by Charles Stross, Reviewed by Terry Mixon
This book is part of a longer series of short stories, novellas, and novels featuring Bob Howard, an agent of the super secret British organization that protects the UK from the horrors that crawl in the night. This organization, called The Laundry, is made up of anyone unfortunate enough to become a danger to themselves and those around them by acquiring knowledge they can’t be trusted with.
In Bob’s world, magic is real. Unexpectedly, it is based on mathematics and calculations, making computer programming a dangerous proposition if someone chances on the wrong algorithm. That’s how Bob Howard, an unassuming computer programmer came to be an agent for The Laundry. It’s also how he met his wife after he saved her life and she was forced to become an agent.
Over the course of the previous stories, Bob has grown more knowledgeable and powerful. His superiors have tasked him with ever more dangerous tasks because he can handle them and they have little time to spare in preparing for something they call Case Nightmare Green: the end of the world. He’d rather they didn’t, but he rarely knows he’s in for it before they drop him in the soup.
It seems Earth is reaching a tipping point. There are so many people on the planet that the level of computational power (living minds) has almost reached critical mass. The lines between our world and the other places where cold, powerful, alien intellects live have grown thin. These beings would like nothing better than to come to our world and feed, for mankind is crunchy and good with catsup.
Of course, the bureaucracy of The Laundry is legendary. As a government organization, they have fits if you can’t account for your paper clips. Most of his agency does nothing but make-work, so those who can help hold back the darkness are far and few between.
Bob is assigned to monitor several contract employees who The Laundry has hired to look into an evangelical preacher from the US who has become too close to the Prime Minister. He has to walk a tightrope, because The Laundry isn’t allowed to spy on their own government. Hence the outsiders.
He’s only supposed to keep an eye on them as they do more in depth investigation of the minister. If they find anything, he can pass the word back up the chain to his superiors. A seemingly simple task. That should’ve been his first tipoff that something was seriously wrong.
When the preacher returns to the United States, the contractors follow. That presents some new challenges for Bob. The government occult organization in the US is called the Black Chamber for a reason. They’re less a sister agency than a psycho ex-girlfriend. The last time he worked with them, he almost lost his immortal soul.
When things go from worse to threatening the end of life on Earth, Bob has no choice but to ignore his orders to withdraw and join forces with the contractors to try and prevent the end of the world. He has to go places that mortals were never meant to be and fight horrors that threaten his very sanity. If he comes out alive, that might not be a blessing.
The Laundry Files stories are part horror, part technothriller, and very entertaining. Stross throws touches of whimsy and satire into a dark world, making it not nearly as like a horror novel as it could be. This isn’t surprising to me, as I’ve read a number of Stross’ science fiction works that were excellent.
The entire series is enjoyable and entertaining. It’s also required reading to understand what has come before. The events in the later stories cannot be fully grasped without reading the earlier works. It’s a good thing the series earns a sold five stars out of five from me. The Apocalypse Codex had more than one point of view, and while that was occasionally distracting, it still gets five stars from me.
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Run, do not walk, and get your own set. Seriously, the fate of the world might hang in the balance.