more and more just channeling his geek cred.
Anyone who’s been sent on a management training opportunity and gone to it against their better judgement will be able to related to Bob Howard’s predicament in this installment of The Laundry Files. Especially since he’s sent on a mission to America to accompany two “external assets” who don’t really want his “management.”
It turns out that’s not really why Bob was sent along—his previous experience and partial transformation into an Eater of Souls turns out to be just the thing to get all three of the agents out of the soup. In the meantime, there is witty dialog about things like the “coffee speak” one must use at Starbucks and the nature of occult tools (a pigeon foot for use as a Hand of Glory, for example). There are also wonderful brain parasites which reminded me strongly of the Ceti Eels used in the Star Trek : The Wrath of Khan movie.
A great combination of the spy and urban fantasy genres.
This series has turned a corner and become more serious, with this volume. Or the author has decided to take it more seriously. I don't mean it's stopped being funny; it's still Bob's irate-nerd edge-of-over-clever voice narrating, and that still turns the pages nicely. Nor do I refer to the escalation of the story arc, which is indeed escalating (The Stars Are Right, more or less now, as of this volume).
No, I mean that the early volumes were *gonzo* horror, starting with Nazis From Space, more or less literally. The set pieces were genuinely spooky, but shallowly so; monsters and mind-invading demons from beyond space and time.
This time, the on-stage threat is an American televangelist. There are of course monsters and mind-invading demons lurking behind the plot curtains -- but the televangelist and his thoroughly-human brand of evil grounds the story, in a way that I don't think previous volumes managed. We start to see what occult threats mean to civilians, to *us*; not as a hypothetical future catastrophe, not as cinematic heroes-vs-goons bloodbath, but in lives ruined and destroyed.
(Well, I should say, as that *and* the looming planetary catastrophe *and* the cinematic fight scenes. Each at appropriate times in the story.)
Also: the author has some words for American fundamentalism. He's not saying that the real-life Christian megachurches want to summon Cthulhu and destroy civilization... but Lovecraftian horror is big on religous cults, and Stross isn't shy about pointing out how close some *popular* religious movements are to cult-land. The repressive, controlling, (...sexist, anti-intellectual, power-hungry, self-righteous...) elements of the religious right are the explicit villain here. The monsters, to some degree, are just reification.
(Just last month I was reading -- thank you, Fred Clark -- about the five points of Calvinist theology. But it had *not* occurred to me that if you start with a classic Lovecraftian cult story, all over people going hopelessly insane and corrupt bloodlines coming out to overwhelm them... well, those five points wouldn't seem even a little bit out of place, would they? No, they wouldn't. Thank you, Charlie.)
I don't want to give the impression that this is a Message Book. It's the same thriller ride it's always been, with plots and horrors and spies and stuff. I'm saying that the tone-tension used to be between cosmic horror and petty bureaucracy. But the petty bureaucracy is slowly revealing itself as the high-stakes game-playing of serious espionage; the tension is now between cosmic horror and real-life horror. I don't know if Stross intended this curveball from the beginning (I doubt it, really); but I like it.
World: The world building is fantastic. This is one of the best thing in Stross' books his nonchalance in world building. It's a conversation and a remark and not info dumping which I like. The tone of the world is set beautifully by Howard and his point of view, it's great. The pieces of the world we see this time around is fun, it's very contained but a trip to the USA is always fun. That being said there is not enough Americana in it to really set it apart from any other locale, but oh well, minor irk.
Story: The story is great, it's small, it's self contained but the greater story of Bob and his career is also explored. I love it when books like these take on televangelist head on and a UK perspective was fun. I don't really have much to say about this story, it's expected, it's fits the world and for a forth book readers know what they are getting into. It's dry and fun, it's ridiculous and very British, I like it.
Characters: Bob is always great, his sense of humor and personality really sets the tone for the book. It's dry, it's matter of fact and when you pair that with the Lovecraftian and computer nature of the world and story it gives a very different and unique tone to a cosmic horror book. The rest of the characters are just as interesting. I don't want to spoil them but they are both cliched but also a little bit different from the genre giving us interesting and fun characters to get to know, the villain especially.
I liked it, it's what I expected and what I wanted, this is safely in the comfort zone of this series.
Oh, sure, I make a lot of noise about not liking series, and then as soon as I see the next book in Charlie Stross' Laundry Files, here I am doing the happy dance as I pick it off the shelf. But... Stross is a very different writer, and this is a very different sort of series.
Bob Howard works for the Laundry—the very secret British secret service dedicated to protecting the realm against threats that are more alien than mere foreign agents, using techniques more arcane than playing baccarat or driving an Aston-Martin. In short, Bob's not some inane James Bond clone (though he does appreciate a good whisky), and the Laundry isn't exactly as public-facing as MI-6. We've already seen Bob in action several times: The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum are essential prior reading (and great fun!)—you really don't want to start with this one.
In this installment, Bob Howard gets seconded to External Affairs, a quasi-independent arm of the Laundry (or is it?) which occasionally employs independent contractors. Those pesky rules, you see, that the good guys have to follow (no, they really have to... it's a geas)... sometimes it's helpful to have people who can go where the Laundry can't.
In this case, that means the glamorous Penelope Hazard and her sidekick Johnny, fresh from some public-spirited if extralegal exploits on the Continent, a pair who are by no means ecstatic to have a bumbling pencil-pusher along for the ride when they're asked to check out an oddly influential jet-setting Pentecostalist minister in Colorado after his all-too-successful visit with the Prime Minister.
Of course, things go pear-shaped. Stross gets a lot of creepy new mileage here out of the Cymothoidae, for example. Hallowe'en turned out to be a good time to read this book. But older threats and familiar places from Howard's earlier adventures come back into play as well.
The Apocalypse Codex actually seems like nothing more than more of the same, at first. Humorous struggles with tedious, incomprehensible bureaucracy—check. Snarky comments about food; geeky comments about coffee—check. Amusing juxtapositions of technology and ancient magic—check. Eldritch horrors from beyond eternity—check and double-check. That's what we want from series, after all—the same, but different—but... we don't want things to be too much the same. It's the precise shape of that pear that's the thing. Halfway through the book, I was actually starting to think Stross should just fold up the Laundry for good (heh). But then... he pulls some rabbits (or, well, things that look the way rabbits might, if they had scales and fangs and came from other dimensions) out of his hat (eww), that make it clear this book is laying the foundation for some serious developments, both for the world (CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, anyone?) and for Bob Howard and his lovely wife Mo (also known as Agent CANDID).
That's my major criticism of this book, if I'm going to go ahead and criticize it: for the most part, The Apocalypse Codex is much less of a standalone novel than its predecessors. It's not another verse, just a chorus and instrumental bridge, taking Bob from his previous status as perennial victim to perhaps something a bit more autonomous. Bridges are important; a song that's all verse would weary the ear. But I'm not sure this one needed to be book-length.
Even so, I still like Bob and his world (though I wouldn't want to live in it), and I like Stross. I'm excited to see what happens next, and if I'm still in this universe when it comes out, I'll be back for the next installment.
Well, at least I enjoyed the first three books. I won't bother writing too much about it. I did not enjoy this book.
From the jumps from one character to another to constant repetitions of past events and some other things (which I'll mark in my private notes so as not to forget the whys), it came close to cause a huge book slump.
I'll remove the rest of the series from my to-read list for now.
The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth novel in the projected nine-book The Laundry series by Charles Stross. This doesn't include the novels and short-stories which he has been prone to writing and I have enjoyed tremendously. I wasn't too big of a fan of The Jennifer Morgue but I was glad I gave the series a pass on this.
So what is the premise of The Apocalypse Codex?
Bob Howard is recovering from the events of The Fuller Memorandum, having taken a serious hit to his sanity score in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying-game sense. He is still somewhat twitchy from the events of that book but has returned to normal enough that he's able to resume his duties. Fans of the Mo and Bob romance will also note their marriage has recovered off-screen, which I was rather disappointed by.
Sorry, not a Mo fan.
No sooner does Bob return to his job duties than he is recruited by a secret branch of the already uber-secret Laundry to do a mission which potentially compromises the entire org-chart. A Christian-themed Great Old Ones cult has potentially compromised the Prime Minister and they need to bring in "outside contractors" to deal with them. Bob isn't allowed to involve himself on any mission where the PM may be compromised but he can monitor the outside contractors who are deniable assets.
Yes, this is as confusing to Bob as it is to you and me and that's the point. Actually, it was probably less confusing to me than Bob since I'm used to the belief the government does all sorts of duplicitous self-justifying things that disregard the rule of law in favor of raw power. Bob, despite working for the Laundry, seems to assume their rules actually mean something--probably because they're the last bastion of defense against Cthulhu.
What follows is divided into two distinct parts which surprised me. The first is the book becomes a stinging satire on Dominionist Christianity. The second is that it becomes a Modesty Blaise pastiche which uses a lawyer-friendly magical version of the character and her partner to do a send-up of her. I'll comment on both but, as you can imagine, the former interests me far more than the latter.
Dominionist Christianity is, for those unaware of the fine distinctions of religion, those branches of of my faith which believe everyone who isn't a Christian is going to Hell. This excludes, btw, branches of Christianity they don't like (typically Catholicism and Mormonism--I imagine it would contain more if Dominionist branches knew about the Eastern Orthodox Church). Dominionist Christianity typically believes Jesus is coming back very soon and that if they don't convert everyone in the world to their cause, this will be a tragedy of epic proportions.
I do not hold with Dominionist theology (to say the least).
Charles Stross gives the Dominionist branches of theology both barrels by explicitly comparing it to a cult of Cthulhu (or, technically, the Gatekeeper Great Old One introduced in previous books). Given I'm a proponent of the theory that H.P. Lovecraft created much of his mythos to satirize religion, I believe Charles Stross is following in well-trodden footsteps.
Given some Dominionist branches actively look forward to the end of the world and believe in training their members for the coming in Armageddon, the satire feels especially biting. The scary thing is some of the main villain's doctrines and actions aren't that far from real-life branches of my faith I've met. Despite this, Charles Stross is not hostile to the religion as a whole. He makes a surprisingly sympathetic Vicar character who provides vital help against the forces threatening the world.
The Modesty Blaise elements involve a Italian socialite turned spy (and witch) named Persephone and her partner Jonathan, who are transparently thin analogues for Modesty and Willie Gavin. The characters are delightfully effective and far more respectful than the Bond pastie of The Jennifer Morgue. I liked them both and hope they show up in future books as they draw a nice contrast against the IT-guy style spywork of Bob Howard.
The plot moves at a brisk place and never becomes preachy. The book can be read as satire but also as a straight Lovecraftian cult versus investigators as well. The plot moves at a brisk pace and sets up a lot of future events for the series to capitalize later. The secrets revealed about the Laundry and how magic works are also intriguing. There's not much development in the Mo and Bob relationship but since they're married, I'm not sure how much there should be. I do miss her serving as a field agent, however.
In conclusion, probably my favorite book in the Laundry series so far. I congratulate Charles Stross for winning me back fully.
Yes, um, hi, it’s been three years since I last read and reviewed a Laundry Files novel. It has been a long time since I bought a Charles Stross book. Don’t worry; I bought this book and the next one, so while I won’t be reading it right away, three years will not go by. I have a lot of catching up to do!
In The Apocalypse Codex, Bob Howard is back … and has to go to training courses because he is being groomed for middle management. Fortunately for our reader’s brains, we don’t have to sit through 300 pages of Bob networking with other British civil servants. Rather, Bob soon gets tapped by another Laundry higher-up to manage some “external assets”—a witch and her mercenary sidekick. They need to investigate an evangelical church that is a little too cult-like to be true—might the pastor actually be trying to summon a chthonic entity when he really means to resurrect Jesus? Of course he might. This is the Laundry Files.
TL;DR if you’ve read this series before and want to know how this one stacks up: it’s good. It’s really good. More mythology, new characters (Persephone and Johnny are cool; Lockhart is OK), new perspectives even, and an intense thriller plot. All the stuff you’ve come to expect, in spades.
This is also probably a great entry point into the series if you haven’t been following along and don’t feel like going back and reading the first three books. Bob brings you up to speed pretty quickly, and while there are obviously references (and spoilers for) earlier novels, this adventure really has Bob off on something quite new, and the ending sets him up for a kind of lateral move within the Laundry hierarchy that promises more interesting adventures going forward. As usual, Stross isn’t afraid to shake things up and move the overall arc of the series forward.
Getting into this particular book now: the first third kind of drags. It isn’t just the exposition to induct us into the world … it takes a while for Bob to get out into the field and do his thing and then for the shit to hit the fan. This is also the first time, if I recall correctly, that Bob narrates stuff in third person that he didn’t experience. That isn’t a big deal, but it is an interesting change. For the most part, I enjoyed Persephone and Johnny. They were competent ciphers of characters without being annoyingly smarmy or smug about it.
Surprisingly, my favourite aspect of the book was the antagonist. Without going deeply into spoilers, let’s just say that I really like the way Stross portrays Schiller’s faith. I think there are lots of interesting shades between con artists and true believers, and Stross sort of hits on the right balance to give us an antagonist who is clearly deluded and deceived yet strangely honest too.
I can’t help but notice some parallels between Bob and Schiller as well. Oh, not in the sense that I think Bob is going to start a cult aimed at waking the Sleeper in the Pyramid … but The Apocalypse Codex is ultimately about loyalty to those in your care. Schiller has a duty of care to his congregation, one that he egregiously violates in the name of his faith. Bob has a duty of care to his external assets—or at least feels like he does—and Stross uses multiple opportunities to hammer home his point that Bob’s loyalty is itself more of an asset than a liability.
I feel like, as Stross ramps us up towards CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (when/if ever that arrives), he is having us think more critically about the structure of the Laundry. We learn more about its American counterpart, the so-called Black Chamber, here as well, and how it seems to be run by or at least associated with more supernatural creatures than the Laundry. Stross is laying a lot of groundwork that I have faith will pay off in later books.
Really, of course, if you’re coming to this book you’re probably coming for Stross’ effortless exposition and clever allusions. No one would accuse Stross of giving up an opportunity to infodump, and The Apocalypse Codex is not exception. It’s smart, and it knows it’s smart, in that annoying kind of way—but it’s also punchy, and a little bit sweet (especially the bits between Bob and Moe), so in my opinion, Stross can get away with it.
"Bob Howard may be humanity's last hope. Start praying..."
Still recovering from the hair-raising events of The Fuller Memorandum, Bob now finds himself on the Fast Stream track for promotion, and his superiors have decided that he needs to attend some Professional Development training with regular civil servants who don't work for the Laundry. Bob of course, doesn't want to go -- he'd rather audit some courses at the Dunwich facility that would improve his prospects for survival for "when the tentacles hit the pentacle." But of course, he has no choice, and after the first "four hours of soul-destroyingly banal tedium," meets Gerald Lockhart, who is in charge of external assets. Lockhart wants Bob to join forces with Persephone Hazard, code name BASHFUL INCENDIARY, who has been hired to investigate why an American televangelist has all of a sudden taken an intense interest in the people surrounding the Prime Minister. The Laundry is not allowed to snoop on Number 10, but the activities of the televangelist, Ray Schiller, have whetted the organization's curiosity. It's off to America for Bob, where he follows BASHFUL INCENDIARY to a retreat in the Rockies, where she will be poised to discover exactly what Schiller and his disciples are getting up to -- and it's definitely not pretty.
According to Howard's own blog, he wrote The Apocalypse Codex with Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise in mind. But you'll also find a lot of Lovecraft, as well as some "Wrath of Khan" moments as Bob tries to prevent a group of evil and somewhat misguided members of the Golden Promise Ministries from ushering in the Second Coming that could launch NIGHTMARE CASE GREEN before its time. That would be very, very bad indeed.
In The Apocalypse Codex Stross has created a plot that starts out like a light tap on the gas pedal and then accelerates in increments to some stomach-tensing action as you wonder how the heck they're going to make out of this one before the apocalypse erupts. Although a great deal of the action is told from the perspectives of two of the other characters, it fits together well considering this story is coming from Bob Howard's memoirs. It also seems like the Laundry series is getting a bit more serious now as events are moving toward the inevitable fight between humanity and what's laying in wait inside the edges and angles of other universes, but I hope it doesn't ever lose its sense of humor and geekness that these books are noted for and that is part of the reason I love this series. It's another excellent and fun installment of the Laundry series, but don't read this if you're a very religious Christian unless you have a sense of humor. It's obvious that Howard has issues with fundamentalist Christians in the way he throws those pointed barbs around -- the arrows don't bother me, but some people might take his humor the wrong way. If you can get past that, you'll be rewarded with a fun adventure that takes you deeper into the heart of the strange and mysterious Laundry.
Another good Laundry novel, better in some ways than its predecessor, in others a bit flatter. The core drawback is, to write good satire or good horror, you have to write from inside the system. Stross was spot-on with bureaucratic IT departments and the Lovecraft and Bond mythos. Here he takes on American evangelism, and it falls a bit flat: Stross' knowledge isn't nearly as immediate, and at core, he clearly lacks the visceral reaction that makes for first rate comedy or horror: the British-atheist condescension pulls its fangs.
That said, there are some deeply creepy moments ("quiverfull," shudder), but the book's strengths are in plot and characterization, which rank this among Stross's best. We're introduced to a new, and new sort of agent, an off-the-books intuitive mage, in contrast to Bob's paperclipped computational demonology, and the contrast is fun. The mythos of the Laundry and the larger paranormal operations community is built out convincingly, as the scope of Bob's actions widens.
And, finally, Stross has figured out how to nail an ending: gone is (most of) the abrupt infodump that severed and packaged complex plotlines. Here we're almost brought in for a smooth landing, explanations are organic and tantalizingly open, and the coda is absolutely hilarious, leaving me wishing I could start the next volume right now.
I just hope that Stross chooses a subject next time out that *he* finds truly horrifying.
Yet another book of laundry series series where Bob finds himself in the middle of some major disaster without having all the info. And actually that' what i like about this series. It's good to see that even when all goes to hell Bob keeps an open mind and mostly positive attitude. He is indeed very lucky to get through everything that goes in the book with a, lets say, few scratches. Somehow this books feels like and and of the Laundry series, but for me it'll be a great disappointment if it is. Even if now Bob is not an IT guy with a field ops exprience, i'm sure Stross will find a way to put him inside some other major fuckup. Anyway, i guess, CASE NIGMARE GREEN is yet to come.
The POV changes made the story weaker. Bob isn't an active part until the last 1/3 of the story. Story would have been stronger if this had focused on the side characters. Good setup for next sequence of events.
Some reviews are difficult to write, some are easier. But this is going to be like the easiest one ever. The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross is an awesome book. If you already are a fan of The Laundry Files you won't be disappointed in the least. If you aren't... what are you waiting for? You still have some time until the book is published. Go read The Atrocity Archives, The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum and then The Apocalypse Codex. You'll love them all.
That's all folks. My job here is done.
What? What happens? You still here? Wait... You wanna know more?! Ok, ok, but you'd better be cleared for this info or you know what can happen to your immortal soul and all that...
In The Apocalypse Codex our favorite computational demonologist, Bob Howard, has to face a new supernatural threat (and, even more frightenly, new responsibilities as a junior manager). In this case, a telenvagelist that is much to eager to prepare the second coming of Jesus but might set into motion forces beyond his reckoning...
In this new instalment of The Laundry Files you will find many of the elements that have made this series one of my favorite ones ever: technomagical artifacts (including hands of glory and the return of the SCORPION STARE from "The Concrete Jungle"), lots of adventures and sharp dialog (it's impossible not to laugh when you find sentences such as “Any sufficiently advanced lingerie is indistinguishable from a lethal weapon.”). And, of course, the occasional lecture on applied computational demonology:
Magic is a branch of applied mathematics: solve theorems, invoke actions, actions occur. Program computers to do ditto, actions occur faster and more reliably. So far so good, this is what I do for a living. But consciousness is also a computational process. Human minds are conscious, there are too damn many of us in too small a volume of space on this planet right now, and we're damaging the computational ultrastructure of reality. Too much of our kind of magic going on makes magic easier to perform—for a while, until space itself rips open and the nightmares come out to play.
I found The Apocalypse Codex a bit closer to urban fantasy than the previous books in the series, and some parts even reminded me of The Magician King by Lev Grossman and Kraken by China Miéville. The plot is tighter, more interesting and easier to follow than some of the other novels of The Laundry Files. And we also have a new character: Persephone Hazard (codename BASHFUL INCENDIARY) an external contractor of The Laundry which is the perfect counterpoint to Bob Howard and a wonderful addition to the series.
All in all, The Apocalypse Codex is possibly the best novel of The Laundry Files (and my favorite book of 2012 so far, together with Existence by David Brin) and that is a lot to say. Buy it. Read it. You don't know when CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN will happen and you'd better be prepared.
The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross is the fourth installment in The Laundry series. Our intrepid hacker turned bureaucrat fighter of evil, Bob, is back in action after his latest scrape with death. Along with Bob, we are introduced to several new characters including a new boss and a couple of very interesting and powerful outside operators, Johnny and the Duchess.
Most of the action takes place in America this time where Bob must thwart the efforts by a deranged fundamentalist preacher from awakening an ancient evil that could destroy the world or at least enslave it. This is Bob's first test run at being Management and he's a little out of his element, but in classic Bob fashion, he manages to muddle through alright.
This story takes another large step in developing Bob as a character as well as moving forward to the big showdown with evil where all the big bads can enter our world at once and humanity will have to deal with them openly and directly or die horribly. The story is told via several shifting perspective, but mostly Bob's.
The witty banter, slightly coarse humor and clever pop culture references that makes this series so enjoyable are all there and at just the right level. It seems like Stross is really dialed in on this series now and I'm really liking it. It has a quick and fun pace and Stross always manages to lighten what could be an overly dark scene with just enough humor to keep the mood up. The only reason I didn't give this five stars is that there was nothing super new in this book that the other three didn't have. Still a good story and a fun read.
This is a series book, and it really does call for knowledge of the predecessor books to make sense. On the other hand, the last of the predecessor books had such an epic climax that it seemed time to retire poor old Bob, because he can't be the loveable dork that carried all these stories having survived something so huge. So this new story felt a little weird because Bob was trying to dork around but the reader knows the whole time that he has some major mojo going on. To that extent, knowledge of the prior books weakened this one.
Still, I liked this book. I love the concept of the Laundry's raison d'etre; math is magic, and the Old Ones are coming if you don't watch out. I wish that Mr. Stross would write nothing else, though Accelerando was kinda fun. The pace of the writing is, as always, nice (I like a fast read). The story took a long time to get going, but all the background was necessary later on, even some details that had me wondering why the author was wasting my time with such trivia when there was some action to get to. I also found the ending more coherent than the climax of the Fuller Memorandum, which left me feeling perplexed because I was not quite certain what had happened. So by the time I was done I liked it better.
Many have criticized this book for failing to have anything really new in it, but I found those brain munching thingies (don't want to spoil it so I'm being deliberately vague) were quite horrifying enough, thank you. And I almost learned a new word for such creatures, but being me, I have already forgotten it. So I didn't feel any lack in that department.
As with the Fuller Memorandum, this book is not recommended reading for the faithful members of any flock. But then, how many books are, really?
It's got to be hard to write a series. One of the things I liked most about Atrocity Archives was that it was a fresh spin on the genre that I couldn't believe that no one had written before. Four books in, I've got a good feel for the world, but the surprise of the first book isn't there.
This time, we end up in Colorado Springs in the evangelical church from Hell- literally. I ended up liking the Duchess and Johnnie, two new characters who give the Laundry plausible deniability about this clandestine operation. In fact, I would have been happy with a book just about them. Bob is being groomed for management whether he likes it or not, and he pretty much doesn't like it. Mo isn't given much to do in this book except be pithy and wise. I'm not sure how much Bob added to the book, honestly, except as a window into the Laundry's doings.
This series has gotten a lot darker. The Dilbert-esque humor of the first book is almost entirely absent in this one. And this series definitely needs some humorous leavening to alleviate the horrible darkness that's foreshadowed. There's also some speechifying in the form of character self-musings, all about the problems with religion. Stross is preaching to the choir with me, so to speak- I was raised in an evangelical household and I'm all too familiar with the philosophy. But even I thought some of the rants didn't serve too much purpose for advancing the plot.
But I really still did like this book. The action scenes were tight and engrossing, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next.
After his last job as the tethered goat for a bunch of insane apocalypse-desiring cultists, Bob Howard, computational demonologist, is hoping for a little rest and relaxation so that he can try to shake his recent partial transformation into a demonic Eater of Souls. When he finally returns to work at The Laundry, the top-secret ministry of magic, he thinks his wish has been granted--after all, how hard can his new leadership and resource management position be?
Soon, he is embroiled in yet another cultist conspiracy: an American televangelist seems to be channelling a little too much Lovecraft in his sermons, so Bob is sent out to America to manage an off-the-books investigative team. He must battle with religious zealots, creepy creatures that crawl into brains and zombify their hosts, the terrifyingly harsh American equivalent to the Laundry, and (worst of all) rather a lot of bureaucracy. Can Bob make it through, save his assets, prevent the waking of a Lovecraftian sleeper, and, most difficult of all, can he keep all of his paperwork straight?
Charles Stross continues to entertain with The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth novel in his LAUNDRY FILES series. I suppose you could read this without reading the first three books, but it’d be better to start with book one, The Atrocity Archives. For this review, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the story so far.
Bob has been unintentionally working his way up in the Laundry, the secret British agency where computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists have, by accident, become sorcerers. For every case he’s been on, Bob has sort of bumbled his way into a successful outcome just by using his brains and creativity. Now he’s being groomed for a leadership position, so he needs some people skills. A lot of his preparation involves sitting in boring management training classes and seminars where he has to use role... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
Book four of the Laundry files finds us in the confident hands of Charles Stross as he continues the ongoing story of Bob Howard, cog in the machinery of the 'Laundry' the British governments deep, deep, deep spy agency tasked with protecting Her Majesties Government from threats well outside the capabilities of all other agencies. As I read this installment I was drawn to the conclusion that Strosses Laundry books share a certain kinship with Butcher's 'Dresden' books, only if those were written by a much stronger, more articulate author. Stross is much more textured and nuanced, I think, and the flavour in his Laundry books much more pleasing to the palette. Stross also really 'gets' Lovecraftian horror and has, it seems to me, most sucessfully brought it up to speed with the 21st century. When he needs to he can really bring the 'ick' to make your skin crawl and this is a good thing. Fun, satisfying reading.
I have missed a whole lot of books in the middle of this series. I will have to go back at some point and pick them up. I read The Atrocity Archives, enjoyed it, but hadn't gotten around to reading the book after it. Then I went to my city's library booksale in the fall, and The Apocalypse Codex was there on the table for $2 in hardcover, so what's a woman to do? Besides, I figured these were probably okay to read out of order?
Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.
In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
I read the prior Laundry Files novel back in 2012, so my memory of the previous books is a little hazy. But this is a good read, and doesn't rely on any specific knowledge from past installments.
This was a lot of fun to read, though it wasn't quite as funny as I remember the previous books being. I enjoyed the two new characters who were based on Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. In fact, this book has reminded me of how much I like Modesty Blaise. (I have a couple of collections of that comic strip waiting to be read, and I should really get started on them.)
(I also shouldn't wait five years before reading the next Laundry Files book...)