5 July 2012

Review: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex
Charles Stross
Orbit, 416 pp
ISBN 9780356500980 

I find it difficult to review the Nth book in a series, where N >> 2. Genuinely review, that is: unless the series goes off the boil, you can be reasonably sure it will appeal to those who have read the N – 1 earlier books, but also that as N increases, the books will mean less and less to newcomers, who should instead to be directed to Book 1 for orientation.  Make that into a template and you can speedily review a series – and I suspect there are reviewers out there who have done this, consciously or not.

Well, that doesn’t work for Charles Stross’s Laundry series. Each book in the series gives his readers something new and distinctive, so while long term fans will enjoy “The Apocalypse Codex”, the latest instalment, that’s not because it is more of the same but rather the exact opposite. 

While the earlier books were each written under the inspiration of a different thriller writer, in the latest, he doesn’t so much adopt a style as borrow a character: BASHFUL INCENDIARY, codename for one of the lead characters, is modelled on the heroine of a long running newspaper cartoon series (can you guess who?).  Basically Stross sets her loose to bamboozle, assist and exasperate his long suffering IT manager-turned-spy, Bob Howard, who is now being groomed for the Senior Civil Service by the British occult service, the Laundry.  (Don't do it, Bob!  Please!)  Bob is however more confident in this book than any of the previous ones and pretty much gives as good as he gets.

Unlike, especially, the first two books in the series there is more of a plot arc developing here.  The Laundry exists to counter threats of the Lovecraftian variety, and the day is fast approaching when the stars come right, the Sleeper will awake, and the Great Old Ones return – not a consummation devoutly to be wished, unless you’re a crazed cultist, or a follower of a heretical Christian sect who has mapped Lovecraft’s eschatology onto a dodgy template of what might happen in the End Times.  A sect that sees a new potentially Prime Minister as helpful in furthering its aims…

I really enjoyed this book. While to a degree more straightforward than the earlier books – more of a plot rollercoaster, fewer of wheels-within-wheels – it has the same convincingly realised world as them, the same sardonic Bob humour, and is peppered with the usual SF and IT allusions.  I particularly smiled at the running joke whereby (Bob’s counterparts in the US equivalent to the Laundry are continually referred to as the Nazgûl.  We also learn more about the real nature and history of the Laundry, and about Bob’s apparent future role in it as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN approaches.  Most of all, it’s a really good story.

In fact, there’s only one part of my standard template for reviewing a Laundry book that I can use here: the standard grumble that there is no UK hardback edition…