The winner of multiple Hugo Awards, Charles Stross is one of the most highly regarded science fiction writers of his time. In The Apocalypse Codex, occasionally hapless British agent Bob Howard tackles a case involving an American televangelist and a supernatural threat of global proportions.
©2012 Charles Stross (P)2012 Recorded Books
“Stross gives readers a British superspy with a long-term girlfriend, no fashion sense, and an aversion to martinis.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
I am a big fan of the Laundry series, and this book is still excellent, but, as the series moves on, it has matured, by necessity, in ways both good and bad. In general, much like the Harry Dresden series, as the series has developed, it has become less lighthearted, losing the parody and many of the pop-nerd-culture references in favor of more spy- and Love-craft. The characters are now quite well developed, but that leaves less room for the cartoonish bad guys and bizarre plots that made the early books amusing. On the other hand, it means that the stakes feel more real, the plot more grounded in previous novels, and the action more engaging.
This trend is not the reason why I have slightly mixed feeling about the book (though I still strongly recommend it to anyone who has read the series so far). First off, the plot in this particular book is, in some ways, a little less inventive then Stross often is capable of - you are introduced almost immediately to an evangelical church leader with clearly ominous intent, which is a bit of an easy target. There are twists and turns, but perhaps the revelations are more expected in this novel then previous ones.
The second issue is that, as the series has gone on, the main character has shifted from regular schlub to a hero on a larger stage. This is fine, but, as the protagonist moves up the ranks, and as more of the secrets of the Laundry universe are revealed, it removes a little of the overarching cosmic horror that made the series some interesting. Again, this is natural for any ongoing series, but it, plus the slightly less surprising plot, makes the book Really Good rather than Amazing.
On the other hand, the reading is insanely good - many accents, from cosmic horrors to royalty, are covered beautifully. Overall, a really good choice, though this is clearly not where new readers should start.
Say something about yourself!
Any book that actually contains the phrase that titles this review deserves to be read. This book is, by the way, the sequel to "The Atrocity Archives," and that book must be read before this one, so if you haven't read that one, stop reading now to avoid possible spoilers and go get the first book.
Stross, normally known for his very hard science fiction, has decided to reboot Lovecraft's view of our universe as a place that horrible monsters from other worlds/dimensions/universes are just waiting to invade for all sorts of terrifying reasons. And the keys to such invasion are certain kinds of advanced mathematical routines that, if run or activated or invoked by either a person or the right kind of electronics, will open the doors to these other universes and let the monsters in. All of those intelligence agencies like the CIA and MI6 are really just covers for the true bulwarks against these monsters -- agents who understand this threat and use a combination of technology and intuitive mathematics ("magic") to fight the good fight. It's all great fun, has a strong tongue in cheek element, and is built around a strong story with lots of interesting plot twists and clever surprises. One warning: Stross takes a particularly hostile view of certain flavors of Christianity here, so if you find such attitudes off-putting, you probably won't enjoy this. Gideon Emery does a really solid job with the narration.
Most people now know the basic premise behind the Laundry - the super secret British agency that was setup to fight the jibbering horrors that exist in another dimension. This episode finds Bob Howard sent on a mission to Colorado to supervise two field agents who are investigating a charismatic evangelical preacher who has suddenly become a friend of the British Prime Minister. Of course, the Christian preacher is really a worshiper of some alien diety and is putting mind-controlling bugs inside the bodes of his minions. After a rather straightforward mission Bob and his friends foil the evil one and end up isolating the preacher on another world with his possibly awakened deity.
As always with Charles Stross, lots and lots of denigration of Christianity and Americans. Just what kind of culture produces someone who would call a minister a "God botherer"?
Of interest to me, most of the action is set in Colorado. The village of Palmer Lake is where the evil Christians setup their compound, and I live 3 miles from there. Either Mr. Stross has actually visited Colorado, or his research is pretty accurate. There actually is a New Life church in Colorado Springs with associated World Prayer Center. Of course, they are not actually secret demon worshipers, their leaders are not trying to dominate the world, and they are simply living their lives according to their chosen faith, but its part of the setup for the whole Laundry series.
As for the story, it never really felt like Bob was ever in any real danger and the conclusion was obvious almost from the beginning. Let's hope that Mr. Stross goes back to concentrating on an exciting story and stops bashing his favorite strawmen in future stories in this series.
The one excellent part of this audio book is Gideon Emery's narration. It was outstanding and really kept me listening.
Yes and No. If they had listened to (or read) any of the previous Laundry Files books then this is a fantastic addition and I would heartily recommend it. If they hadn't read a prior LF novel then this would be a bad place to start. Read (listen to) The Atrocity Archives first - at the very least.
Mr. Howard is changing and growing as a character and spook. He is no longer just a desk jockey getting a chance at field work or a trusted assistant out and about - he is really getting out there. AND, it helps that the stakes are getting larger.
He has the ability to convey the whole scene in the voice and tonal selections he makes. He has a captivating voice for the primary narrator and does a terrific job with others. His accent and delivery carry just the right amount of amused horror that this series captures so well.
I really enjoyed the first book in Stross' Laundry series. Listened to it more than once in fact. He did such a great job of combining macabre, mystery and magic with a modern-day tech/mathematics sensibility - and then seasoned with the ridiculousness so many of us have encountered in office-based corporate/government cultures, hierarchies and "management".
I felt he veered from that vision too far in the second book, got some of it back in the third, though that one was still a thumbs-down to my mind.
This fourth book is the worst of the four.
Stross, if you read this, I love your first Laundry book dearly and owe you a great deal for having authored it - but with no malice whatsoever, please know I wouldn't recommend that anyone read the second, third, or this fourth novel in the series.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
3.5 stars, Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
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.
1 Star -- Terrible 2 Stars -- Bad 3 Stars -- Mediocre 4 Stars -- Great to the right person. 5 Stars -- Superb, you must pick this up.
Even when this book is easily the worst in the series, it is still a great book.
If you have been following my reviews on this series, you know I prefer the times when Stross is making satire or spoofing workplaces. The second book, Jennifer Morgue, wasn't as good because it was just a typical action book with a great protagonist. This book returns to the template of Jennifer Morgue. There is just action in this book and effectively only a nod to his asinine workplace.
Actually, as I write this I'm more and more frustrated with The Apocalypse Codex. I enjoyed it, but there were just so many dull parts. The first book was 100% first person following Bob. After that, multiple perspectives have been creeping in, and they reached a peak in this novel. The Bob parts are an oasis in a vast desert that spanned the spectrum from boring and pointless to frustrating and insulting. So a solid quarter or so of the book I zoned out on.
Humor is still here, I laughed a good amount and looked forward to continuing the book when I had put it down. As such, I recommend you continue this series, especially since the next one is supposed to return it to its glory.
The series as a whole is still an easy recommend to anyone, but frankly this book is a very low 4 stars.
The laughs, adventures, evil baddies, and demonic magic just keeps rolling. More discoveries and revelations that lead to new mysteries. Stross continues the series with unfailing wit.
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