Looking back on even a single year of new publications, there are a LOT of SF/F books. Some people stick with their favorite authors. Others read the classics. You might even be the sort who grabs whatever Barnes and Noble has sitting on display!
Among all of these types of readers, there is a shared desire for a singular experience: “Wow, that last book I read really opened me up to a new idea!” Readers of speculative fiction don’t just want to be rewarded for reading, they want to be challenged and inspired. My latest find has really excelled on all these levels.
Meet Bob Howard, lowly IT geek and computational demonologist. He works for an organization within the British government called The Laundry. Charles Stross, Hugo Award winning author, has laid out a three book series (soon to be four!) that takes you on an intimate tour of Bob’s life, both private and professional.
I don’t want to spoil any of Stross’s fantastic storytelling, but here is the premise:
Long have scientists and mystics been at odds over the validity of magic in our universe. This series posits that magic DOES exist, but that its mysteries can be understood through the use of high level math (made manifest through iterate computing and the occasional severed body part). Computational demonologists attempt to discover tools that will help in the fight against alternate universes. Such universes are often filled with information-eating monsters who have a taste for our highly-ordered brains!
Bob’s division of the British bureaucracy makes sure that the horrors beyond our reality don’t destroy the world – this ALMOST happens more often than you would expect. Unfortunately for Bob, when he’s not busy banishing demons and grappling with zombies, he’s filling out forms in triplicate, worrying over paper clip audits, and generally drowning in red tape. His plight makes for a refreshing diversion from heroes who think 9-5 is only a math problem.
The first book, The Atrocity Archives, introduces us to Bob Howard, his job (managing a local area network), his flatmates (who are somewhat comparable to Dr. Frankenstein and Igor), and the hair-raising adventures in which he often finds himself entangled. There are a few grim aspects, but enough dry humor and geekery that even the gritty bits stay reasonably light.
The second book, The Jennifer Morgue, takes Bob out of his element on a tropical adventure. Any more would give away too much, but let us just say that we learn quite a bit more about some of The Laundry’s deepest secrets. Also, there is quite a bit more romance in this book, which is nice, as you otherwise spend much of the story feeling sorry for the oft under-appreciated Bob.
The third and most recent book, The Fuller Memorandum, returns to the familiar haunts within The Laundry itself as Bob struggles to prevent a catastrophy that could easily bring about the end of the world.
While the fourth book, The Apocalypse Codex, is still being prepared at the moment, those of you who follow the series will be interested to know that it is rumored to concern the ultimate nightmare that the agents of The Laundry have long dreaded!
The Short Stories
How did I find out about this series? Well luckily enough, the novels are supplemented with a number of great short stories. In fact, Down on the Farm and Overtime have both been published at Tor.com and are available for free…right now!
You can find ALL of the Laundry Files short stories on the author’s story chronology page (most of them are easy to find or are the endcap to one of the novels).
I am not a roleplay geek by any stretch of the imagination (Magic: The Gathering was all about the numbers for me!), but I do think it’s cool that somebody has gone to the trouble to MAKE The Laundry into a roleplaying experience. Here’s the link to the game manufacturer.
Why am I so obviously gung-ho for The Laundry Files? Every so often I read a book that really blows me away. The last such book I read was Anathem.
Bob Howard isn’t the most lovable, cuddly protagonist, but he does come across very human and believable. His viewpoint not only lets us into the fantastical world of The Laundry, but explores it in a suspenseful and almost realistic way. It can be a little challenging to navigate the computational demonology theory (pretend Lovecraft, the Internet, and non-Euclidean geometry had a baby), but I found it more fun than confusing. As an agnostic atheist, I was very pleased to see a way that that which is “indistinguishable from magic” may still flourish in our logical, ordered universe.
I fear saying too much more, as the books are laid out in the format of a spy novel and I would risk fun-stealing spoilers. Lastly, I’ll disclose that I have no formal ties to the books and wrote this review purely out of geeky devotion to the author’s fabulous mythology.