The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross
Posted October 9, 2010on:
I used to read a LOT of Charlie Stross. Accelerando was a game changer for me, Glasshouse knocked my socks off, and I raved about plenty others. Then I got into Stross’s Merchant Princes series. That particular series didn’t do much for me, and I experienced major Stross burnout.
The Jennifer Morgue is the first Charlie Stross book I’ve read in about five years, and I’d forgotten how much fun Stross is. After laughing my head off a handful of times, at the humor and the pure quantity of ideas crammed into each sentence, something started to dawn on me: I think this might not be the first book in a series. And Yup, Jennifer Morgue is the sequel to Stross’s The Atrocity Archives, which I haven’t read. I had a choice to make. I could put down the fabulous Jennifer Morgue halfway through, track down a copy of Atrocity Archives, and hope to come back to Jennifer Morgue at a later date, or I could say the hell with order, and keep reading. I chose to keep reading. Sure, there were inside jokes I didn’t get, but with the help of some flashbacks and explanations, I didn’t feel lost at all.
Bob Howard is an agent with The Laundry, a secret British agency that deals with matters of the paranormal, specifically secret agreements between humans and Lovecraftian horrors, where we agree to leave them alone, and they agree (we think) to allow us to live. Those who bump back indeed. The Laundry is armed with all sorts of semi-magical and James Bond-esque gizmos. As much as Howard wishes for an Astin Martin, they give him a tricked out smart car.
Bad guy computer mogul Billington is trying to summon something unspeakable from the watery depths of the Caribbean, and his viper of a wife, Eileen, has a best selling cosmetics company thanks to a little virgin blood. Laundry agent Bob Howard has been tasked with finding out what Billington is up to, and stopping it. To complete his mission, Howard has to team up with a Black Chamber (the American version of The Laundry) Assassin named Ramona Random. Ramona isn’t what she appears to be, and doesn’t work for the Black Chamber by choice. Howard and Random become destiny entangled to allow a telepathic link. What one hears, feels, sees, and thinks, so does the other. But Ramona is a succubi, she feeds on men’s passions, and what she feels and experiences, so does Bob. How in the world is Bob going to explain this to his girlfrield, who also works for The Laundry? And if they don’t get unentangled in about a half a million seconds, the connection could become permanant.
The Jennifer Morgue goes from bizarre to plain insane. To get an idea of just how insane, start with your favorite James Bond flick, and put everyone on ecstacy. No, that’s just not right. Take your favorite James Bond flick, recast the bond girls with enslaved succubi and the double oh agents with trained computational demonologists. Remember SPECTRE? Swap those baddies out for lovecraftian horrors and other lovelies who go bump in the night. Got it? Ok, put everyone on speed. Now we’re getting somewhere close to the Stross style of Secret Agent Adventure.
To add to the fun in the bad guy situation, Billington has set up something called a Hero Archetype. The only way to stop him is to follow the path of the archtype to the letter, but if you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, the archetype is destroyed and Billington gets away scott free. Good thing Bob Howard is completely clueless and no one will tell him what the hell is going on.
I read an article recently asking whatever happened to paranormal creatures who are actually dangerous? Paranormal creatures who don’t sparkle, who have no choice about what they do, and who kill humans to survive. Ramona Random is that paranormal creature. She knows exactly what she is, what she does, and why she has to do it. She may not enjoy it, but I enjoyed a paranormal creature who was dangerous, who I wouldn’t want to run into in a brightly lit alley, let alone a dark one. I know The Jennifer Morgue is “A Bob Howard story!”, but Ramona really stole the show for me.
Crammed with more ideas than you’d find in a comics shop, and filled to the brim with James Bond and pop culture jokes (Howard techs are named Pinky and Brains), The Jennifer Morgue is a roller coaster of paranormal insanity with horrors, weapons, and the Stross brand of awesome cranked to eleven. But don’t make the same mistake I made – read The Atrocity Archives first.