The Laundry Files

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The Laundry Files is a series of novels by Charles Stross. They mix the genres of Lovecraftian horror, spy thriller, science fiction, and workplace humour. Their main character for the first five novels is "Bob Howard" (a pseudonym taken for security purposes), a one-time I.T. consultant turned occult field agent. Howard is recruited to work for the Q-Division of SOE, otherwise known as "the Laundry", the British government agency which deals with occult threats. "Magic" is described as being a branch of applied computation (mathematics), therefore computers and equations are just as useful, and perhaps more potent, than classic spellbooks, pentagrams, and sigils for the purpose of influencing ancient powers and opening gates to other dimensions. These occult struggles happen largely out of view of the public, as the Laundry seeks to keep the methods for contacting such powers under wraps. There are also elements of dry humour and satirisation of bureaucracy.

While the stories are partially inspired by the Cthulhu mythos universe created by H. P. Lovecraft and others, they are not set in Lovecraft's universe.[1] Stross also decides that in a world where "magic" works, surely the greatest magicians would be scientists who closely study the phenomena; thus his work is replete with a secret history of how various acclaimed researchers of the past also dabbled or stumbled upon occult uses of their work.

The Concrete Jungle and Equoid both won the Hugo Award for Best Novella, and Overtime was a nominee for best novelette.

The Atrocity Archives[edit]

The Atrocity Archives
The Atrocity Archives-Charles Stross (2004).jpg
AuthorCharles Stross
Cover artistSteve Montiglio
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction / Lovecraftian horror
PublisherGolden Gryphon Press
Publication date
28 May 2004
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages295
ISBN1-930846-25-8
OCLC53276312
Followed byThe Jennifer Morgue 

The Atrocity Archives is a novel by British author Charles Stross, published in 2004. It includes the short novel The Atrocity Archive (originally serialised in Spectrum SF in Spectrum SF, #7 November 2001) and The Concrete Jungle, which won the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novella.[2]

The protagonist of both stories is computer expert Bob Howard, who re-discovers certain mathematical equations that contact other worlds. The Laundry detects the disturbance and swoops in to give him a mandatory job offer. ("I thought I was just generating weird new fractals; they knew I was dangerously close to landscaping Wolverhampton with alien nightmares."[3]) From his position in the Laundry, a secret British occult intelligence organisation, Howard is allowed to learn something of the secret history of the world, as well as the various modern counter-measures the Laundry has adopted to deal with these threats. Despite the nature of the work, the Laundry is an efficient and low-key modern organization; more cubicle-jockeying than stately mansion towers and hidden volcano lairs, in other words. A tag-line used for the books by publisher Ace Books was "Saving the world is Bob Howard's job. There are a surprising number of meetings involved."

In The Atrocity Archive, Howard is given work as a field agent in finding and protecting Scottish logic professor Dominique "Mo" O'Brien, as her work – dangerously close to the point of bending reality – has triggered the Laundry's person-of-interest checks. There, Howard must contend with the Black Chamber, which in this setting was never actually disbanded, but merely went underground as the US government's equivalent of the Laundry. Howard and Mo eventually head to Amsterdam and deal with Middle Eastern terrorists also on the hunt for Mo's work. They also research the Atrocity Archive, a classified record of German efforts in World War II. In this universe, the Thule Society, a pagan and occult group formed during the defeat of Germany in World War I, actually achieved results; they were absorbed by the Ahnenerbe, which became the occult branch of the SS, and who used German mathematician David Hilbert's research (unwillingly) to attempt to gain an edge for the Nazis. The Wannsee Conference was thus an attempt to harness the occult via mass human sacrifice in the Holocaust, but it ultimately failed after Allied interference. Mo is captured by the terrorists and sent via wormhole to an alternate universe where the Nazis did succeed – although not in a manner they'd have preferred. In this alternate universe, the Nazis summoned a frost giant out of Germanic/Norse legend, which was actually an elder being that fed on heat and who proceeded to destroy Earth. Bob and a team of SAS agents open their own gate, infiltrate the frozen universe, rescue Mo, and leave a nuclear bomb to 'sanitise' the scene. Bob belatedly realises that the nuclear bomb is a counterproductive trap; the frost giant intends to use its power to propel it into their reality, which has far more heat to eat. Bob manages to stop the device from exploding before escaping back to his original universe.

In The Concrete Jungle, Bob Howard is called in for an emergency: there are too many Concrete Cows in Milton Keynes. Howard reads classified files on the presumed cause: gorgonism, which has been banned by treaty for military use, and has been researched by various scientists over time – Lavosier, Geiger, and Rutherford. Alarmingly, the government has built a network to artificially emulate gorgons in FPGAs, then planned a network of cameras that could be hooked into this emulation – the CCTV network of anti-crime cameras deployed across Britain in the late 90s and early 2000s. This network was intended as a defense if the Old Ones were to rise and attack; however, someone has subverted a CCTV camera to stone a cow, then deposited it with the other concrete cows. As unauthorised use of the CCTV-basilisk network could hold the entire nation at hostage, this is an incredible risk. In an unrelated event, Howard is informed that he is being negligent about preparing for a meeting about a Business Software Alliance audit for the Laundry's software; Howard strongly opposes the audit, as the BSA invariably installs "spyware" to snoop for unauthorised installations.

Howard, with the assistance of Detective Inspector Josephine Sullivan of Milton Keynes, investigates the incident, which soon expands to the murder of humans as well as cows. They attempt to track who could possibly have had access to the gorgon-emulation software and installed it. Meanwhile, a ransom note is received demanding the software be uninstalled. Their investigation eventually leads them to the developers of the software, who are mostly dead from their own cameras, and an agent named "McLuhan" ("the medium is the message"). Howard discovers that the whole incident was inter-department wrangling gone wrong; a rival manager had been seeking to show that Angleton (Howard's manager) was incompetent and letting his own secret programs leak, and her minions had covered their tracks more bloodily than necessary. The "BSA audit" had been an excuse to install the gorgon-software into the Laundry's own internal cameras while Angleton was distracted. Howard and Sullivan infiltrate the Laundry to pull its Internet connection, while Angleton attends the meeting where he might be deposed. Howard comes upstairs to find Angleton victorious; it seems that his rival did not understand who Angleton truly reported to in the matrix management of the Laundry before launching her attempt to have him dismissed. His position as head of Counter-Possession Unit was actually secondary to his position as Private Secretary, and that position's manager went all the way to the top.[3]

Publishers Weekly was somewhat mixed in their review saying "though the characters all tend to sound the same, and Stross resorts to lengthy summary explanations to dispel confusion, the world he creates is wonderful fun."[4] The Washington Post called it "a bizarre yet effective yoking of the spy and horror genres."[5]

Stross states that his inspiration for the spy in these novels is closer to the out-of-place bureaucrats of Len Deighton than to the James Bond model. He also mentions that when he began writing the series in 1999, he chose as villains "an obscure but fanatical and unpleasant gang who might, conceivably, be planning an atrocity on American soil"; but that by the time the novel was to be published in late 2001, Al-Qaeda was no longer obscure, so he chose a different group to use in the novella.[6]

In the afterword to the Science Fiction Book Club 2-in-1 edition of The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue, Stross notes that friends warned him against reading the novel Declare while he was working on The Atrocity Archives due to the strong parallels between the two works. Stross also mentioned the similarities between the novel and the Delta Green role-playing game, similarities referenced in the short story "Pimpf" included with The Jennifer Morgue; Delta Green is also about elite government conspiracies working against villains who attempt to wield power derived from the Mythos, as well as rival conspiracies.

The Jennifer Morgue[edit]

The Jennifer Morgue
The Jennifer Morgue-Charles Stross (2006).jpg
AuthorCharles Stross
Cover artistSteve Montiglio
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction
PublisherGolden Gryphon Press
Publication date
November 2006
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages340
ISBN1-930846-45-2
OCLC67239775
813/.6 22
LC ClassPR6119.T79 J46 2006
Preceded byThe Atrocity Archives 
Followed byThe Fuller Memorandum 

The Jennifer Morgue is the second collection of Laundry stories by British author Charles Stross, published in 2006. It contains the title novel The Jennifer Morgue, the short story "Pimpf", and an essay titled "The Golden Age of Spying". The collection is a sequel to the stories published in The Atrocity Archives, continuing the trials of protagonist Bob Howard.

Where 2004's The Atrocity Archives is written in the idiom of Len Deighton, The Jennifer Morgue is a pastiche of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels[7] and refers to the real-life Project Azorian (incorrectly named by the press as Project Jennifer); Stross also uses footnotes and narrative causality, two literary devices common in the novels of Terry Pratchett.

The Jennifer Morgue was nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2007.[8]

The Fuller Memorandum[edit]

The Fuller Memorandum
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction
PublisherAce
Publication date
July 2010
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages312
ISBN0-441-01867-X
Preceded byThe Jennifer Morgue 
Followed byThe Apocalypse Codex 

The Fuller Memorandum is the third novel in the Laundry series of novels, published in 2010. As in the previous novels, the protagonist is Bob Howard, an agent for the intelligence agency known as the Laundry.

Where The Atrocity Archives was written in the idiom of Len Deighton and The Jennifer Morgue was a pastiche of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, The Fuller Memorandum is a homage of sorts to Anthony Price's Dr David Audley/Colonel Jack Butler series of spy thrillers, and features two minor characters named Roskill and Panin, names which appeared as recurring characters in Price's series. The title is derived from General J. F. C. Fuller, military theorist, right-wing intellectual occultist, and an associate of Aleister Crowley.

The plot of the book revolves around an eponymous document which describes a supernatural entity, the Eater of Souls. The document and Howard's boss James Angleton go missing, and Howard must locate them. Angleton turns out to be involved in a struggle with cultist double agents inside the Laundry loyal to Nyarlathotep, who capture Howard and plan to bind the Eater of Souls into Howard's body in order to advance their goals. This fails because the Eater of Souls was already bound into Angleton's body decades ago by the predecessors of the Laundry; it has "gone native", aligning itself with the Laundry's goals and British values. Howard uses magic to raise the dead, using them to overcome the cultists.

The Apocalypse Codex[edit]

The Apocalypse Codex
Charles Stross - The Apocalypse Codex.jpeg
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction
PublisherAce
Publication date
July 2012
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages336
AwardLocus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2013)
ISBN978-1-937007-46-1
Preceded byThe Fuller Memorandum 
Followed byThe Rhesus Chart 

The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth novel in the Laundry series, published in 2012. In this novel, the protagonist Bob Howard, an agent for the intelligence agency known as the Laundry, is tasked with investigating American Televangelist Raymond Schiller, who seeks to gain influence in Britain. Bob finds out that Schiller, who preaches a quiverfull prosperity gospel, is serving a supremely dangerous supernatural entity and trying to bring about the end of the world. The book introduces new allies for Bob: Persephone Hazard, a freelancing witch and secret agent, and Peter Wilson, a vicar and expert in biblical apocrypha.

According to Stross, while the first three books in the series were written in the style of Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and Anthony Price, respectively, the fourth installment is written in the style of a Peter O'Donnell (Modesty Blaise) novel. For future installments, Stross feels that "the series has acquired an identity and feel of its own", and does not intend to continue the pastiche motif.[9][10]

The Rhesus Chart[edit]

The Rhesus Chart
Charles Stross - The Rhesus Chart.jpg
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLaundry Files
GenreScience fiction
PublisherAce
Publication date
July 2014
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages368
ISBN978-0-425-25686-2
Preceded byThe Apocalypse Codex 
Followed byThe Annihilation Score 

The Rhesus Chart is the fifth novel in the Laundry series, published in 2014. The novels follow the protagonist Bob Howard, an agent for the intelligence agency known as the Laundry.[9]

The Rhesus Chart plot describes an investigation into what appears to be vampire activity, despite the fact that people are almost suspiciously resistant to the idea that vampires could exist or be involved, which complicates the investigation. It transpires that elder vampires have been subtly mind controlling Laundry staff to convince them that vampires do not exist. A group of recently created vampires join the Laundry, and the two elder vampires in the book are destroyed, at the cost of the life of James Angleton, Howard's boss.

The Rhesus Chart received a Kirkus Reviews starred review.[11]

The Annihilation Score[edit]

The Annihilation Score
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLaundry Files
GenreScience fiction
PublisherAce
Publication date
July 2015
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages416
ISBN978-0-425-28117-8
Preceded byThe Rhesus Chart 
Followed byThe Nightmare Stacks 

The Annihilation Score is the sixth novel in the Laundry series, published in 2015. The protagonist is Dr. Dominique "Mo" O'Brien, the wife of Bob Howard, the protagonist of previous books in the series and also an agent for the intelligence agency known as the Laundry.

As the world lurches toward the potentially apocalyptic forces that will probably bring about CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (the Laundry's codeword for an inevitable worldwide awakening of Lovecraftian horrors, "the stars coming right"), regular humans have started developing superpowers. Mo is promoted to management, tasked to create an inter-agency department to coordinate between The Laundry and the police; two of the Laundry personnel assigned to her team are Ramona (from The Jennifer Morgue) and Mhari (The Rhesus Chart), women who have history with her estranged husband Bob Howard. She is also the holder of the powerful magical Eric Zahn bone violin that she calls Lecter. Lecter is increasingly asserting its power, including induced dreams that relate to The King in Yellow. She is unwillingly compelled to act in a police plot to control the minds of the British public in the interests of law and order, which it becomes clear will backfire, releasing the King in Yellow; she overcomes it, destroying Lecter in the process.

The Nightmare Stacks[edit]

The Nightmare Stacks
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLaundry Files
GenreScience fiction
PublisherOrbit
Publication date
June 2016
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages400
ISBN978-0-356-50534-3
Preceded byThe Annihilation Score 
Followed byThe Delirium Brief 

The Nightmare Stacks is the seventh novel in the Laundry series, published in 2016. The protagonist is Alex Schwartz, a vampire (or PHANG in Laundry terminology) working for the Laundry, who was introduced in The Rhesus Chart.

Like the previous story Equoid explored unicorns, and The Rhesus Chart explored vampires, The Nightmare Stacks explores Elves with a basis in folklore. Like the unicorns from Equoid, Elves turn out to be a good deal less friendly and cuddly than some myths may lead one to expect.

On a parallel-universe Earth, hominid evolution has diverged such that a different human subspecies has been created, in between Neanderthals and Denisovans in genetic closeness to Homo sapiens. These Elves or alfar have evolved to be expert magic users, and have visited Earth in the past, from which come the folklore. They are also almost all completely lacking in empathy, and live in a magically-enforced hierarchy with little freedom.

Because magic has made the Elves' home world uninhabitable in a world war, cracking the moon and summoning ancient horrors, the last remnant of the Elves plan to magically travel to the Earth to take it over and make it their new home. To scout ahead, they send Agent First of Spies and Liars, the first daughter of the Elven King, the All-Highest. In secret, Agent First suffers from what is considered among Elves a dangerous defect: she feels empathy, which does improve her abilities as a spy.

On Earth, Agent First magically copies the look and memories of British drama student Cassiopeia Brewer, in order to infiltrate human society. This causes some problems, as Earth's liberal society is at first incomprehensible, and then later enticing, to the Elf. As magicians hold power among the Elves, "Cassie" tries to befriend Laundry employee Alex Schwartz, whom she meets by chance, since his PHANG syndrome makes him a powerful magician. Alex's power being apparent also makes the otherwise hopelessly socially incompetent 24-year-old virgin Alex very attractive to Cassie.

The Elves invade Leeds, and while they suffer some losses due to modern technology being unknown and unexpected to them (their military technology being based on magic), they do threaten the British heartland. As an attempt at defense, the Laundry activates the lethal autonomous weapon SCORPION STARE, an AI using cameras to project a lethal basilisk effect. SCORPION STARE ends up hitting cosplayers at an Animation Festival parade, while not hitting any Elves who have wisely detected and destroyed all cameras.

While the Elven invasion is in progress, Agent First (now going by Cassie) takes Alex to meet her father, the All-Highest. She reveals she was magically bound to take a magician to her father. Alex was supposed to be magically bound to Cassie's will, but because of Cassie's experience living Cassie's life, she has been turned against her superiors, and no longer wants to exterminate or enslave the entire human race.

After killing Cassie's evil stepmother, Cassie and Alex escape, and an airstrike is called. The All-Highest is killed by a Hellfire missile fired by a Reaper drone. This automatically transfers the title of All-Highest of the Elves to Cassie, with magic enforcing obedience. As planned with Alex, she immediately surrenders to the UK army, declares the Elves to be refugees who cannot go home for fear of their lives, and requests asylum under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006.

The Delirium Brief[edit]

The Delirium Brief
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLaundry Files
GenreScience fiction
PublisherOrbit
Publication date
2017
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages384
ISBN978-0765394668
Preceded byThe Nightmare Stacks 
Followed byThe Labyrinth Index 

The Delirium Brief is the eighth book in the Laundry Files series, and was released on 11 July 2017. The Delirium Brief is set about a month after The Nightmare Stacks Unlike Books 6 and 7, the narrative viewpoint shifts back to Bob Howard.[12] After the invasion of the Elves in which thousands of people perished, the existence of the Laundry has become public knowledge, and the agency faces a new threat, this time not supernatural but political; the Prime Minister uses the Laundry as a scapegoat and dissolves it, to be replaced with a public–private partnership. The mastermind behind this plan turns out to be an old antagonist from The Apocalypse Codex, Raymond Schiller, still trying to bring about the end of the world. The rump of the Laundry executes a coup in cooperation with the surviving cultists from The Fuller Memorandum, bringing Britain under the rule of Nyarlathotep as a lesser evil.

The Delirium Brief is published by Tor.[13] According to Stross, the book was somewhat delayed due to the Brexit referendum, as the pro-Brexit result required a large rewrite to reconcile the politics portrayed in the book with the real-world developments.[14]

The Labyrinth Index[edit]

The Labyrinth Index
AuthorCharles Stross
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
SeriesLaundry Files
GenreScience fiction
PublisherTor
Publication date
2018[15]
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages368
ISBN978-1250196088
Preceded byThe Delirium Brief 

The Labyrinth Index is the ninth book in the Laundry Files series, and was released on 30 October 2018.

Novellas, spin-offs, and related works[edit]

Stross's 2000 short story "A Colder War" also mixes elements of Lovecraft and espionage, and is perhaps a precursor to the Laundry stories; however, the fictional background and assumptions are different, and it is its own distinct setting (as the world is destroyed at the end of it, the Laundry series is clearly not a sequel).

Stross' short stories Down on the Farm, Overtime, and Equoid are within the same Laundry continuity. Down on the Farm and Equoid both take place between the second and third novels; Overtime takes place between the third and fourth novels.[16] Equoid won the 2014 Hugo Award for best novella, and Overtime was a shortlist nominee for the 2010 Hugo Award for best novelette.[17][18]

Cubicle 7 published The Laundry, a role-playing game based on the Laundry stories in July 2010.[19]

Stross published a short non-canonical work set in the Laundry Files universe on a fanfiction website, "The Howard/O'Brien Relate Counseling Session Transcripts – Part 1".[20]

Audiobook versions[edit]

Audiobook versions of the novels in the Laundry Files series have been narrated by Gideon Emery, Jack Hawkins[21] and Caroline Guthrie.[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Interview - Charlie's Diary". www.antipope.org.
  2. ^ "Spectrum SF #7". Spectrum. 2001. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b Stross, Charles. The Concrete Jungle Archived 29 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (Book)". Publishers Weekly. 251 (17): 46. 26 April 2004. ISSN 0000-0019.
  5. ^ Di Filippo, Paul (11 July 2004). "Other voices, other worlds and a dose of urban fantasy. By Paul Di Filippo". The Washington Post. p. BW10. Archived from the original on 3 October 2008. Retrieved 3 October 2008.
  6. ^ Stross, Charles. "Afterword: Inside the Fear Factory" in On Her Majesty's Occult Service. Science Fiction Book Club, 2007; pp. 245–257
  7. ^ "Charlie's Diary". Back Home (part 29). Retrieved 9 April 2014.
  8. ^ "2007 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 27 July 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Charles Stross Author Bio". Tor.com. 2012. Archived from the original on 21 October 2013.
  10. ^ Stross, Charles (3 March 2009). "Light Blogging Alert". Archived from the original on 17 March 2013. – "The Apocalypse Codex is going to be the Peter O'Donnell (Modesty Blaise) book. ... the series has acquired an identity and feel of its own ... From No. 5 onwards, I guess the pastiche element is going to take a back seat to the story arc."
  11. ^ "Kirkus review – The Rhesus Chart". Kirkus Reviews. 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  12. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane. "Charles Stross Reveals How His Laundry Files World Is About to Change Forever". io9. Gawker Media. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  13. ^ "Tor.com Acquires a New Laundry Files Novel by Charles Stross!". Tor Books. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  14. ^ "In other news ... - Charlie's Diary". www.antipope.org.
  15. ^ "Amazon.com: The Labyrinth Index (Laundry Files) eBook: Charles Stross: Kindle Store". www.amazon.com.
  16. ^ Stross, Charles. FAQ: The Laundry Files – series timeline
  17. ^ "2014 Hugo Awards". 18 April 2014.
  18. ^ "2010 Hugo Awards". 10 November 2010.
  19. ^ Stross, Charlie (10 March 2010). "For sale; first edition of the Necronomicon (used once)". Charlie's Diary. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  20. ^ Works, Organization for Transformative. "The Howard/O'Brien Relate Counseling Session Transcripts - Part 1 - Chapter 1 - cstross - The Laundry Files - Charles Stross [Archive of Our Own]". archiveofourown.org.
  21. ^ The Atrocity Archives Audiobook. Hachette Audio. ASIN B00DVDT6FI.
  22. ^ The Annihilation Score Audiobook. Hachette Audio. ASIN B01B22RAGG.

External links[edit]