Why, welcome to my on-going Stross catch-up. Charles Stross is an adoptive Scot, the award-winning author of several series, and a hugely entertaining presence at conventions, both at panel discussions and at the bar. The Laundry Files, of which The Apocalypse Codex is the 4th instalment, is a heady mix of IT-geeky in-jokes (Charlie has a background, you see), British-style secret service capers, and the horrors of bureaucracy. And, or course, the horrors from beyond the ever-thinning wall of what we consider reality. Trust me, it's good stuff if your taste (and your humour) run in these directions.
The story kicks off shortly after where the Fuller Memorandum left off – Bob Howard gets a little time to recover and mend his damaged body and badly messed-with brain, and then, whilst still on 'light duty' (ie mainly paperwork) is sent off on Civil Service management training (will the horrors never end? How did he deserve this?). But of course things don't stay put – the end of the world is approaching, as we all know (the Laundry calls it CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN), and when Angleton, his boss, asks him 'to keep an eye on some departmental assets that are going walkabout' he says yes. Big mistake, as is obvious (never volunteer!), and so Bob is loaned out to Gerry Lockhart from Externalities (not a department Bob was aware of previously), and is put in charge of observing the work of two external contractors (which the Laundry, by its very nature, doesn't have) who are investigating a very convincing American mega-church/??? preacher who is getting his claws into the British PM. The external consultants are known as Persephone Hazard (a Modesty Blaise – style tuckerisation of, er Persephone Hazard!) and her sidekick Johnny McTavish, who is not entirely human. But Bob has his technological approach to computational demonology, and of course his new skills which he, unwillingly, acquired during the last book.
If none of the above makes any sense then I presume you haven't read any of Charles Stross' Laundry Files books. Now, there is a potted roll-up of the background early on in the book, plus a number of generic info dumps which will bring you up to speed. I don't see why you would want to start with this book, though, even as you could. The series is seriously entertaining, and I would suggest you'd start at the beginning, with The Atrocity Archive.
It's the first story I can remember written around 3 cups of Chinese Tea, one type each per cup!
It is set in her Xuya universe, in this case in the 22nd Century, discussing the death of a researcher into how to provide the food supply for the civilisation on space ships and stations, and the grieving by her children, and official (who should have received her memory implants, but didn't for political reasons), and the mindship The Tiger in the Banyan.
It was published (and can be read online) in Clarkesworld, and is also available as a Podcast; and it is nominated for the 2015 BSFA awards.
S.P. Somtow (a pseudonym for Somtow Sucharitkul) is one of Thailand's most fascinating and prolific exports – after distinguished careers abroad in music, then literature (he is an award-winning SF, Fantasy, and Horror author) he is now back in Thailand, writing and staging operas (his latest project is a 10-Opera cycle based on the 10 lives of the Buddha) in-between touring the world with his Siam Sinfonetta youth orchestra. Oh, and writing books again, too, like the one here. He has published 53 books (his count) and 6 libretti (these are 2013 figures. I'm sure he has added to that since...).
Bible Stories for Secular Humanists is a topical collection, containing a bunch of religious or religion-based stories, with a rather different interpretation or spin on them. Quite some of them contain horror elements – it seems that religion and horror are easy bedfellows. I leave the argumentation (and this book can lead to endless arguments I daresay!) to the reader...
The collection starts with an essay, nay, a column from Iniquities Magazine, called 'Theology for Secular Humanists' (you see where the inspiration for the title/collection came from); the rest of the book is structured into parts labeled Genesis, Protoevangelion, Passion, Acts, Judgment, Apocalypse, Apocrypha, Genesis. Most of those contain one story, a few contain two. Each story comes with a short introduction by the author, telling us something of the background to it – some of these are tantalising, some are fascinating, and some are little stories of their own... The opening essay develops the idea that horror fiction is deeply religious, besides being about sex and death (er, and most religion is about - ?). It's a mighty triumvirate, that, I reckon.
Below is a run-through of the individual stories – if this bothers you then stop reading here – all I can tell you is that this is entertaining, in large parts thought-provoking, and a great read for everyone with an interest in religion-based fiction, regardless of how religious you are. And if you're the religious type who's looking to be offended then you've come to the right place, too...
I only picked this book up by chance, having thought that I had read all books by Iain M. Banks (the SF writer incarnation of the late writer) – until I saw this copy of Transition. I have meanwhile learned that, in most places, most editions of this book were published under Iain Banks (the mainstream novelist incarnation); except an American PB edition (which is what I have), and, I think, a French edition, too.
I guess you can rate the book as one or the other list – and I don’t think Iain had any problem with that either.
So, depending on how you look at it, either we have here a rather splendid story with secret organisation, working across the many worlds of a multiverse, with political machinations, and surprising twists and turns. Or, alternatively, we have a clever comment on the US, on rendition and forced information extraction, the legality thereof, and, as some people have pointed out, imperialism. Or maybe, if you dare, you have both. Which is rather grand, if you ask me.
Either way, the book begins with someone claiming to be an 'unreliable narrator', giving us a number of beginnings, and an ending (he gets killed), just for good measure. Thereon we follow multiple threads, all told through the eyes of the respective protagonist – some direct action descriptions, but mostly reflective, introspective, plus some confessionals; all of them under the title, er, label of the protagonist in question (Patient 8262, hiding away, biding his time. The Philosopher – ex army and police 'interrogator', now working for the Concern. The Transitioner – adept at travelling between the different worlds, and mostly working as an interdimensional assassin now. Plus some more, some of them named).
I have no idea how this short piece by Douglas R. Hofstadter, one of my heroes (as much as he does my head in at times), managed to pass me by for such a long time. I blame my friends and fellow bloggers for failing to point this out to me ...
Douglas uses an analogy which as simple as it is shocking - he talks about our uses of sexist language, and on his struggle to change his own usage, by writing an analogy in the language of racism, which for most of us (there's sadly some Neatherthals left, still) is an absolute no-no.
Of course, this being Hofstadter, this is not a straight switch, but with some clever observations of language as well as invented by very believable parables thrown in, and a brief afterword talking about his motivations for the piece as well as his own struggles with the topic.
Yes, I've spoiled your surprise, now; but not your enjoyment of Hofstadter's fine writing. Go read it, and then pass it on.
Tricia Sullivan is a US-born novelist now living in the UK. ISFDB lists 12 books for her (some were written under a pseudonym), she herself lists 8 of them as SF on her site. She has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and has been nominated for a number of others (and twice more for the Clarke), but, according to her blog, this critical success has not always translated into sales figures. I would hope that her latest offering, Occupy Me, can change this. Yes, the market is fickle, but the book tells a cracking tale that's hard to pigeonhole, told in a convincing and absorbing manner. I find it genuinely hard to classify this story, and have to say that, in this case, this is A Good Thing.
Occupy Me contains an Angel called Pearl, with wings hidden in another dimension, working as a stewardess – Angels have empathic abilities, and can thus affect humans and animals; and Pearl is a pathological sucker for fixing things and smoothing over issues. It features a doctor, Kisi Sorle, saved from death as boy by the oil company killing his homeland and its inhabitants, who now looks after the dying former CEO of said oil company. Who he skimmed from whilst Austen Stevens skimmed from his company. And Kisi has an evil twin, a Hyde to his Dr Jekyll, so to say – who can inhabit him (ok, ok, occupy him) and do things mild-mannered Kisi would never do. Pearl is missing part of herself (her 'launcher' she calls it) and is thus stranded in this odd corner of space-time, and is generally unclear of what she is or what she should be doing: “There's so much I haven't figured out yet, and most of it is myself”