Charlie Stross is one of the current Hot Authors in SF, but he’s been pretty uneven for me. I liked Iron Sunrise quite a bit, but thought the highly-regarded Accelerando was actually pretty bad, and I didn’t care much for The Hidden Family, the second volume in the Amber-with-Usenet-economics series. The cover copy of Glasshouse was enough to get me to put it down and look for something else.
So, he’s had a bad run of late. Still, when I heard there was a sequel to The Atrocity Archives, I knew I needed to get a copy, and made a special trip to Borders just to pick up a copy of The Jennifer Morgue. It made for a weid sort of thriller trilogy, coming on the heels of The Android’s Dream and the new Casino Royale movie, but it was just what I was looking for.
Bob Howard is an agent for the secret British intelligence organization known as “The Laundry,” which is dedicated to protecting humankind from all manner of eldritch horrors and squamous things from other dimensions that want to eat your soul. Of course, he’s not your typical James Bond secret agent, as you learn when Q section show up to outfit him:
“There’s a USB memory drive preloaded with a forensic intrusion kit hidden in each end of your dickey-bow, a WiFi finder on your key ring, a roll-up keyboard in your cummerbund, the pen’s got Bluetooth and doubles as a mouse, and there’s a miniaturized Tillinghast resonator in your left heel. You turn it on by twisting the heel through one-eighty degrees; turn it off the same way. Your other heel is just a heel: we were going to hide a Basilisk gun in it but some ass-hat in Export Controls vetoed our requisition because it was going overseas. Oh, and there’s this.” Brains reaches over to a briefcase on the bed and pulls out a businesslike nylon shoulder holster and a black automatic pistol. “Walther P99, 9mm caliber, fifteen-round magazine, silvercap hollow-points engraved with a demicyclic banishment circuit in ninety-nanometer Enochian.”
“Banishment rounds?” I ask hesitantly, then: “Hang on.” I hold up one hand: “I’m not cleared for carrying guns in the field.”
“We figured the exorcism payload means it’s covered by your occult weapons certification. If anyone asks, it’s just a gadget for installing exorcism glyphs at high speed.”
In this one, Bob finds himself acting out a James Bond plot in a surprisingly literal way. If you’re entertained by that excerpt, it’s fair to say that hilarity ensues. If that doesn’t make you crack a smile, avoid this book.
I’m not sure quite why I find this stuff so much more agreeable than Accelerando or the Amber knock-offs, because if I look closely, it suffers from most of the same stylistic tics that irritate me in those other books. Here, though, it all comes together beautifully, for a very silly and exceedingly geeky secret agent adventure story that really isn’t like anything else you’re likely to read.