The Apocalypse Codex: Bob takes on an American televangelist

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross science fiction book reviewsThe Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

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.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Persephone Hazard! That is awesome.

    Unfortunately for actual Christians, the cult you describe gets a lot of news-time and attention, which makes them hard to ignore and very attractive to lampoon. Not to be flippant, but to use current jargon, they’ve kind of diinged the brand name.

    We had a dear friend who taught science and was a very “basic” Christian (he didn’t like to use the word fundamentalist). He would role his eyes at the people who accepted Usher’s Chronology as fact and would joke about the world being 6.000 year old and “created on a Tuesday.”

    • “Persephone Hazard” — I know! I love that!!

      Yeah, you’re right, which is why I like to try to do my part to dispel that idea when I see it in novels. Christians who are like your friend (and me) don’t get much TV time. We’re quiet and tolerant and thoughtful. We don’t make good TV. It’s not surprising that the obnoxious loudmouths are what the world thinks of when they think of “Christian” because that’s all they see. It’s embarrassing for us.

      And when I talk to them, I learn that they view God as restricted to the literal words they read in the Bible. My God is bigger than that. He told the authors of the Bible what they, with essentially no scientific knowledge, could understand at that time. That’s why the Bible is not a science book. But if you read Genesis, it sounds an awful lot like evolution. The two ideas (creation and evolution) fit nicely together and many scientists who are also Christians have written about this. (Example). They just don’t get on the nightly news.

  2. “We’re quiet and tolerant and thoughtful. We don’t make good TV.” I think that sums it up.

  3. Hans Smedbol /

    just came upon your review of the Apocalypse Codex….interesting reviw, if a little sensitive to the apparent flaming of the Evangelical Christian cult which was featured in the story….

    i’m pretty sure that Charlie Stross is very well aware that American Christianity is not entirely represented by the Evangelical nutbar cultists similar to those featured in the story…a lot of freak Christian cults can be found in the UK as well….all of them “Protestant” by-blows, for example, the cult that Aleister Crowley’s parents belonged to back in the later 19th century.

    it seemed pretty clear to me that the story was about someone who had tuned into the Lovecraftian Elder Gods, (the holy roller preacher) who then wanted to “help” them and to bring them back into our world….i thought it was a good choice for a “Cult” that would attract the requisite willing sacrificial victims, who might think that they were gaining special access to Christ through the auspices of this cult church, due to the glamourising abilities of the holy roller preacher….

    as usual with Charlie Stross the book was at the same time utterly hilarious, as well as jaw clenchingly thrilling, especially as the climax approaches…

    personally even with the humorous, colourful way of the book, i did not want to be reading it just before heading off to bed….no thank you. i’m too susceptible to nightmares, and those creatures that stole ones tongue, and connected one with the “Elder Gods”, as one of their “mind slaves” are all too eldritch for me….even more so because they are based on a real animal that does just that with fishes….parasitically attaches itself to the fish’s tongue, eats it, and “becomes” the fish’s tongue to all intents and purposes….

    he did this before, too, in his novella, “Equoid”, which is available for free from Tor books, at:

    in this story he uses the peculiar activities of the cone snail, and it’s peculiarly lethal “tongue” which is venomous, and is used to “spear” prey, and mixes it up with the old story of the Unicorns…and again, of course, the Elder Gods are trying to come through the ways between worlds into ours, and it’s Bob’s job to rescue us all from their depradations…

    anyways, in each of his Laundry Files books, he seems to pick a particular cult, and use it as his “vehicle” to write the story around, and in each case, the cult is associated with Howard Lovecraft’s “Elder Gods”….and each book, at least for me, has been alternatingly hilarious, and terrifying….not good pre-bedtime reading, for me…i prefer “the Big Bang Theory”…simply because it’s so much more light hearted…

    just my fourteen cents…

    • I know I’m a bit sensitive about that, but Stross is known to be anti-religious and most Christians, I think, are sensitive to how we’re portrayed in the press. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. I agree, though, that it makes a good LAUNDRY FILES story.

      I just finished EQUOID. Yikes! It was horrifying!!!

      • Hans Smedbol /

        “Equoid” WAS horrifying, wasn’t it? i think that i managed a few dark fantasies in my “darker” hours thanks to that story…i’ll never look at unicorns the same way again!!!

        nor Cone Snails for that matter….every time i see a cone snail shell, (and we have a few) i am reminded of Charlie’s story, and “the horror!!! the horror!!!”

        the trouble with Charlie is he is just too good at telling stories…glad i never went camping with him… could just see us huddled around the campfire in the deepest night, surrounded by wilderness, and the howling of wolves, as Charlie tells us one of his stories…..

        although Charlie may be anti religious, and even may express this through his Laundry Files books, i wouldn’t take it personally that this particular one was involving one of those Evangelical style preachers in the story….

        although he does kind of make fun of the credulity of the believers, which i suppose could be annoying to a Christian…

        considering that for him the “real” Gods are the “Elder Gods”….the “Eldritch Horrors” of HP Lovecraft fame, i suppose that all of man kind’s religions might seem a little lightweight to one of Charlie’s characters….

        there are a few other online works of Charlie Stross available as well…”Down on the Farm”, i believe is one of them….

        if you haven’t already read…enjoy!


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