This is the second of The Laundry Files series of Charles Stross’s I have read, as it is the second book and I am a bit of a stickler for reading series in order, which I am sure is some sort of residual effect of years of comic collecting. I enjoyed his first, The Atrocity Archives, so plunged into the second.
Stross introduced a great protagonist, Bob Howard, as someone who is able to battle the horrors of Lovecraftian inspired Elder Gods with brains and an understanding of technology. Bob proved to be a hero as understated as his name, giving the distinct impression that he was a man whom things happened to and not the guy who inspired things to happen. This is one of the the elements of Stross’ writing that I enjoyed most, the presentation of a less-than-super super-spy. Bob found himself in all kinds of horrific situations, saving the world due to his ability to keep his wits and genuinely surprised when it happened again.
There were the clichés that any spy novel cannot do without; Bob gets the girl, is double crossed at least once and ultimately save the world before the secret of how close we all came to imminent danger gets out, preventing him from receiving the recognition that he would otherwise deserve. The Jennifer Morgue brings the same protagonist, but ironically engages in all of the Bond-esque tropes by having the bad buy set a magic device in motion that ensures that Bob and he will maintain the hero-villain relationship, forcing Bob to go through the motions of Bond to keep his investigation and the plot moving. Fun for the first bit, but it becomes tiresome and forced very quickly, especially if you are familiar with the formulae of the movies.
Beyond this good idea that eventually bored me, Stross remains an engaging writer. His descriptions, particularly of the released horrors are chilling, even if understated by Bob’s narration. To me, it gives a sense that Bob is trying to deal with the craziness that he has just witnessed as well as imparting enough details to his audience for us to understand the enormity of it all. This is an element that will have me picking up another of Stross’ books. The scenes are vivid and entertaining, whether it is filled with explosive action or Bob’s description of his surroundings, imparting the details that will set us up for what follows. As an H.P. Lovecraft fan, Stross captures the horror, disgustingness and chaos that should be associated with the Elder Gods and their attempts to ender and subjugate our world in full. Filling in enough blanks to give shivers and leaving enough to the readers’ imaginations for the final, most powerful shake and worry of pending nightmares.
There is a strange mix of humour involved, as well, of a writer who is more interested in exploring a range than somehow pigeonholing his talents and being stereotyped as an author of _______ . I chose to take this as another of Bob’s coping mechanisms, especially because he must face these horrors and deal with the over bureaucratization of the agency he works for, otherwise known as the Laundry. As a recent victim of over bureaucratization myself, let me assure you that if you are not able to find your sense of humour, you will be driven mad.
As amazing as I found The Atrocity Archives, its sequel left me wanting. However, Stross’ talents are still apparent and I will not hesitate to pick up his science-fiction pieces next, before returning to the Laundry Files. It was the institution of the plot motivator, trope confirmer, thing-that-started-to-make-fun-of-spy-novels-then-turned-this-into-one, that did not appeal to me as much as when Bob’s character had the free will to act like the computer nerd turned spy that he is. A thing just as unnatural as battling wits with entities from places beyond our Earthly comprehension.