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Charles Stross - The Annihilation ScoreThe Laundry Files series by Charles Stross has been a running concern since the release of The Atrocity Archives in 2004, it has progressed from its original blueprint of geeky humour mixed with Lovecraftian horror via the horror of Bureaucracies running Occult Secret Services trying to save the world from, err, the end of the world, to the current crop of stories which are rather darker, and are driving towards whatever the (presumably cataclysmic) conclusion of the series is. The series currently runs to 7 novels plus several short story/novella add-ins so far; The Annihilation Score, the topic of this review, is the 6th book (yes, I’m still one behind), and an 8th instalment, titled The Delirium Brief, is hitting the shops in July 2017. I better get reading…

The Annihilation Score is different to its predecessor in two main points - firstly it deals with Superheroes, instead of the usual more horror-based approach (the horror of Bureaucracies is still present, of course, with added politics), but secondly, and even more of a departure, the main protagonist relating the story is not Bob Howard this time, but his estranged wife Mo O’Brien instead. And, in keeping with this change, we get to hear the story not just of the current outbreak of Superhero powers in the UK (related to the the usual scenario of the walls between realities being eroded dangerously), but we also learn much much more about the relationship between Mo, and her magic violin, Lector. The fact that it has a name, a personality (yes, it’s self-aware), its own goals, needs, and drives, and a sex life (by invading Mo’s dreams…) make for a certain amount of uneasy reading - the sex is less pervy and quite a lot more creepy than it could have been; instead we get massive relationship and jealousy issues towards Bob, who now, with his mentor Angleton dead, is the earthly vessel for the Eater of Souls. Who in turn does not really like Mo, it appears.

“...and what must it be like, to be an alien spirit bound into an instrument carved from the agonised bones of dying men and women, immobile and helplessly dependent on a human host, hungry for experience and thirsty for blood…”


Charles Stross, the author of the above (and much more) is an adoptive Scot with a background in Pharmacy, Computer Science, and Journalism, and has been a mainstay of the UK Science Fiction scene for over a decade now. If you have not come across him before then let me tell you that I think he’s a very entertaining writer, a mercurial presence at conventions both on formal panels and in the bar, and an incisive, opinionated, and frequently painfully realistic voice on his blog, antipope.org.
And yes, if you’re new to Charlie, or this series - whilst you could start with this book as it’s a bit of a departure and it provides some background data dumps and explanation I would strongly suggest you don’t. Either start at the beginning of the series, with The Atrocity Archives and work your way through a very entertaining and rewarding body of work; or start in the middle with The Rhesus Chart, which was conceived as a realistic jumping-on point for those who cannot be bothered.

The story picks up straight from the end of The Rhesus Chart - we get the last few scenes, from Mo’s point of view (yes, there’s additional information in that, quite a bit thereof), and we’re off. Charlie had me at the very beginning, when the Laundry begets Operation Incorrigibles (I take that as an unintended personal compliment…), and puts Mo in charge of the Transhuman Policy Coordination Unit (designed as the official response to the mass outbreak of Superpowers) as she blows her cover during a farcical operation on Trafalgar square (it involves a near-naked Boris on the 4th Plinth. Trigger warning, I guess.)
It is interesting that, whilst Boris is being named, the other politician featuring prominently seems to have a pseudonym (note that this was published in 2015…):

“Jessica Greene, the Home Secretary, Lady High Executioner, and pin-up girl for the hanging’s-too-good-for-them electoral demographic…”

“...under the weight of the Home Secretary’s unblinking medusoid stare. This is a woman who models herself on Margaret Thatcher, only without the warmth and compassion.”

“...she is actually smiling, although I’ve seen a warmer expression on a rattlesnake at the zoo.”

Otherwise we get a lot of facing off - we get Mo vs Ramona, the Femme Fatale and Secret Agent who is turning into a Deep One, from the James Bond pastiche The Jennifer Morgue. We get Mo vs Mhari, the Vampire Bitch (Mo’s term) from HR and Bob’s ex who left him with plenty of neuroses in regards to females. If there were any more sparks flying then the book would be smoldering…

We still get the heavy foreshadowing we saw in earlier books, both at the beginning but also throughout the book. And I mean not just hinting, but giving away major plot points and outcomes, at least partially.
There are also a number of asterisks dotted around the text, and they are very much worth following up. Douglas Adams had his diversional humourous ellipses at the bottom of the page, Charlie sticks his at the back.

“...an oddly formal steam-powered dialect of air traffic control jargon…” (that's TfL operations)

In summary this is a classic action tale, with events always being ahead of the protagonists. There is never time to get organised, plan, or take a structural approach…   it can actually get quite wearing, and not only for the characters.
A book for Stross fans, or for Superhero afficionados (the book is littered with  like references and unexpected reversals of known positions, as you’d expect).


More Charles Stross

Title: The Annihilation Score
Series: Laundry Files
Series Number: 6
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Ace Books
Publisher URL: http://www.penguin.com
Publication Date: July 2015
Review Date: 170108
ISBN:9780698195257
Pages: 392
Format: ePub
Topic: Superheroes
Topic: Bureaucracy

 

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Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

 

Peter Watts – Maelstrom

 

Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness

 

S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City

 

Lavie Tidhar - Central Station

 

Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow

 

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Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments

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