The Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross
Posted October 9, 2015on:
where I got it: borrowed from a friend
This is the sixth Laundry novel, but in a way, it’s the first of its kind (By the way, Start Here). Laundry novels have always starred Bob Howard, IT programmer turned computational demonologist. No matter how shitty his day is at work, he can usually come home to his wife Mo. She works for the Laundry too, and sometimes it’s her coming home from a crappy trip to be soothed by her well meaning husband. Bob might be an apprentice (and possibly heir) to The Eater of Souls, but Mo has him beat. You see, she is the handler for what is known as the Pale Violin. the “This violin kills demons” sticker on the violin case is no joke.
I rushed through The Rhesus Chart, the Laundry novel that comes right before this one. I really, really wanted to get to The Annihilation Score, because this book is told from Mo’s point of view. Yup. Barely any Bob in this baby, this novel is all Mo, all the time. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-sentient violin that creeps into her dreams and wants to kill her husband. can’t forget that.
For those of you just joining us, Mo’s instrument is made of human bone, her fingers bleed when she plays it, and she can’t let it out of her sight because it gets very lonely, and very, very hungry. Remember Elric’s Arioch? You’re on the right track, just crank the demon eating darkness up to eleven. Mo calls her violin Lecter, and if you listen very closely, you can hear his whisper. He doesn’t want much from you, yet, but if you’d only listen to his voice ….
Mo can usually handle Lecter just fine, it’s this new assignment she’s received at work that’s such a pain. Ordinary citizens have been waking up with superpowers, everything from super-speed to always dropping your toast buttered side up. Some people can fly, some can hold their breath for hours, others can become invisible. In the past, the Laundry would have just onboarded these people and had them take a binding oath. But with so many people, it’s enough of a challenge to just keep track of them, and keep the crazies out of trouble. Mo is charged with building a superhero team. Much making fun of the latest superhero movies later, and an interview scene that was reminiscent of Mystery Men, and Mo and her team find themselves on the trail of a supervillain who has robbed a bank, a library, and broken into a nuclear materials storage facility. The get some cool uniforms, and not of the spandex variety, especially since one of their members is as mermaid, and another is a vampire. It’s that balance of humor and certain death that makes these books so freaking fun!
I’m so used to the narrative voice that Stross uses for Bob, that I was scurious to see the narrative voice he’d use for Mo. Would it be similar? completely different? I’m happy to say that Mo’s narrative voice is completely different from Bob’s, brilliantly smart, and presented smoothly enough that yes, this is the woman I’ve known for years through Bob. It’s always fun to see how an author presents the POV of a character whose action has previously taken place off stage/page.
Similar to The Rhesus Chart, the main plot of The Annihilation Score was just so-so for me. Superhero team? human resources? whatever. But like everything Stross does, it’s the everything else that makes these Laundry books so damn witty, clever and shiny.
Clever, shiny, and painful. Huge spoiler – in this book, Mo and Bob are on a trial separation. Their relationship seemed to be going fine, and then something happens in The Rhesus Chart and they have to try living apart. It’s the living apart that pushes them even further away from each other. Mo comes home to an empty house. Bob calls her before he stops by to pick stuff up. They act like they are on eggshells with each other. Being apart allowed them to get used to being apart. It killed me to watch this happen to them. I wrote this review while home for a weekend in between back to back business trips, so that might have something to do with my emotional reaction. But, they both have a job to do, and it’s the job that’s killing their relationship. (that sentence hit closer to home that I planned. ouch) And even back when I wasn’t traveling for work, reading about fictional breakups of couples I’d emotionally invested in was always painful for me.
Mo knows she isn’t as young or strong as she once was, she knows Lecter is getting stronger every year. How much longer can she control it? She knows she can keep her violin and her career, or her marriage. “This a choose one” scenario. She knows if she turns the violin in, it’ll just get given to someone else, someone who isn’t as strong, someone whose soul Lecter will chew up and spit out. If she turns it in, isn’t that admitting inadequacy? So that option is out. What else is there? Eternal containment? Can if she can contain the violin, can Bob meet her half way? It hurts me in a physical way to watch married couples fall apart.
The last few chapters are a jaw-clenching, fingernail-biting series of choices between something bad and something worse. What happens when a demon violin plays the single piece of music that was meant just for that instrument? such a piece of music does exist, and because Mo knows what will happen if it is played on this particular instrument, it is worth everything to her to ensure that doesn’t happen. If you’ve been following the series, you’ve got an idea of how seriously fucked up this is. And you know that there is even worse things than can happen.
I got shivers about 100 times while reading The Annihilation Score, and the end was just incredible. I half expected this novel to end on a cliffhanger of some sort, but no, it pretty clearly ends a certain long running plot. This series has a lot more meat in it, and I know Stross is leading up to something big and Cthonic, but at least one particular plotline has been wrapped up (at least for now). The only question that remains is, when is the next Laundry book coming out?