Thursday, March 26, 2015

Editing in Process: The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score
Ace Books US
You still have an opportunity to purchase the ebook edition of The Atrocity Archives for $1.99, though I don't know how long this reduced price will be available. And if you haven't read this first book yet in the Laundry Files series by noted UK author Charles Stross, then you have a lot of reading to catch up on....

Because this July will see the publication of book six in the Laundry Files series: The Annihilation Score, from Ace Books, and also from publisher Orbit in the UK.

I actually began work on this project during the Christmas holiday season and continued working a few weeks into January.[1] But I held off on this blog post until Ace finally released the cover art, as I hoped to feature it as well. Unfortunately, the cover release occurred while I was in the middle of a hard deadline (a new short story collection from Bradley P. Beaulieu, for a future blog post) and thus another few weeks passed, and, well, here we are.

Orbit Books UK
The Annihilation Score (TAS going forward) is, as I have said, the sixth volume in the continuing Laundry Files series. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked now on all six volumes. If you click on this link, you'll be transported to a More Red Ink "Laundry Files" search, which will allow you to scan through the ten or so blog posts I've done with a "Laundry Files" tag. I haven't written about all the volumes but enough to pique your interest, especially if you are new to the world of the supersecret intelligence organization known as the Laundry (the original HQ shared a building with a Chinese Laundry, thus the name), and necromancers Bob Howard and his wife Dominique "Mo" O'Brien.

I would like to especially draw your attention to the first blog post, "Charles Stross: On Her Majesty's Occult Service," posted on December 10, 2009, in which I write about acquiring and editing the first two volumes in the series (The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue) for indie publisher Golden Gryphon Press, all of which began in 2002. Beginning with The Fuller Memorandum, Ace picked up the series, as well as reprinting the first two titles as trade paperbacks. Ace then hired me because Charlie and I promised his editor at the time that I would ensure consistency across all three volumes. And, so far, Ace has brought me in for all the titles since. (Keeping fingers crossed his new editor at Ace is sufficiently satisfied to have me work on volume seven, which Charlie is currently in the throes of writing.)

As to keeping the world of the Laundry consistent across all the me, it's getting more difficult as the number of titles increases -- like a juggling act, with all six plates up in the air simultaneously, while my hands quickly turn physical pages or click a mouse to scan through files. While working on TAS I found myself looking up names, organizations, even specific uses of words in previous volumes, going as far back as The Atrocity Archives. When I began work on The Apocalypse Codex (book four), Ace required that I provide a comprehensive style sheet (see blog post "Doing Charles Stross's Laundry with Style"), which I have continued to do for each consecutive book; previous to that, I have my own editing notes.

Occasionally (albeit rarely) a tweak in the consistency meter is required when reality interferes with Laundry fiction, but other than these rare instances, the Laundry Files universe has remained relatively consistent throughout. It's a task that I take very seriously with each new book. While working on a book, I will email the author with questions, asking for definitions and clarifications, and to work through and refine small details. Often dozens (and dozens) of emails cross the aether (ocean?) between us.

The first five books in the series featured Bob Howard as the main protagonist, but The Annihilation Score flips this 180 degrees: the entire story is told from Mo's point of view -- that's Doctor Dominique O'Brien, aka Agent CANDID. All Laundry agents are required to maintain a journal, so a record remains of their life if/when the agent departs this earth. TAS is Mo's account of events, from her journal, and follows directly from events in the The Rhesus Chart.

When Mo's not on assignment for the Laundry, she teaches theory and philosophy of music at Birkbeck College. Doctor O'Brien is a concert violinist; and as a Laundry agent, her weapon of choice is the violin: specifically a bone-white violin. And when I say "bone-white" I mean that literally: a violin fabricated in Nazi Germany and made from polished bones -- human bones extracted from more than a dozen living donors without anesthesia in the medical laboratories at Birkenau and Belsen. It's an Erich Zahn[2] original, with Hilbert-space pick-ups, an electroacoustic boost, and a Dee-Hamilton circuit wired into the soundboard. And it plays the music of the hyperspheres until the audience bleeds from ears, and eyes, and other orifices.
"I've seen it steal souls and lay the walking dead to rest. I've seen it whip up a storm and blast lightning across the floor of a megalomaniac's floating fortress. It is not a suitable instrument for lullabies and nursery rhymes...."

Mo has named the violin "Lecter."

As to the book covers: I wanted to include the cover art because the violin is showcased on both publishers books. On the Ace Books cover, the violin case is front and center[3]. The Orbit cover is a bit more subtle (and thus my fave of the two covers): note the overall design is in the shape of a violin, with the obvious "f holes" clinching the effect. And then there's the dog-eared sticker: THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS.

Here's the cover blurb:

Dr. Mo O'Brien is an intelligence agent at the top secret government agency known as "the Laundry." When occult powers threaten the realm, they'll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses.

The Laundry is recovering from a devastating attack and when average citizens all over the country start to develop supernatural powers, the police are called in to help. Mo is appointed as official police liaison, but in between dealing with police bureaucracy, superpowered members of the public and disgruntled politicians, Mo discovers to her horror that she can no longer rely on her marriage, nor on the weapon that has been at her side for eight years of undercover work, the possessed violin known as "Lecter."

If this wasn't bad enough, a mysterious figure known as Dr. Freudstein is committing heists and sending increasingly threatening messages to the police. Who is Freudstein and what is he planning?

Charles Stross has posted on his blog that he has completed his review of The Annihilation Score page proofs, so the book will be off to the printer shortly. Publication is scheduled for July 7.

Now where did I leave my warrant card....


[1] Yes, the life of a freelancer: I had to work over the holidays to complete this book by the required January deadline date, while the Penguin/Ace offices in New York were closed for like three weeks for the holidays. But, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining...working on a new Laundry Files novel is the best Christmas present ever!

[2] Erich Zahn, a luthier-turned-necromancer, who fabricated a few of these violins at the behest of one mad Professor Doktor Mabuse the Gambler, and a monster.

[3] Artist's prerogative, of course, allows the violin case to be "scuffed black" on the cover, but Mo herself describes it as a "scuffed white violin case that sports a dog-eared sticker reading THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS."


  1. Looking forward to reading this one. The previous installment was one of the best of the series so far (and, in fact, I nominated it for the Hugos).

  2. Hi, odo,

    Thanks for your comment. I think you will really enjoy this new volume in the series, especially with Mo's POV. I'll send you a follow-up email.

    - martyh

  3. I thought the violin was made in the predecessors of the laboratories in the death-camps, and since Eric Zann (H.P.L.'s spelling) was old in 1921, I assumed they were made in the '20s...algomancy didn' t originate with the Nazis, and Mabuse's heyday was the Weimar years.

    Looking back, in "Jennifer Morgue" the case is in fact 'scuffed black'.

    1. I'm not a historian so my familiarity with Zann, Mabuse, and the Weimar years are limited to what the author, Charles Stross, has included in his Laundry Files. I do know that Charlie changed the spelling intentionally of "Zann" to "Zahn" in the novels, which gives him leeway to tweak history as needed.

      And, you are correct that The Jennifer Morgue refers to the case as "scuffed black." However, TJM was a few novels, and some years, back; so I'm going to assume that the case is now white in color, since Mo specifically describes it as such in the current novel.

      - martyh