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Quantum of Nightmares

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Quantum of Nightmares [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Stross, book 11 of the Laundry Files series.

Stross Quantum of Nightmares

“Eve wasn’t the big sis he’d grown up with, back when they were a perfectly normal family with a dad who was an oneiromancer and a mum who wrote code that tore holes in reality.” (60)

Quantum of Nightmares is the second of the Tales of the New Management set in the superpowers-and-sorcery 21st-century dystopia built in the Cthulhvian espionage series The Laundry Files. It picks up very directly from the conclusion of Dead Lies Dreaming. Where the first New Management book used Peter Pan as a key point of reference for both the Lost Boys supervillain crew and thief-taker Wendy Deere, this sequel similarly exploits Mary Poppins. I think the title’s metrical mirroring of “Spoonful of Sugar” is no coincidence.

The satirical elements of the book are as searing as those of any of its predecessors, and they center on “innovative” human resources and supply chain techniques at a FlavrsMart supermarket branch. Within the plot of the story, the commercial dehumanization is unsurprisingly not unrelated to an eldritch cult. (The motivation for parallel, if less extreme, phenomena in the “real” world remains a frustrating enigma. Probably an eldritch cult.)

These books have many and diverse dramatis personae, and the third-person narration shifts among them as viewpoint characters often and rapidly. After two volumes, though, and accounting for the foreshadowing in the latter, the larger plot hangs on Eve Starkey, corporate climber and hereditary sorceress.

The return to the characters and situations of the previous book helped both of them for me as a reader. While they don’t (yet?) have the heft of the old Laundry story arcs, the Starkey antics under the regime of the Black Pharaoh have now acquired some real coherence.