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The Jennifer Morgue (A Laundry Files Novel) Mass Market Paperback – December 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In this alternately chilling and hilarious sequel to The Atrocity Archives (2004) from Hugo-winner Stross, Bob Howard is a computer übergeek 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. Stross has a marvelous time making eldritch horror appear commonplace in the face of bureaucracy. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
"Stross packs this new novel full of hilarious in-jokes and frenetic set pieces."
-San Francisco Chronicle
"One of the most enjoyable novels of the year... Stross steps carefully through all of the archetypes of a classic Bond adventure without ever becoming predictable. The resolution is as perfect as it is unexpected."
-Jonathan Strahan, editor of the annual Best Short Novels anthology series
"Some writers play with archetypes. In The Jennifer Morgue, Charlie Stross makes them sing, dance, and do the dishes for him."
-S. M. Stirling, national bestselling author of The Scourge of God
"The Jennifer Morgue is Stross's most entertaining novel to date...Astonishing."
"Alternately chilling and hilarious."
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- The nature of Bob's partner isn't well-explained until about a third of the way through the book. The early implication is one thing (I can't be specific because of spoilers), but that falls apart and we're left wondering until a more refined explanation arises much later.
- There's no reason for the very existence of the Power Point presentation at the beginning which sets things in motion.
- After the second VDDS, Bob's partner mysteriously ends up in his hotel room despite locks and wards and there's never any explanation of how (or even why).
- While swimming naked (no doubt about it), Bob's partner somehow comes up with a dagger.
And, that's pretty much it. It's an interesting, well-written, fast-paced story that I'm rating at a Very Good 4 stars out of 5.
If Stross' first Laundry book, The Atrocity Archives, was reminiscent of a 21st Century thaumaturgic Len Deighton, this second novel is an unlikely mash-up of Ian Fleming's James Bond (both books and especially films), and the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Our protagonist finds himself in a mind-meld with a beautiful female spy from the very darkest depths-- the CIA. Yes, and she's also a mer-creature, complete with gills. And has a daemon, a succubus, riding her, which creates some rather awkward situations. The villain is very much an evil construct from the Blofeld/Dr. No school of villainy, with a mind set on world domination.
Well, that's one of the villains. There is also the Total Quality Management-obsessed, paperclip counting bureaucrats for whom he works. And he can't even shoot them.
The book, although light-hearted, must be read carefully to get the full impact of Stross' cheerfully perverse humor. Not only are there multiple Bond and Lovecraftian references (and send-ups!), but there are computer hacker jokes, the comic and unlikely tricking out of a Smart Car with gadgetry even less likely than it is illegal, and a beautiful, deadly violinist.
At the end of the novel there is an added on, delightful short story, plus three or four essays of the author's musings on Ian Fleming and the Bond adventures, on the morphing of villainy from nation-state to the corporate world, on espionage post-World War II. Don't skip them because they're not fiction-- they are worth reading, even if they're somewhat dated by having been written before either Brexit or the most recent U.S. elections. I'd love to see him update them!
If you read the first book in this series, then honestly this book is probably better written than that one. That said, I liked the first one more. However, in terms of a Did-I-Enjoy-This-Book scale, it remains equal. The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue are just two different books. Where the first book was a satire of office culture and adventure mystery novels with a Lovecraftian spin, this one purposely plays a dashing British Spy story straight with the formula, but all the while it taps its nose and winks at you. So yeah, there is still satire here, but it is more of a clever adventure novel that plays with the tried and true stereotypes and cliches.
As for this book more specifically, Bob is back! I was actually afraid each book would have a different character, which would made me sad. But he is back and remains the main character. Also back are Pinky and Brains with a more active role. They are hilarious, Q eat your heart out. New to this book is a drop dead gorgeous mysterious woman and a maniacal bad guy. You'll like them, I promise.
Given the archetype this book is spoofing, you can count on a lot more scenes of poor Bob having to wing it MacGyver style (with tentacles). When he isn't doing this, he is usually being screwed over by whatever heinous and unmentionable events he's been railroaded into. I mean, he is just some poor cubical rat that gets sent out on dangerous missions occasionally.
So while this book has less, or maybe just more subtle, satire and fewer Eldritch horrors, it is a great example of what someone with a creative mind can do with a novel. I recommend it to anyone who liked the first book, and I for one plan on starting the third book before long - maybe tomorrow.