I really enjoyed this instalment of Bob Howard and the Laundry, picked it up and 5pm put it down finished at 2am. Gripping narrative which kept me turning pages way past the time I wanted to be asleep. A markedly dark work, with very black humour and a seriously nasty narrative concerning attempts to accelerate the end of the world and a traitor within the laundry. As usual, the characterisation, both of human protagonists and organisational gestalt is excellent, if we had an occult intelligence agency I imagine it would function exactly as Stross imagines the Laundry to work.
With each instalment and story, Bob Howard grows as a character in terms of complexity, capability and human failings yet never ceases to be utterly believable, in particular some of the domestic scenes are extremely well drawn with his wife, Mo, being much more fleshed out as a character in her own right.
I can't praise this book highly enough, it's a great work. I can't wait for the next volume.
on 30 October 2010
The book is hard to classify; is it Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Urban Science Fiction or as is suggested in the blurb on the front cover of the book is it a Lovecraftian Spy Thriller? Even after reading the book I'm hard pressed to say. I'd say it's Urban something because of the setting, but since I haven't read any Lovecraft I can't say whether Lovecraftian spy thriller isn't an apter description. It has an undeniably high spy level though. When Bob sits down with Panin for a pint and a civilised little chat, it's classic spy and I kept expecting them to suddenly whip into action all James Bond-like. But it's spy mixed with the paranormal, which we see on the first job Bob goes on in the book. At this job his PDA gets fried in a thaumathurgical mishap and this led to the scene which had me laughing out loud at the book for the first of many times, the buying of the Jesus Phone.
Because make no mistake the book is hilarious; it had me laughing out loud, reading passages to my husband and itching to get back to it whenever I had to put the book down. The references are fab, there are a lot of allusions to well-known modern day phenomena, such as the book Bob reads on the train "a novel about a private magician for hire in Chicago" (sound familiar anyone?) or the new iPhone Bob buys to replace his PDA. That scene where he goes and buys the iPhone had me in stitches. As someone who really wants an iPhone next time I need a new mobile phone, I completely understood the lure of the Jesus Phone as Bob put it. I loved the fact that Stross attributed the lure of the iPhone to it being designed by an intuitive magician who put a glamour on it.
The Dutch references in the book made me laugh too. I especially loved the bit where Bob has a meeting and one of the attendees is called Franz Gustaffson, who is presented as the representative for the Dutch Intelligence Service, AIVD. Right at the point where I was getting grumbly about such an obviously non-Dutch name for a Dutchie, Bob throws out a line about his dad being Danish, hence the weird name. And I seriously loved that. No one else might appreciate that but a fellow Dutch person, but I loved the Dutch elements in the book.
There were some typically British things that had me puzzled a little such as the ESB that Bob drinks in the pub. I actually had to Google that to find out that it was Extra Special Bitter! In fact the language and atmosphere of The Fuller Memorandum exudes Britishness, which would seem obvious for a novel set in London, but often in novels set in the 'real' world, the only thing that places it in a particular location is the fact we're told it takes place there. Not this book though and I really appreciated that.
Starting out as a fun and interesting read, The Fuller Memorandum ends up a real page turner. I couldn't put it down for roughly the last third of the book. I loved the rollercoaster ride to the ending; the twists and turns kept me reading and the ending was both satisfying and frustrating as it left me wanting to read more about The Laundry. While Stross plans on writing more Laundry novels, no date for those has been set, so until then I'll have to be satisfied with reading the first two Laundry books, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue and the two short stories that were published on Tor.com.
on 16 September 2010
As a professional techie and fan of cold war spy thrillers, horror stories and post modern fantasy I'm pretty much the demographic for Charles Stross's tech-savvy, post-modern, cold-war-style horror thrillers.
"The Fuller Memorandum" is probably the best (yet - hopefully there will be more) of his Laundry novels. I couldn't have liked this more if there'd been a prominent reference to Adam Hall's excellent and under-rated Quiller novels in the title.
For the uninitiated, the Laundry novels are a mash-up of tech-based fantasy, Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos and spy thrillers. The high concept pitch for the series is that a branch of the intelligence service exists to fight off and hide the existence of the unknowable beings of unspeakable power who exist in other dimensions. It's X-Files gothic, or hard science Hellboy, so not a new idea. The Laundry's unique selling point is that it's very much the grey civil service of classic British spy fiction, and the MacGuffin for the fantasy is that the mumbo-jumbo attached to raising up and casting out monsters and demons is actually mathematics which can be run with terrifying ease on a computer. As Charles Stross is both a genre- and techno-geek, it's all written with informed authenticity.
Don't start here if you're new to the series. Read book one, The Atrocity Archives, which introduces the key characters and lays out the rules. The debt to Lovecraft is strong in this one, so while you don't need to know the Cthulu stories in detail you won't feel the benefit of some key fantasy elements if you don't "get" the mythos at all. Part deux, The Jennifer Morgue, isn't quite as good and the new book only refers back to it in passing so you could just skip it. But as you'd be still missing a treat, why not just get the set?
The Fuller Memorandum is a lighter, easier read than either earlier installment. There's much less obvious Lovecraft, and no albatross like book 2's elaborate Bond pastiche. As a thriller it has the same fast pace and action movie sensibility as a Christopher Brookmyre novel. As a horror novel it's like the best of Kim Newman, written with obvious affection and post-modern genre awareness but a minimum of kitchsy irony. It also blends in the boys-and-their-toys, guns-and-ammo gadget love of the Blade and Underworld movies. There's even something of Hammer and the great Monty Berman cult TV shows - Jason King, Department S - in the final showdown in a sex cult's forgotten subterranean temple.
Plus zombies. Farzans of 'em.
My only disappointment, as a dedicated Quiller fan, was the decision not to do an full homage to Adam Hall's intense first person narratives. It was probably the right choice for the best possible book, and doesn't really suit hero Bob Howard's established character, but I would have enjoyed Charles Stross's take on the dysfunctional alpha-male hero.
on 2 July 2010
Ok - confession time, I truly believe that Charles Stross is up there as one of the best authors in F/SF right now and Laundry No.3 proves it with ease. Sitting on the edge of the urban horror/fantasy market, the Laundry novels are a gem - a mix of the horror and espionage genres.
Firstly it starts with a prologue that grips you like the rotting hand off of one of the series zombies. The first 1.5 pages are a masterpiece of funny, deeply scary prose that drag you straight into the Lovecraftian world of Bob Howard and the Laundry. New readers should probably start with the Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue but its not entirely necessary - and regardless I would defy any Laundry virgins reading this not to go out and grab the others asap.
From the excellent prologue the action never relents, as Bob, his wife and colleagues are dragged into another chilling and amusing tale - this time instead of the Nazi's of Atrocity or the Megalomaniac of Jennifer its more cold war based with mole hunts and Russians of dubious allegiance.
Stross pulls no punches the heroes may win but never without a cost, possibly the highest so far.... Stross conveys their underlying despair very well indeed.
I dont intend to post any spoilers but you will not be disappointed with either the plot, the pace or the atmosphere as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN creeps closer.
If you buy one Horror/Espionage crossover in your life - buy this one. One of my books of the year.
on 7 August 2010
When an apparently routine exorcism goes bad for Bob Howard and his boss puts him on a week's sick leave the last thing he expects is to promptly be attacked by Zombies and for his boss to go missing. This felt like a more even story in pacing than The Jennifer Morgue and the story kept on dragging me back when I put it down. These books are like a cross between a horror story, James Bond and the classicThe Complete Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister - Collector's Boxset [DVD] series.
I recommend, if you read this that you also hunt up the two free Laundry short stories that Stross has on the net "down on the farm" takes place before this book and "overtime" takes place after. You can find them via the author's wikipedia entry. For fans of the series this book is great and really starts to flesh out the Laundry in ways the previous books did not. I hear that a fourth book is being written and as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN swings more into action I'll be really interested to see what happens to Bob.
on 1 May 2011
As a fan of the first two Laundry books, I was surprised to see the tone get darker as soon as the Fuller Memo started. A sense of foreboding quickly sets in, replacing the sex magic & Bond references of the previous tone.
This really suits the series, as our heroes take steps towards the future they're preparing for... sure, there's violence and horror, but it's scary because it is rooted in everyday news. The darkness is just plausible enough to make you think twice when you see certain headlines in the news, afterwards.
Stross' talent continues to sparkle, giving extra depth to the characters as they gain experience. A great page turner and a definite recommendation.
And for once, the decent Kindle price made this an easy one-lick buy - compare with paperback or even US kindle edition.
on 27 April 2011
Another very entertaining laundry novel from Charles Stross.
He does a very good job in blending the occult and the thriller elements.
It is perhaps the most conventional of his laundry novels. I did miss having an afterword though. I really liked them in the previous two books.
This had a decent plot and plenty of amusing moments. Even the exposition scenes often make me chuckle. Occasionally it was a bit predictable but in general the plot was very well thought out and made sense.
The background to the story was very interesting and there were plenty of memorable characters.
This series still seems fresh and the author definitely wasn't going through the motions which you often get by the third book in a series.
on 6 December 2010
I had never heard of Charles Stross but am so glad that I know about him now.
The closest comparison I can think of is the writing of Douglas Adams with the Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency series. I quickly developed an affection for Bob the IT Specialist and his wife Mo and was fascinated by their weird and less than wonderful working lives and could not put this book down! It's fast-paced, funny in places and clever (but not TOO clever).
I thought I may well be on to giving a very rare 5* review for the Fuller memorandum, but I still think that full blown action sequences are not a Stross speciality and here the finale is slightly disappointing.
Even so, this is a great book. A continuation of the Laundry sequence, you must read the previous books before coming to this. Fans will already know what to expect another unique blend of comedy, Lovecraftian horror and spy novel, with some uber-geekery as an added extra. Our hero this time has to contend with the mysterious squadron 666, Russian spies and the iphone. There are some great jokes and SF/IT in-jokes - my favourite is a throwaway reference to the Langford Death Parrot - luckily available on google for those not in the know.
As in previous books by Stross, the writing is weakest when dealing with fast-paced action, and I felt that the last battle, although brilliantly set up, became incoherent and fragmented. Even here though there are some very nice touches referencing Apocalypse Now.
So only 4 stars, but this remains one of my best SF series in a long time. Roll on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN!
on 9 July 2010
This is the third in the "Laundry" series, and the first book "The Atrocity Archives" would be a good place to start, but is not essential.
Stross has concocted a bizarre-but-effective combination of H.P. Lovecraft, spy thriller (generally more in the Le Carre mode than Fleming), and some "Yes, Minster" for cynical asides.
Bob Howard was a boring IT consultant until he accidentally wrote a program that would have summoned eldritch powers to swallow most of a UK city. Luckily this sort of thing happens all the time, and the British civil service have their own section dedicated to dealing with this, known as "The Laundry". Howard was told a) please don't run that program, b) magic is just a form of mathematics and the invention of computers has made the world a lot more dangerous, and c) you now work for us, until you die, and then we keep your soul.
After the events of the first two books (Cthulhoid-summoning Nazis, and James-Bond-meets-the-Deep-Ones respectively) Howard is a settled operative for the Laundry, with a wife he can actually talk to about his day job. So obviously Stross hurls him into a complex plot of cultists, molehunts, missing bosses and memorandums, zombies, Russians, summoning demons and the end of the world.
Stross combines institutional humour with horror-thriller, and unlike too many writers these days has a reasonable sense of pace - no doorstop-sized trilogies here. Howard is likeable and draws you into his bizarre world, and the cast of characters are drawn lightly but well. You can have great fun feeling slightly smug for spotting the odd references, and there are some standout scenes (the final set piece is excellent).
Overall, an excellent book in an excellent series.