Charles Stross continues to entertain with The Apocalypse Codex, the fourth novel in his LAUNDRY FILES series. I suppose you could read this without reading the first three books, but it’d be better to start with book one, The Atrocity Archives. For this review, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the story so far.
Bob has been unintentionally working his way up in the Laundry, the secret British agency where computer scientists, mathematicians, and physicists have, by accident, become sorcerers. For every case he’s been on, Bob has sort of bumbled his way into a successful outcome just by using his brains and creativity. Now he’s being groomed for a leadership position, so he needs some people skills. A lot of his preparation involves sitting in boring management training classes and seminars where he has to use role-playing to learn how to navigate the upper levels of the British government’s bureaucracy. This is not fun for Bob.
He’s also learning more about how the Laundry functions and he’s surprised to discover that the agency uses “External Assets” when they need something done that is too politically sensitive for a government agency. In this case, the delicate issue is that the Prime Minister has become chummy with a wacky TV evangelist from Colorado Springs. Why is Pastor Schiller trying to get in with the PM? The Laundry suspects something fishy is going on, so they dispatch Persephone Hazard, an External Asset with an unsettling past. Bob is sent to Colorado Springs to monitor her activities and make sure she doesn’t embarrass the Crown… and, of course, he discovers that the something fishy is more than fishy; it’s tentacled, too.
If you’ve read the previous LAUNDRY FILES novels, you know what to expect here. The Apocalypse Codex is fast-moving, has a unique and unpredictable plot, has a great supporting cast (including some new characters who we’ll hope to see again), and is clever and full of silly nerd in-jokes (if you don’t like nerd in-jokes, stay away from THE LAUNDRY FILES).
All of this is fun, as usual, but it would be nice at this point in the series to see a little more development of Bob. Even though he’s moving up in the Laundry, it’s not due to any motivation or intention on his part. He’s essentially the same person he’s been all along, though he’s aged several years since The Atrocity Archives. For someone who has learned the secrets of the multiverse and who has nearly died several times while facing eldritch horrors, you’d think we’d see a little more character development. (Or maybe Bob should start going mad, because that’s what usually happens when humans encounter the Elder Gods).
Stross takes a huge swipe at American fundamentalist Christianity in The Apocalypse Codex. It’s not pretty (it actually sounds like a long angry rant) and is likely to offend some readers. I wonder if Stross really thinks that most American evangelical Christians reject science, believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, dress their daughters in maxi-dresses, and are trying to take over the world with “full quivers.” I hope he knows that what he describes in this story is a CULT, not Christianity. I’d like him to know that there are plenty of American Christians (including myself) who practice science, accept evolution (it’s a theory about how life on Earth has developed, not how it was created), like to hang out with people who have different worldviews, and sneer at televangelists.
Interestingly, Stross introduces an Anglican Vicar in this novel — he’s Bob’s friend who will be dragged into the Laundry in the next novel. It will be interesting to see what Stross does with him. I’ll let you know…
The audio versions of THE LAUNDRY FILES, narrated by Gideon Emery, continue to be excellent.