Bob Howard is having a rough week. His boss has ordered him out to a distant airfield to deal with a supernatural containment issue and in the course of the exorcism, things go very awry. Placed on administrative leave, he’d be at loose ends–except that his boss Angleton gave him an assignment, deputized him for top-secret project BLOODY BARON and has subsequently disappeared. Within short order, his wife Mo is sent on a quick mission-CLUB ZERO–only to return shell-shocked. Even worse, the Russians are sniffing around and there might be a mole in The Laundry. When Bob and Mo are attacked in their home, events start escalating quickly.
If I found the first Laundry files book, The Atrocity Archives (review) somewhat unfriendly with tech-speak, The Fuller Memorandum has become far more accessible. Snarky commentary is scattered fast and furious and ranges far beyond physics and computers. I ‘snerked’ rather often in the first third (that noise you make when you are not-quite soundlessly laughing to yourself), enjoying Bob’s take on:
iPhones (referred to as JesusPhones): “‘Oh, Bob. Don’t you know any better?’
‘It was at least a class four glamour,’ I say defensively, resisting the urge to hunch my shoulders and hiss preciousss. ‘And I needed a new phone anyway.‘”
Lovecraftian horrors: “These things are never terribly good at coordinating a tensegrity structure like a mammalian musculoskeletal system: even when they’re in the driving seat they’re trying to work a manual transmission with automatic-only training.“
attempts to scare him: “I’m sure it’s all very eerie, but when reality starts to imitate a second-rate computer game you know the bad guys have over-egged the pudding… It’s the sort of tactic that might stand a chance of working if I was a little less cynical…”
PowerPoint: “The last time I saw him, he was on what I was sure was a one-way trip to a padded cell for the rest of his life after sitting through one PowerPoint slide too many at a certain meeting in Darmstadt“
On communism inhibiting advances in coping with the supernatural in Russia: “Proximate results: they got into orbit using hand calculators, but completely dropped the ball on anything that required complexity theory, automated theorem proving, or sacrificial goats.“
But it wasn’t all fun and games. There’s actually a lot of basic religious philosophy in this one, heralded by Bob’s Prologue, “Losing My Religion.” Alas, as he explains, he doesn’t so much as lose his religion as lose his atheism. I found it interesting, particularly when Bob tangentially discussed humanity’s predilection for pattern recognition, but it’s clear that Bob regards all religions as foolish attempts to whistle in the dark (or placate a hideous and uncaring evil). It’s the kind of subtext/ongoing issue that elevates the concepts and the writing in this series above the ordinary kind of fantasy.
As Bob struggles to discover the history behind BLOODY BARON and project TEAPOT, events and consequences become more serious. I thought it progressed organically, with tension escalating until I was reading faster and faster. Although the ultimate confrontation was somewhat predictable, and telegraphed early on, it remained suspenseful. There was also twist to the Laundry I really enjoyed. It’ll be interesting to see where Stross takes that angle next, as he seems to be building to an ultimate confrontation in CODE NIGHTMARE GREEN, when the other-worlds entities finally take note of the puny humans and decide to go out to our universe for lunch.
It misses 5 stars for me only because of general emotional disengagement; it’s not a book I must have (my preciousss). I suspect that the fast-and-furious witticisms and references keep me more engaged on an intellectual level than an emotional one.