the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Charles Stross’ Category

atrocityStrossThe Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files, book 1, also includes the novella The Concrete Jungle)

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased new (not in 2004. closer to last year)

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finally! I have finally read the first Laundry novel!  and learned two things: You can read these out of order and do just fine, and the first book is decent but not the best in the series. For fans of Stross’s Laundry series this is a must-read, and if you’re not a fan, start with the 2nd or 3rd  book in the series, work your way backwards, and then you’ll be a fan, so you’ll want to read it.

Bob Howard is not a hero. He doesn’t kick ass, he can’t keep his roommates from trashing the house, and cops are embarrassed if they have to work with him. Bob is your average IT professional, a super nerdy guy who spends his days checking the network for viruses, keeping spam out your e-mail, and avoiding his supervisor, which is totally okay because she’s an absolute bitch.  Bob’s problem is that he’s way too good at what he does. So good in fact, that he can’t help but get involved when things go to shit, especially when the jackass from accounting gets himself possessed by a Lovecraftian intelligence during a training class.

IT jokes? Lovecraftian horrors?  If you’re not into IT or Cthulhu, don’t worry, there’s no experience needed to enjoy The Laundry.  Everything is explained. For god sakes, these books are how I got into Cthulhu mythos in the first place! and what isn’t explained in easy to understand language is glossed over in purposely arcane and sometimes sarcastic infodumps.

The Atrocity Archives is where it all begins (well,  not where it all begins, but you know what I mean). We learn how Bob got “invited” to join the Laundry, his bachelor-esque life before Mo, and how many mainline supervisors he had to piss off to end up in Angleton’s office.  It looks like fantasy horror, but The Laundry books are really hard scifi thrillers. Mathematics are the name of the game here, where changing a variable gets you from pie are squared to Azathoth coming up your bathtub drain. If you’re the scientist who hits on which variable and what to change it to, you can expect a call from The Laundry.

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Long story short – It was ah-maz-ing.   another weekend of my geekgirldreams brought to us by the very hardworking folks at Stilyagi.

but, in case you are interested in the short story gone overly long, here ya go:

Last year at ConFusion I was about authors, authors, authors, and just for good measure more authors (also, one particular author, but that’s a different story). But this year I wanted to branch out a bit and see what else was going on. Luckily, the programming made that even easier for me. The sheer variety of programs and panels was amazing. There was an entire Science track, a Doctor Who track, lots of guest artists doing artwork in the hotel atrium,  and a Studio Ghibli movie marathon on top of all the amazing author readings and “such-and-such in Sci and Fantasy” panels.  And the best part? I was totally cool about this year. A little bit less of the running up to authors and babbling ohmygodIloveyourbookssomuchwillyoucomehomewithmecanicookyoudinner going on. Also, I cosplayed for the first time. Now that I’ve worn a tail, I can see why people don’t want to take them off.

Friday afternoon was saying hi to friends, hitting up the dealer room, finding the consuite (on the first floor, down the hall from all the panel rooms = WIN) and playing “spot the famous person” (omg, there’s John Scalzi! and he has a ukelele!). I made it to 2 panels on Friday, Fun with Liquid Nitrogen, and the Opening Ceremonies of the Con.

Liquid Nitrogen with Dr. Jennifer Skwarski.   I always thought if the stuff touched you, that part of your body would shatter off. not so! (wait, scifi movies lied to me??) Apparently you can splash it all over your hand and be OK, although I don’t recommend trying that.  Also, it makes a really neat snapping noise when splashed all over the floor. Demonstrations included the amazing whirring around ping pong ball, frozen vodka, frozen soap bubbles, crunchy expanding balloons, and of course making ice cream!

The epic immersion blender of awesome.  Also, liquid Nitrogen ice cream! Epic brain freeze.

The epic immersion blender of awesome. Also, liquid Nitrogen ice cream! Epic brain freeze.

Not too much to say about the Opening Ceremonies, except that Mary Robinette Kowal had the best ever marionette story.  I’m hoping she posted it on her blog somewhere, because if I try to tell it I’ll mess it up, and also it’s not my story to tell.  And, Yes, she had her Hugo. Perhaps it was a prop for this?   Also, Charles Stross has a really cool accent.

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Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross

published in 2003

where I got it: borrowed

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I used to read a ton of Charles Stross, I couldn’t get enough of the guy.  Over a few years I managed to burn myself out, and recently I’ve really gotten back into him with his Laundry series.  And then I realized, I’ve never read the man’s Hugo nominated debut novel, Singularity Sky.

First off, what the heck is a singularity, and why should you care?  It’s important to know, if you’re interested in understanding the importance of Stross’s singularity themed science fiction.  Broadly defined, a singularity is when the rate of change reaches infinity, it’s the event horizon, the moment when artificial intelligence reaches beyond human comprehension.Those graphs that show a curved line going up and up and up? when that line is perfectly vertical, that’s the singularity. When computers and nanomachines and AIs are crunching information at a speed that’s faster than we can measure, that’s singularity. Some folks are pretty freaked out about the idea of computational ability being stronger, larger, and faster than the combination of all the human brains on the planet, and Stross? He’s the guy dancing on the razor edge of the event horizon.

Singularity Sky takes place in the aftermath of a singularity event which caused humanity to be scattered among the stars.  Martin Springfield, an engineer from Earth, has been dispatched to an out of the way star system called The Republic.  Overly aristocratic and trapped in their neo-luddite ways, the common people of The Republic are ripe for revolution, and in fact, a small rebellion in a little colony on Rochard’s World has already begun, thanks to an entity that calls itself The Festival.

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So last night, the husband says “you know what? we haven’t got enough books”.

I look around our small apartment. The bookshelves are bulging, the coffee table is covered in books, the floor under the coffee table has stacks of book, my bedside table is covered in books, husband’s desk is covered in books,  our apartment looks like a library threw up. It’s a miracle the kitchen table and chairs aren’t covered in books.

“you’re right sweetheart”, I responded, quite seriously. “I’ll have to fix that”

While I’m working on a review, here’s a few items that recently snuck into the apartment, while I wasn’t looking, of course. Most of this batch falls under the category of borrowed.

Have you read any of these? which do you recommend? which look interesting? what should I dive into first? what should I skip?

A Guile of Dragons – this is the new from from James Enge, creator of Morlock Ambrose. This appears to be first in a new series, although  connected to his previous Morlock books. I read The Wolf Age and Blood of Ambrose, and while I remember them being entertaining, I also remember Enge having some major pacing issues. Let’s hope he’s worked those out.

Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – high priority to read, as it’s my local scifi bookclub’s choice for Sept. This seems to be a relativistic story of beating time by changing how fast it moves (in relation to you, of course). I have high hopes. Egan has about a dozen books out so far, anyone read any of them? This will be my first by him.

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The recently announced Locus Awards are awarded every year by a readers poll done by Locus Magazine. These have been going since 1971, and are often an influencial precursor to the Hugo awards, which will be awarded later this summer.

It’s only these last couple years that I’ve been blogging that I’ve paid much attention to awards. Honestly, for the most part, a list of award nominees more often than not elicits a mostly “eh” response from me. Maybe I’ve heard of the authors, maybe I haven’t, and there’s a decent chance I haven’t even read any of the books or short stories that are up for an award.

Good thing I have a scifi/fantasy blog, and have pretty much been reading nothing but scifi and fantasy for the last little while! For the first time, ever, I’ve actually read a small chunk of these. Ok, maybe not a respectable amount, but way more than in previous years. For the first time, ever, my mind is responding with a “sweet! I’ve read that!” or at least a “I’ve heard of that, and I really want to read it!” instead of “meh”.

Here are this years Locus Award winners (bolded) and nominees. If I reviewed the piece, I’ve linked to it. A few questions for you to contemplate as you peruse the list: how many of these author, works, editors, authors and publishers have you heard of? How many of them have you read, or are interested in reading?

The 2012 Locus Awards, as announced in Seattle Washington, June 15-17th 2012:

Science Fiction Novel

Embassytown, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
11/22/63, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton as 11.22.63)
Rule 34, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Children of the Sky, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Fantasy Novel

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
Snuff, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; Gollancz)
Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

First Novel

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (Crown; Century)
God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade)
Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh (Night Shade)
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime)

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The Fuller Memorandum (a Laundry Novel), by Charles Stross

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: enjoyed the previous Laundry novel, The Jennifer Morgue

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Bob Howard has a problem. it’s that he’s too good at his job. The office manager leaves him alone; his boss, Angleton, is sending him on special errands; and his wife, Mo, has started bringing work home with her. When you’re a computational demonologist, none of those can be good things.  You see, Bob works for the ultra secret British government agency called The Laundry.  Think James Bond meets Torchwood, but instead of fighting the Russians and aliens, they’re fighting the Russians and unthinkable Cthonic soul sucking horrors from another dimension. When the end comes, make sure you’re armed with a shotgun (same goes for when playing Arkham Horror, btw).

Although The Fuller Memorandum is mostly action, usually involving Bob getting the crap kicked out of him, it was the slower parts that were some of my favorites. Things like getting to know more (perhaps too much) about the mysterious Angleton.  What Mo actually does with that bone white violin (she needs her own book. period). How to jailbreak an iphone in three easy steps (step one, allow a professional hacker into your house). How to handle Russian zombies and drunken cultists, and what the British secret service really thinks about Americans.  And Bob Howard, accidental computational demonologist, armed with a jailbroken unauthorized iphone running illegal apps, better solve all these problems before his soul gets sucked out by cultists who’ve awoken something far more evil than they were expecting. The slower bits might have been all interesting, but the crazy action bits? Totally over the top frakin’ awesome.

If you’re grinning, you can skip the next paragraph, however if you’re a bit confused, quit skipping around and stop feeling bad.

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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. Read the rest of this entry »


About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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