Charles Stross is getting to be my go-to guy when I want something quick and trashy to read, like The Fuller Memorandum. This is the third book set in the Laundry, a super-secret British spy agency, tasked to keep computers from unwittingly summoning the Old Ones. Things are explained enough for the book to stand on its own.
Bob Howard is a midlevel analyst. His wife, Dr. Dominique O’Brien, or Mo, wields a deadly violin. His boss, Angleton, has always been creepy and of dubious age, and here he gets even creepier. One day, his boss goes missing and so does the Fuller Memorandum, which is the key to an Eater of Souls codenamed … Teapot. Continue reading
“Palimpsest,” by Charles Stross had great buzz at Readercon, even inspiring a panel. When I finally squeezed it into my reading, I could see why. It’s filled with great mind-stretching concepts. There are beautiful passages that are easily the best things I’ve ever read by him. You’ve got to respect a time-travel story that goes to 19th century Germany and Never Mentions Hitler. Like “Sinner, Baker,(etc.)” it builds an amazing edifice, with multiple histories of the universe. And yet, the story falls short. Continue reading
I like the central premise of Charles Stross’s Laundry stories: eldritch gods are real, computers are breaching the barriers that keep them out, and the job of maintaining that barrier is left to a dysfunctional British bureaucracy known as the Laundry. But if you haven’t read The Atrocity Archives or The Jennifer Morgue, this is not the place to start. Still, if you have read them and you are a fan and The Fuller Memorandum didn’t slake your thirst, you can get a dose of what passes for working in the Laundry offices in “Overtime.”
Just as I suspected, the first 2010 book I read was The Trade of Queens, by Charles Stross. I picked it up expecting a quick, trashy read. What I didn’t expect was just how trashy it would be.
The latest installment in Charles Stross’s Merchant Prince series, The Revolution Business, is, well, it’s the latest installment of a series. You know, the one where mild mannered technology reporter Miriam Bekstein discovers that she’s a lost princess from a Clan of drug-dealing warlords from a parallel world, and now she’s a pawn in their multiversal game. Stuff blows up, revolutions advance, world-walkers walk worlds, and Miriam finally gets to the other side of the chessboard. Plus, the previous Vice President of the United States is played up so strongly as a baddie, you have to wonder if Dick Cheney has been blitzkrieging the news lately because he thinks he’s part of the book tour.
I’m about to insert one large grain of salt into the 150 page rule. (Ouch.) The rule sounds generalized, but the results are individualized. There are books I can’t finish that you may love. Take Accelerando, by Charles Stross. Please.
The flip side of the 150 page rule is the quest for the holy grail of books, the book that’s so compelling, you stay up all night to finish it. When that happens to me, it short-circuits all my judgment, which makes it really hard to describe these books. But I can tell you how they make me feel.
First off, I want to thank Charles Stross for writing “Trunk and Disorderly” and Subterranean Press for making it available as a free Audiobook. Listening to it on the drive from Boston to New York makes Connecticut disappear. The hilarity begins when Ralph’s “clanky” girlfriend Laura walks out and his sister Fiona calls up. Fiona had been planning to go skiing on Olympus Mons, she says:
but my house-sitter phoned in pregnant unexpectedly and my herpetologist is having another sex change so I was just hoping you’d be able to look after Jeremy…
Miriam Beckstein, intrepid high-tech journalist, discovers she is really a lost daughter of a clan that can travel between worlds. And she is not pleased. Before I go on, make sure you’ve read the previous books in Charles Stross‘s Merchant Prince series: The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, Clan Corporate, and the latest book Merchants’ War.
Back already? That didn’t take long, did it? These books are fast reads, more like chapters in an extended series than like books. In each one, the action builds to a bigger and bigger cliffhanger. Merchants’ War just stops in the middle of a battle. Maddening! If I wanted to leave off in the middle of the action, I could have put it down at any point. But I didn’t.
The worlds are the best part. I like how each version of eastern North America has its own concerns. The Clan come from Gruinmarkt, which is mired in feudalism. Miriam founds a business in New Britain, where the American revolution never took place. The least interesting and most annoying world is called the “USA”, but either it’s actually a close variant of our world, or those sections are riddled with errors. And the clumsy dialogue of the “Americans” doesn’t help.
While there’s lots of political intrigue, dirty tricks, and outright war moving the plot along, the story unfolds at a leisurely pace. Miriam meets her family. Miriam starts a business. Miriam is grounded. That last, the third book, had me worried; the story was spinning its wheels in the mud. Now, Miriam is on the loose, and she’s going somewhere. No telling where, but I feel reassured that the story knows where she is going. Good thing, too. There are at least more two books coming out. At least.
When an army of Orcs rob a bank, you’re know you’re in for a good time. So who thinks it’s worthwhile to raid the central bank of the gameworld Avalon Four? Sue, an Edinburgh cop, Elaine, a forensic auditor, and Jack, a gaming programmer, are called together to find out. Throw in corporate backstabbing, terror threats, and international espionage, and enjoy Halting State, by Charles Stross.
The moment what seems a game draws Jack and Elaine into real-world danger, I knew I wasn’t putting the book down. Sure enough, the last 150 pages flew by, until I finished the book after 1 am. Any time a book keeps me up like that, I know I’ve found something that pushes the right buttons. There are two things, however, that push the wrong buttons.