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.
Good, having got this out of the way, back to the book at hand. It is, yet again, conceived as a memoir, or maybe rather a report to assist with retaining operational memory in case Bob is not as lucky with his next assignment as he was so far. It is classified, of course. We don't get the juicy morsels, we are told. Unless we come back with the right clearance...
I found that the book had a very slow start indeed. It's not even that it wasn't interesting or entertaining, but the setup lasted, at least in parts, more or less halfway into the book before any kind of action kicked off to propel the story forward. The only real exception to this is a sequent introducing Persephone and Johnny. But, as all that faffing about is laces with interesting background, punnery, geekery, and general smart-arsery this is not all bad, not at all. Still...
I also felt that Charlie had clearly taken a leaf out of Harry Connolly's book – the mind parasites, isolated location, deeply scary parallel dimensions, and Bob blundering about whilst others do the 'real' work could very much be one of his 20 Palaces stories.
Overall I felt that the book is somewhat grimmer, darker than the earlier instalments. There is less innocent fun, and much more of a purpose, an overall story arc coming to the fore (whereas some of the developments in the earlier books felt purely incidental). We now know where we're going, and it ain't pretty – the end of times is approaching, and the Elder Gods will return: “We fight until we go down. Fighting. Then we fight some more”. Charming...
He is also much harder on his protagonists, something we've already seen in The Fuller Memorandum, and which continues here – the are taking damage. Lasting one.
On the other hand Mo is not involved this time except as Bob's significant other when he sets off. But we get yet another, this time bigger dig a Religion. It's the American Mega-Churches this time, not some misguided cabal of cultists. Still, again, they are a front for something even more sinister than what they claim to be (and the feeling that Charlie has an axe to grind is very real, and very realistic I reckon).
Should you read this book? Well, if you're a fan of the Laundry files then the answer is unreservedly yet. If you're not, but the topic sounds interesting then I'd suggest that you start at the beginning, and not here, despite the author's effort to make this (at least moderately) feasible.
Title: The Apocalypse Codex
Author: Charles Stross
Series: Laundry Files
Series Number: 4
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.net
Publication Date: 2012
Review Date: 150820
Price: UKP 9.9
Topic: Computational Demonology