Monday, October 1, 2012

Charles Stross and Five Loads of Laundry

I'll begin with a couple references to previous blog posts: the first post details my work on Charles Stross's The Apocalypse Codex, book four in his Laundry Files series, for Ace Books. The second post excerpts, and links to, a couple reviews of this novel.

In the intervening two months since that second blog post, The Apocalypse Codex has again been reviewed a number of times, and I would like to share with you a brief excerpt from just five of those reviews, in order of their publication. So, if you haven't picked up a copy of TAC as yet, if you're still undecided whether the Laundry Files novels are for you, then please read on; hopefully these reviews will help you decide that this series of books, and The Apocalypse Codex in particular, are a must read (and a must have).

I'll begin with the review by NancyO on oddly weird fiction (subtitled: "the fantasy, sci-fi and other weird books from my reading year"). What's so very cool about this particular review -- especially if you are new to the Laundry Files series -- is that NancyO reviews all four books in the series. So instead of focusing on TAC, I would like to quote from the introduction to her review:
There's something to be said about a guy who can combine HP Lovecraft, various writers of spy fiction, computer geekness and a little of the management nitwitedness of Office Space and come up with a series of consistently good novels that incorporate all of the above.... Along the way he throws pointed barbs at iPhones, cults, Power Point presentations, evangelical Christians, handguns and other sources of irritation -- all of which come off as funny, but only because you realize that some of the things he pokes sarcastic fun at resonate with your own fears, peeves, and annoyances. This guy is Charles Stross, who is the author of four books that comprise The Laundry Files, one of my favorite series of novels ever written. If you'll pardon the expletive, I don't know he manages to keep coming up with this amazing shit -- each book is different, sending the main character Bob Howard, computational demonologist, into perilous adventures as he and the Laundry, the super-secret civil service organization Bob works for, prepare to save humanity from the onslaught of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN -- an apocalypse arriving from the multiverse. The people at the Laundry have developed some very modern and secret technologies that combine the most high-tech electronics with the occult to keep Bob and others like him safe to defend the world -- all based on magic as a form of mathematics. These novels remind me of old-time adventure stories with a hopped-up occult/geek/horror twist that for some reason unknown to myself I just can't seem to get enough of.
I couldn't have asked for a better recap of the Laundry Files series. And as I said, NancyO goes on to review all four books in the series.

This next review of TAC is on mentatjack (subtitled: "sff book reviews and subversive ontology"). MentatJack writes:
Stross likes to play with point of view.... At the start of The Apocalypse Codex, Bob Howard (protagonist) is established formally as an unreliable narrator:

If it happened to me, I'll describe it in the first person... If it happened to someone else I'll describe it in the third person… And if there's something you really need to understand... I'll [use second person.]

Bob tells us that in the prologue and then we're dropped immediately into a 3rd person section.... The super spy, Persephone, gives us a glimpse of what Bob is being trained to be.

Bob's accelerated training is a big part of the British defense against the future and it'll be interesting to see how Stross handles the inevitable "hell on earth" he’s forecasting. He does a great job with his central characters and the bits of insanity they encounter, but there's a distinct fog of war hovering over the rest of the world these stories are set in.
The Apocalypse Codex isn't your typical spy novel, or Lovecratian novel, or geek/hacker novel, or any combination thereof, simply because of the style in which it is written, which is dependent on the point of view of the content at any point in the story: first person, second person, and third person.

This next review is from the Losing it blog (subtitled: "Les Bessant's Ramblings"). In this excerpt from the review, Les hints a bit more at the varying pov's that MentatJack refers to above:
Our hero Bob Howard is in trouble again. Serious trouble: he's being groomed for management, which is a fate only marginally less awful than being consumed by some eldritch horror accidentally summoned by a bit of advanced mathematics.... [He's] given an assignment to act as liaison for a couple of external contractors, who are employed by the Laundry to do the sort of things the Laundry couldn't possibly get up to, or at least not while anyone's looking.... There's a bit of a change to the style, in that much of the action isn't directly observed by Bob, but is reported by him from information gathered later. But there's no let up in the expected humour.
The "external contractors" to which Les refers are Persephone Hazard, aka the Duchess (code name: BASHFUL INCENDIARY) and Jonathan McTavish, aka Johnny (code name: JOHNNY PRINCE) -- characters, to be sure, and in more ways than one. Bob Howard is tasked to serve as liaison to these two external assets, but soon finds himself in life-threatening, do-or-die situations, yet steadfastly supports Persephone and Johnny, even against direct orders from his immediate supervisor.

On The Dead Robots' Society Podcast (subtitled: "By aspiring writers, for aspiring writers"), here's an excerpt from Terry Mixon's review of TAC:
It seems Earth is reaching a tipping point. There are so many people on the planet that the level of computational power (living minds) has almost reached critical mass. The lines between our world and the other places where cold, powerful, alien intellects live have grown thin.... When things go from worse to threatening the end of life on Earth, Bob has no choice but to ignore his orders to withdraw and join forces with the contractors to try and prevent the end of the world. He has to go places that mortals were never meant to be and fight horrors that threaten his very sanity. If he comes out alive, that might not be a blessing.
Our three intrepid agents, well, one Laundry agent and two external assets, are investigating one Raymond Schiller, head of the Golden Promise Ministries; Reverend Schiller has become a bit too cozy with some of the heads of the British government, and the Laundry has become involved because of certain rumors and reported activities. Reverend Schiller has taken up residence at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where a "lovefest" has been planned, and the agents, of course, follow Schiller to Colorado, with the intention of intervening in this "lovefest" if necessary. [Note that British agents should not be operating on United States territory; note too that the US is the home of the dreaded Black Chamber, the nastier American equivalent of the Laundry.]

And the last review comes from Ian Simpson on the bookgeeks blog:
So why is this worth the read? There are three reasons. The first is Stross' writing. As in most of his prose, it is witty, inventive, geeky, and is a bit of a page-turner. The second is his imagination. There is a (cliché alert) Lovecraftian feel to the horror that unfolds, which is always welcome. However, all it is the mix of the supernatural (witches and demons, for example) and science fiction as its explanation (parallel dimensions and such like) that makes it feel fresh. Finally, and most importantly: the characters. They aren't the most original, but how they react is.
I'm somewhat partial to that last line about the characters: They aren't the most original, but how they react is.

If you find the content I've excerpted from these reviews of interest or, as I said, you've been debating about whether or not to dive into Charles Stross's Laundry Files series, I have provided links to the full reviews. For me, the Laundry Files books are always a must read, but then, of course, I'm prejudiced....

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