Charles Stross – The Nightmare Stacks

Woo, and indeed hoo. Charlie Stross is back with another book in the Laundry series, which is most definitely a Good Thing.

And  I suppose I should include the standard warning:

Plot details may be revealed and, it’s likely that the random mutterings that follow will reveal some things you might prefer not to know if you haven’t read the book yet, so here’s that warning:

 

Here be spoilers!

Quick summary for the spoiler-averse: another winner from Charlie. Full marks out of whatever arbitrary scale you’d like to use. And can we have the next one, please?

Just to keep things interesting, we’re taking a step away from our usual viewpoint character Bob Howard[1] and his wife Mo, who took the lead in last year’s The Annihilation Score. This time, we’re playing with Alex Shwartz, the don’t be silly there’s no such thing as a vampire[2] we first met in The Rhesus Chart.

Alex, now formally employed by the Laundry has been given a mission that he’s not altogether comfortable with. It’s not so much the principle of being sent to a far distant outpost[3] to check out the planned future HQ of the Laundry so much as the job being in his home town, and he’s not at all sure how to explain to his parents that not only is he a vampire[4], but more importantly he’s taken a 70% pay cut, what with no longer working for the bank…

Alex’s life is further complicated while visiting Whitby[5] before taking up his duties in Leeds, he meets a goth student called Cassie. Well, it really gets complicated when he coincidentally[6] meets her again near his place of work in Leeds.

Cassie’s life is complicated enough, what with her not being actually Cassie, but a being from a parallel Earth who’s popped over to do a bit of investigation before her people do the full-on invasion thing.

Everyone’s lives get a bit more complicated by the little detail that on the world “Cassie” comes from, there’s a greater tendency to use magic than technology and that the people are, err, well, elves. And we’re not talking nice benevolent (mostly) Tolkienesque elveses, oh no, Preciousss. These aren’t nice elveses at all. They’re not at all impressed with our species, referring to us as urüks, which you might recall is Elvish for orcses, Precioussssssss. Sorry, don’t know how Gollum got in here, I’ll try to keep him under control. Good job there aren’t any tricksy hobbitses around…

So, we’re all set  up for a nice bit of alien invasion in Leeds, which is pretty much what happens. Find out what happens when an RAF Typhoon or two meet a dragon or two! Enjoy scenes of destruction and devastation! Wonder how the hell they’ll try to cover this one up! Be impressed by the clever ending!

And of course, enjoy the jokes:

The thing about vampirism PHANG syndrome is that it’s basically attracted by advanced mathematics, like a lot of Eldritch Terrors. Alex can have a slight issue with this:

I had a mild case of the counting bug before, uh, before I turned. But this is much worse.” 70. 71. 72. 73. “I know it’s part of the folklore about vampires, but it’s a real thing, too. Compulsive counting.

Is anyone else thinking “Sesame Street?”

And when the Cabinet meets to discuss the little matters going on Up North, we have this description that absolutely bears no relation whatsoever to any current or recent Home Secretaries, much less anyone plotting hoping to be leader of the Conservative Party:

The Home Secretary appears to be doodling electric chairs on her blotter, eyes downcast to spare her neighbors the psychotic giggles: clearly her personal coach has been reminding her not to swallow baby mice in public again.

See? Nothing like anyone who might have been in the news lately

It’s all enormous fun, and came as wonderful light relief from the news. And that probably says something about something or other….

[1] Though interestingly, Bob is mentioned a few times. Always as “Mr Howard”, with a vague implication that our dear sweet Bob is much deeper and more scary than he generally lets on. But then, he always was set up as an unreliable narrator…
[2] Though the approved term is PHANG: “Photogolic Hemophagic Atypical Neuroectodermal Gangrene, aka Vampirism. The G is, strictly speaking, misleading, but some acronyms are too good not to use”
[3] Leeds
[4] I think we can dispense with the long form for now…
[5] Think Dracula…
[6] Or not

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