Tag Archives: Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross.

Charles Stross The Rhesus Chart

“Some people aspire to necromancy; others have necromancy thrust upon them; me, I just didn’t scream and run away fast enough when it kicked down my office door. I’m slow that way.” (127)

“Slow” or not, this fifth volume of the Laundry Files series sees IT geek-cum-sorcerer “Bob Howard” going through more changes than any of the others to date. It kills off long-standing characters, cripples Bob’s marriage, and advances his role within Capital Laundry Services (the deep black British intelligence agency concerned with occult phenomena) to the point where I wonder if further volumes will see the role of narrator passed to some junior character. And while much of the outcome — as foreshadowed in the first chapter — is terribly negative (though far short of what regular readers will know as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN), the book is full of the sardonic joking that suffused the previous volumes.

The nature of Bob’s principal antagonist in The Rhesus Chart is unusually traditional. Although the story still presumes computational demonology of Cthulhoid consequences, it’s vampires that are the problem this time. These vampires are re-imagined according to the rules of the Laundry universe, and they happily fall nowhere near Twilight vampires in their features and motives. As in the prior installments, a book that is presented as Bob’s classified “journal” in his voice also includes interspersed third-person accounts of events that he could only become aware of later, through informed speculation. And, as before, such a strain on the narrative form doesn’t interfere with the fun of reading it.

I’m left with the same downside as I was at the end of the previous volume: I read these books much faster than Stross can write them, and I’m ready for the next one now. [via]

Glasshouse

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Glasshouse by Charles Stross.

Charles Stross Glasshouse

“Memory is liberty” (226). Charles Stross has a way with abstract nouns. In this book, he’ll remember it for you at medicare rates.

Glasshouse is a sequel of sorts to Accelerando, set in the same narrative future, but without any shared characters or locations. Unlike Accelerando, it is really a novel, and plotted like one, rather than a necklace of linked novellas. The plot is vividly phildickian, and emphasizes the ambivalence of prison/sanctuary, therapy/coercion, and similar concepts, along with conundrums of self-identification and possible paranoia. Stross uses the present-tense narration of Accelerando here, but the pacing and mood of Glasshouse are closer to Stross’ Laundry series.

Stross might have called the story Decelerando, since it mostly takes place in an attempted simulation of the “dark ages,” i.e. the terrestrial 20th/21st-century. Having his male narrating character enter that simulation as a housewife allows Stross to make a variety of observations about contemporary gender roles, reminding me somewhat of Sturgeon’s Venus-Plus-X.

Ultimately, though, this book is an espionage thriller with the sort of psychological touches that only the post-Singularity science fictional setting could afford. It reads very quickly, with a fair share of drollery. [via]

The Ipcress File

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ipcress File (Secret File #1) by Len Deighton.

Len Deighton's The Ipcress File

My cue to read this volume came from Charles Stross, who characterized his opening Laundry novel (The Atrocity Archive) as something of an homage to Deighton. By all accounts, Deighton’s first novel The Ipcress File was the place to start with this author. I’m not sure what similarities I expected to encounter, but I found a lot of what made Stross’s book enjoyable to me: the syncopated plot, sardonic attitude, and partial disclosure in first-person reportage to convey the tension felt by the speaker in the events described. As a newcomer to the genre, Deighton signals his willingness to chuck its conventions in the opening pages:

“Find him?” I said. “How would we start?”

“How would you start?” asked Dalby.

“Haven’t the faintest,” I said. “Go to laboratory, wife doesn’t know what’s got into him lately, discover dark almond-eyed woman. Bank manager wonders where he’s been getting all that money. Fist fight through darkened lab. Glass tubes that would blow the world to shreds. Mad scientist back to freedom holding phial—flying tackle by me. Up grams Rule Brittania.”

Dalby gave me a look calculated to have me feeling like an employee. (15)

Another similarity to Stross was the morass of au courant cultural and technological allusions—like the verb “grams” in the preceding quote. Some of these, set in the UK a little before I was born, were pretty opaque to me, though I didn’t bother to use the 21st-century Internet overmind to puzzle through them. In other cases, Deighton would provide explanation for things that were then cutting edge or semi-secret, but are now just common knowledge. It is certainly a book that has aged strangely. (Fault the world, not the text!)

The denouement and epilogue cleverly alternate silver linings with touches of gun-metal gray. I had thought to rush afterward to a viewing of the 1965 cinematic version of the story, but the fact that it’s not streaming on Netflix at the moment stayed my spectacles. I’d probably rather read one or two of the sequels without being constrained by the precedent of a screen interpretation anyhow. [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Accelerando

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Accelerando (Singularity) by Charles Stross:

Charles Stross' Accelerando

 

I’ve read all of Charles Stross’s Laundry novels, which are humorous neo-Lovecraftian espionage adventures. Those involve extensive homages to various earlier writers, with some consequent inflections of writing style. Accelerando is the first of Stross’s straight-ahead science fiction books I’ve digested, and I presume it represents a more direct delivery of his authorial voice. (There’s a simulated Lovecraft cameo at page 337, though.)

In subject matter, this book seemed most comparable to the excellent work of Ian McDonald, with an ambitious 21st-century futurology involving radical technologies of simulation, artificial intelligence, and enhancement of human capability. But true to his title, Stross imposes a pace of change far in excess of what I’ve seen in McDonald’s books. He has evidently taken Moore’s Law of integrated circuit development and its extrapolation in Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns as the axioms of his story about what might become of our species and our planet. Not only does Stross have the intellectual fortitude to narratively stare down the “technological singularity” but he also confronts Fermi’s Paradox. He enlists Ray Bradbury’s notion of the matrioshka brain, Robert L. Forward’s starwisp, and other inventions that seem inevitable in the face of unchecked technological development.

Given some of the topical focus, I was prepared for the futurological flavor of this book to have something in common with Olav Stapledon’s Star Maker. Instead, I was surprised to sense a certain kinship to 1970s-era Robert Heinlein novels. Perhaps Heinlein’s orientation to the aerospace research of his day has its analog in Stross’s own background in software engineering. Moreover, the characters and their motivations are sketched in the manner that reminds me much more of Heinlein than, say, McDonald.

The novel has a triple-triadic structure, with the nine chapters having seen individual publication as short stories prior to their assembly here. As a consequence, there is something of an expositional “reset” at the start of each part, with a little redundancy and narrative hand-holding. But in light of the huge changes in context imposed by each transition from one part to the next, the effect is barely noticeable, and actually somewhat comforting. Another effect of this compositional process is that each chapter seems to have roughly the same dramatic weight as the others. The last of them could be read equally as climax or denouement, depending on the reader’s inclination. Each of the three larger sections is focused on a successive generation of a single family moving deeper into the trans-human condition.

While not as overtly comedic as the Laundry books, Accelerando definitely has its share of laughs, many of them with a black sense of humor, such as the throwaway mention of cannibalistic cuisine on page 262. The characters are strong enough to keep the narrative rolling, despite its frequent interruption with bulletin-style text bringing the reader up to date on the state of (post-)human affairs for the decade in question. The entire book — excepting the occasional retrospective glance — is written in the present tense, and it is a mark of Stross’s artistry in using this unconventional technique for novel-length fiction in English that I didn’t even notice until I had read most of the way through the first large chapter. In the seven years since it has been collected into a novel, history has of course provided some contradictions to point up the status of Accelerando as a fiction, but the sort of events it proposes could still credibly be in our future. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Fuller Memorandum

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Fuller Memorandum (A Laundry Files Novel) by Charles Stross, from Ace:

Charles Stross' The Fuller Memorandum from Ace

 

In his third Laundry novel, Charles Stross performs an interesting piece of magic. He provides enough clues to allow the reader to accurately guess coming surprises about five-to-ten pages in advance, repeatedly throughout a 300-page book. When the actual details are revealed, it is done gracefully enough that a lazy reader won’t feel too stupid for not figuring it out. But it’s impressive how well the author caters to an attentive reader’s enjoyment of “figuring it out” before the protagonist did, even if the protagonist is also the narrator with informed hindsight (thus justifying the presence and noticeability of the clues). I’m not a routine reader of mystery novels, but it seems to me that this book should be satisfying for those who are—if they can stomach the elements of other genres, that is.

The other genres are Lovecraftian weird fiction, cyberpunk sf, “rational fantasy,” and espionage thriller. The hero “Bob Howard” (not his real name, of course) is a sort of glamorized “everygeek” working in Her Majesty’s Occult Service. In the course of this book, we get his usual droll assessments of civil service and managerial culture. We also get to seem him buy a new iPhone and tangle with cannibalistic death-cultists.

The two earlier Laundry books were each homages to a luminary of the espionage fiction genre: The Atrocity Archives to Len Deighton, and The Jennifer Morgue to Ian Fleming. They also included essays by Stross in which he discussed some literary underpinnings of “Bob’s” latest adventures. I was a little disappointed that this book has no such essay. It’s also just a single novel, without an additional novella or short story, as was the case for the earlier volumes. (The Wikipedia entry suggests that The Fuller Memorandum is a riff on Anthony Price’s Dr David Audley/Colonel Jack Butler series, while another reviewer indicates Adam Hall’s Quiller books. Having read neither of these, I don’t have an opinion on the matter.)

MINOR BUT IRRESISTABLE PLOT SPOILER: For the well-read Thelemites and historians of twentieth-century occultism out there, the “Fuller” of the title is that Fuller, as revealed in pages 87-90. And since he’s in the title, you know he’s significant to the story. I read this book pretty hot on the heels of Spence’s Secret Agent 666, and Stross’s imaginative fiction meshes just fine with Spence’s speculative fact. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.