The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross
Posted September 16, 2015on:
published in 2014
where I got it: purchased new
If this is the first you’ve ever heard of the Laundry, I advise starting at, or at least near, the beginning. Start at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives (book 1) and then pick up Jennifer Morgue (book 2), or read book 2 and then book 1, and then you can generally hop around a bit once you’ve gotten a feel for what the hell is going on. Fanatics will disagree, but I say yes, you can hop around in this series, and read the books as you come across them. Anyways, the premise is that Bob Howard, unassuming IT professional, saw something he shouldn’t’ve, and suddenly found himself working for a secret British Intelligence service known as The Laundry. When things go bump in the night, these are folks who bump back. And by “bump in the night”, I mean otherworldly horrors of the deep who see us as a snack, and by “bump back” I mean employ computational demonologists, zombies, and enslaved demons. It’s a good time, and you can’t tell your friends or neighbors what you do for a living, ever. Bob’s wife Mo is also employed by The Laundry, and she is responsible for one of their most powerful weapons – a violin that screams and kills. Hard to tell if she owns the violin or if the violin owns her. It gives her nightmares and makes her fingers bleed. I guess it comes down to what moves faster? The Laundry? Human stupidity? the hunger of Cthulhu? Or the planets and stars aligning in such a way that none of it will matter any more.
I have always loved the narrative voice of this series. Bob is sarcastic and smart, and the only color his humor comes in is black. When you know the end of the world is right around the corner, gallows humor is where it’s at. But where his wife Mo is concerned? Bob is a puddle of caring, heartfelt goo for her. It’s quite adorable, actually. Bob could read me the advertisements in the phone book, and I’d probably be happy. Actually, Bob really needs to read me the instructions of how to do my taxes. Because that would be fucking awesome.
To shift gears ever so slightly, all it takes is looking at formulas and certain mathematical equations in just the right way for something awful to happen. Maybe you let a demon through. Maybe you let it take a chomp out of your brain. Maybe the side effect is a scorching allergic reaction to sunlight, and gaining an addiction to human blood. It’s really too bad, as that’s exactly what happened to a bunch of code monkeys who work for a bank. With no one to guide them, what are these baby vampires to do?
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that part – lots of mathematical magic allows teeny little brain hungry demons into your body. I mean “brain hungry” literally, by the the way. they slowly eat your brain, eventually leaving you with mush. The more magic you do, the higher a risk you run of literally running out of grey matter. Did I mention Bob does this for a living?
The plot of The Rhesus Chart revolves around the nest of baby vampires trying to figure out how to survive, and Bob and friends at first trying to figure out why it looks like Mad Cow Disease has made a come back, and then trying to keep the fledgeling blood suckers alive. Because the only thing worse than a baby vampires is the elder vampire who is strong enough to kill them. Stross really is having way too much fun mashing up contemporary thrillers, Cthulhu mythos, computer programming, and stories of demons and devourers.
I loved Bob’s narrative voice. I got a kick out of the side characters, and loved the scientific explanations for the connection between Mad Cow Disease and exposing a vampire. There are a handful of side stories and side characters that are actually more interesting than the main event. As I keep saying, i love the narrative voice of this series. It’s a good thing, because the actual plot of The Rhesus Chart didn’t do much for me. I actually only read this book for one reason: because I heard the newest Laundry novel, The Annihilation Score, is from Mo’s point of view. I want to hear the story from her side. I want to know about her relationship with that nightmare violin. I want to know what she actually goes through when she uses it, and what it says to her. I have a morbid fascination with that fucking violin. Anyways, if I was going to read Annihilation Score, I better read the book that came right before. As much as I complained about the blah plot (husband says I say this about most Laundry books, that I love Bob and how he tells a story, but that the plots are just ok), I’m really happy I read this one before diving in the “Mo” book. Some, erm, stuff happens between Mo and Bob during Rhesus Chart, and that last chapter is one bombshell dropped after another, after another. The entire last chapter was me saying “holy fucking shit” over and over again.
For those of you who are into the Laundry series – what keeps bringing you back to the series? The plot? the characters? the narrative voice? knowing (or in my case, guessing) that the series ends when the world ends, and when Bob keeps getting really dizzy?
As much as I bitched about the plot of The Rhesus Chart just being so-so, I plan to pick up The Annihilation Score in the next few days.