Charles Stross – The Jennifer Morgue

Bob Howard, computer übergeek and demonology hacker extraordinaire, has a problem. Software billionaire Ellis Billington has managed to get his hands on a Soviet Cold War device that permits communication with the dead. He plans to use it to raise an eldritch horror, codenamed ‘Jennifer Morgue’, from the Stygian depths, with an eye to ruling the world.

Bob’s mission, should he choose to accept it (or not), is simple: stop the bad guy, save the world and emerge – shaken, perhaps, but not stirred. And he can be confident that his superiors at the Laundry will do everything in their power to get him out alive. After all, someone has to do the paperwork…

Like its predecessor, The Atrocity Archives, and its successor, The Fuller Memorandum, The Jennifer Morgue is hilarious. A brilliant play on the classic spy/James Bond mythos, it manages to both poke fun at this archetype and subvert it. Everyone has seen at least one Bond film and the debate over who is the true Bond is eternal—it’s Sean Connery of course, no contest. But given the fact that everyone knows at least some Bond, this is a very accessible novel for readers new to speculative fiction. It also makes it easier to catch most of the pop culture references Stross scatters throughout his story.

Bob’s sidekick in this novel, Ramona, was awesome. A combination of both the good and the bad Bond girl, she was the perfect partner in this adventure. Her chemistry with Bob was more than just caused by her glamour and their entanglement. I liked that the more Bob saw of the ‘true’ Ramona, the more he was attracted to her, instead of in lust with her. Again, this is such a cliché, both in books and films, but it works beautifully in this book to create tension between not just Bob and Ramona, but also between Bob and Mo, his partner. The latter tension is not just because of jealousy issues but also because we as the reader see how hard Mo is working to get to Bob, while Bob is slowly getting closer to Ramona, despite still wanting to be with Mo.

The bad guy was classic as well, and scarily current, what with #occupywallstreet and the growing distrust of the mega rich and large corporations. He even has a cat to stroke and a secret lair! His methods to world domination are pretty eerie and scary, but Stross’ final proof that PowerPoint is an instrument of evil had me in stitches, because who hasn’t fought with PowerPoint at some point when preparing a presentation? I know I have done so often enough. Oh and expensive, seemingly miraculous beauty products? Don’t even try them!

The cast surrounding Bob remains brilliant. Mo, Pinky, Brains, Bob’s boss Angleton, they all make repeat appearances and are as wonderful as ever. And some of the minor characters from the first book also return, in this group I especially enjoyed Captain Barnes, though he only enters the book in the last third, and Boris, who leads Bob’s support team on the Antilles. I adored the scenes were Pinky, Brains and Boris briefed Bob. They sort of reminded me of The X-Files’ Lone Gunmen. Pinky and Brains cracked me up almost every time they showed up on the page, but they also managed to move me with their – sometimes clumsy – attempts to be good friends to Bob.

The twist at the end was classic. I really enjoyed the denouement of the novel and was sad to see the story end. That would be my one complaint with The Laundry books, they’re too short, I rip through them way too fast! But luckily, The Jennifer Morgue was followed by a short story called Pimpf, which was a nice cherry on top of the cake. It was very funny and for anyone who’s ever played a multiplayer game very recognizable! I loved Bob’s reaction to having an intern and the story made for a nice goodbye from the Laundry world for now.

Happily this goodbye will not last for long, as the fourth Laundry book, The Apocalypse Codex, is supposed to come out in July 2012, huzzah! So I recommend you take the next six months to catch up with all the Laundry Files and be ready to jump in with the next book come July. One thing is for sure, you’ll have a laugh doing so!

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  • I agree very much. These are extremely enjoyable.

  • I keep wanting to read these books! Alas, my checkbook isn't working that way. Maybe Christmas. I love the James Bond send up. I would be incredibly snide about it if I thought it was done poorly, but from everything you said, it is hilarious. The cat is a must. I love the new technology angle. I teach part time. But I never use power point. Not only is it the devil in that it is a pain in the ass, it causes students to just glaze out on what's on the power point and not listen to you. Evil.

    Sean Connery, yes. But I have to say Daniel Craig gave him a run for his money. Casino Royale brought back the true Bond spirit. Suave, adaptable, but capable of brutality almost absently. He is funny in the right setting, though mostly sarcastic. It took the warm and fuzzy and cute funny out of Bond–finally.

  • @Steve Halter: Thanks Steve!!

    @Bets: You're so right! Unfortunately powerpoint is a necessary evil in the teaching I do :-(
    To my shame I have to admit I haven't seen any of the Daniel Craig ones! But he certainly looks the part :-)