Friday, 25 July 2014

The Laundry Files



In the Lovecraftian world created by Charles Stross, The Laundry is the agency of the UK government concerned with fighting supernatural threats against Britain, particularly the imminent and inevitable end of the world or 'Case Nightmare Green' as it is referred to here. It is though above all, more than anything else, mostly concerned with ensuring a proper and correct paper trail when exercising ones duties on behalf of the organisation.
I really love this series. It's funny and exciting and sometimes a little bit sad but mostly funny...and exciting. Since I wrote this I've discovered there is in fact a new book out (woohoo!) which I'll talk about at a future date. In the meantime here're my little write ups of the story so far. Some of these are available to read online for free but truthfully I really recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through, things will make a lot more sense.


The Atrocity Archives / The Concrete Jungle

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob's under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn't risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob's world is dull but safe, and that's the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out.

These are the first two stories in the series of books about The Laundry; the UK governments anti (Lovecraftian style) demon organisation and in particular the exploits of one of it's operatives, Bob Howard.

In the Atrocity Archives we are introduced to all the principal character and are faced with a battery of explanations regarding how every little thing in the Laundry works. The story has Howard chasing both love and the nameless horror that's trying to get into our world via the remnants of some long dead SS necromancers.

The second story, The Concrete Jungle, tells the story of 'look to kill' weapons in the security cameras and an attempted inter-departmental coup against Bob's very scary boss, Angleton.

The over-description of the procedures of the Laundry does get a little tiresome but both of these stories were thoroughly enjoyable.


Jennifer Morgue / Pimpf

Bob Howard is a computer ΓΌbergeek employed by the Laundry, a secret British agency assigned to clean up incursions from other realities caused by the inadvertent manipulation of complex mathematical equations: in other words, magic. In 1975, the CIA used Howard Hughes's Glomar Explorer in a bungled attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in order to access the Jennifer Morgue, an occult device that allows communication with the dead. Now a ruthless billionaire intends to try again, even if by doing so he awakens the Great Old Ones, who thwarted the earlier expedition. It's up to Bob and a collection of British eccentrics even Monty Python would consider odd to stop the bad guy and save the world, while getting receipts for all expenditures or else face the most dreaded menace of all: the Laundry's own auditors.

A second set of Laundry books with a full length novel followed by a short, just like the last book. This one is a lot less Lovecraftian than the last with bags of James Bond style globetrotting over a John Wyndham creature feature.

The basic plot revolves around an attempt to steal from the creatures who live in the seas depths. The Bond-ness is deliberate as there is a spell cast that means the evil business magnate can only be stopped by someone conforming with a Bond stereotype. Bob is embroiled in this and stumbles through the case until the end when things get very interesting and twisty. It’s fairly silly but it is pretty fun.

The short is an innocuous thing about computer games and ghosts which didn’t grab my attention at all.


Down on the Farm

In Charles Stross’s novel The Atrocity Archive and its sequels, the “Laundry” is a secret British agency responsible for keeping dark interdimensional entitities from destroying the cosmos and, not incidentally, the human race. The battles with creatures from beyond time are dangerous; however, it’s the subsequent bureaucratic paperwork that actually breaks men’s souls. Now, in “Down on the Farm,” Laundry veteran Bob Howard must investigate strange doings at another obscure, moth-eaten government agency—evidently a rest home for Laundry agents whose minds have snapped.

This is the first of two Laundry shorts that I had a listen to before tackling the next full novel - The Fuller Memorandum.

Bob is sent north to visit a sanatorium, for agents suffering from Krantzberg's Syndrome, from which a message has been received warning of nefarious activities.

Once there he finds a selection of top level researchers ensconced in work associated with battling Case Nightmare Green. Also there he finds a psychotic, possessed computer 'Matron' that has set up a trap for Bob that'll help her escape confinement.

A really nifty little tale that offered an extra little insight into the Laundry's plans to combat the end of the world.
read it here - http://www.tor.com/?option=com_content&view=story&id=61


Overtime

Introduced to readers in the novels The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue, the Laundry is a secret British government agency charged with preventing dark interdimensional entities from destroying the human race. Now, in "Overtime," the Laundry is on a skeleton staff for Christmas—leaving one bureaucrat to be all that stands between the world and annihilation by the Thing That Comes Down Chimneys. Written especially for Tor.com's holiday season, Charles Stross's novelette is a finalist for the 2010 Hugo Award.

A very silly little short Laundry tale setting Bob against Santa, or at least a demonic version thereof.

Bob is stuck doing overtime at Xmas where he discovers that someone has opened the doors of the Laundry building, or more precisely, the Laundry buildings chimneys. He sets a very festive trap at the bottom of the chimney, outside of the building's furnace, for the creature to feed on (as opposed to it feeding on him) before disposing of the menace.

It's all very daft but good fun and as I accidentally played this over Xmas without realising the context it was especially so.
read it here - http://www.tor.com/?option=com_content&view=story&id=58511


Equoid

The "Laundry" is Britain's super-secret agency devoted to protecting the realm from the supernatural horrors that menace it. Now Bob Howard, Laundry agent, must travel to the quiet English countryside to deal with an outbreak of one of the worst horrors imaginable. For, as it turns out, unicorns are real. They're also ravenous killers from beyond spacetime.


Bob is landed with an investigation into possible strange goings on at a farm outside of London.  The local DEFRA vet and part time crytozoologist has spotted tell tale signs of an equoid, or 'unicorn' as they're more commonly known, outbreak.

In Bob's world - and also in that of H.P.Lovecraft whose letters regarding his own dealings with them are interspersed through the narrative - unicorns are thoroughly malignant and murderous creatures that need taking care of with extreme prejudice...and fire...preferably napalm.

It's only a little short but it crackles with intent.  Often these little freebie reads can be a little weak but this feels like it belongs in the canon and wasn't just hacked out as a begrudged contract obligation.   Well worth your time especially as it's free at the link below.

read it here - http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/09/equoid


The Fuller Memorandum

Computational demonologist Bob Howard is catching up on his filing in the Laundry archives when a top secret dossier known as the Fuller Memorandum vanishes-along with his boss, who is suspected of stealing the file. And while dealing with Russian agents, ancient demons, and a maniacal death cult, Bob must find the missing memorandum before the world ends up disappearing next.


I used the previous two shorts to get me in the mood for this next novel in the series. I'm glad I did cause he makes several references to the guys sequestered away in the asylum featured in 'Down on the Farm'. This book is a lot less adventury than the others. It gives a stronger view of the Laundry prepping for Case Nightmare Green.

Angleton suspects a traitor in the Laundry and in order to draw the traitor out he sets Bob up as bait along with a report that would allow the cultists to summon up the 'Eater of Souls'. The problem for them is that even though they catch, torture and try to possess Bob it turns out the 'Eater of Souls' is already incarnate and Bob's boss.

I really enjoyed this one (I've pretty much enjoyed all of them). Lot's of characters all working towards a single goal and a glimpse into the wider worlds and plans of the Laundry and also their Russian equivalent, The Black Chamber.


The Apocalypse Codex

Bob Howard used to fix computers for the Laundry, the branch of the British Secret Service that deals with otherworldly threats, but those days are over. He's not only been promoted to active service but actually survived missions against cultists, enemy spies and tentacled horrors from other dimensions.

I really like these very British Lovecraftian books about the UK's magical secret service The Laundry that Stross has done but I'm not sure I could actually read one. All the one I've come across (and I'm fairly certain that it's all of them) have been audiobooks and now all the characters are so entirely tied up with the voices that reader Gideon Emery has given them that this is the only way for me now.

This latest one pits our promotion bound hero, computational demonologist Bob Howard, against an American evangelist with a hard on for waking the Sleeper which would be bad news for all involved and everyone not involved. Helping him along the way are two external operatives - Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish, a witch and an ex-squaddie respectively - who slowly reveal to him the the true hidden history and nature of The Laundry.

This time out it's less obsessed with the bureaucracy of the agency and what we get is more of a straight adventure story but as Stross has been writing each as a pastiche of different authors such as Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and Anthony Price and here inserting Bob into a Peter O'Donnell (Modesty Blaise) novel that's understandable. These have fast become amongst my most anticipated releases and are an absolute joy to find out where Stross is going to take Bob next which is a particularly apt way to end this review as it mirrors the tantalising end of the book.


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