Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross review

    The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth novel in the projected nine-book the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross. This doesn't include the novellas and short-stories which he has been prone to writing and I have enjoyed tremendously. I wasn't a fan of The Jennifer Morgue but I was glad I gave the series another try.

    So what is the premise of The Apocalypse Codex?

    Bob Howard is recovering from the events of The Fuller Memorandum, having taken a serious hit to his sanity score in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying-game sense. He is still somewhat twitchy from the events of that book but has returned to normal enough that he's able to resume his duties. Fans of the Mo and Bob romance will also note their marriage has recovered off-screen, which I was rather disappointed by.

    Sorry, not a Mo fan.

    No sooner does Bob return to his job duties than he is recruited by a secret branch of the already uber-secret Laundry to do a mission which potentially compromises the entire org-chart. A Christian-themed Great Old Ones cult has compromised the Prime Minister and they need to bring in "outside contractors" to deal with them. Bob isn't allowed to involve himself on any mission where the PM may be compromised but he can monitor the contractors.

    Yes, this is as confusing to Bob as it is to you and me and that's the point. Actually, it was probably less confusing to me than Bob since I'm used to the belief the government does all sorts of duplicitous self-justifying things that disregard the rule of law in favor of raw power. Bob, despite working for the Laundry, seems to assume their rules actually mean something--probably because they're the last bastion of defense against Cthulhu.

    What follows is divided into two distinct parts which surprised me. The first is the book becomes a stinging satire on Dominionist Christianity. The second is that it becomes a Modesty Blaise pastiche which uses a magical version of the character and her partner to do a send-up of her. I'll comment on both but, as you can imagine, the former interests me far more than the latter.

    Dominionist Christianity is, for those unaware of the fine distinctions of religion, those branches of of my faith which believe everyone who isn't a Christian is going to Hell. This excludes, btw, branches of Christianity they don't like (typically Catholicism and Mormonism--I imagine it would contain more if Dominionist branches knew about the Eastern Orthodox Church). Dominionist Christianity typically believes Jesus is coming back very soon and that if they don't convert everyone in the world to their cause, this will be a tragedy of epic proportions.

    I do not hold with Dominionist theology (to say the least).

    Charles Stross gives the Dominionist branches of theology both barrels by explicitly comparing it to a cult of Cthulhu (or, technically, the Gatekeeper Great Old One introduced in previous books). Given I'm a proponent of the theory that H.P. Lovecraft created much of his mythos to satirize religion, I believe Charles Stross is following in well-trodden footsteps.

    Given some Dominionist branches actively look forward to the end of the world and believe in training their members for the coming in Armageddon, the satire feels especially biting. The scary thing is some of the main villain's doctrines and actions aren't that far from real-life branches of my faith I've met. Despite this, Charles Stross is not hostile to the religion as a whole. He makes a surprisingly sympathetic Vicar character who provides vital help against the forces threatening the world.

    The Modesty Blaise elements involve a Italian socialite/witch turned spy named Persephone and her partner Jonathan, who are transparently thin analogues for Modesty and Willie Gavin. The characters are delightfully effective and far more respectful than the Bond pastie of The Jennifer Morgue. I liked them both and hope they show up in future books as they draw a nice contrast against the IT-guy style spywork of Bob Howard.

    The plot moves at a brisk place and never becomes preachy. The book can be read as satire but also as a straight Lovecraftian cult versus investigators as well. The plot moves at a brisk pace and sets up a lot of future events for the series to capitalize later. The secrets revealed about the Laundry and how magic works are also intriguing. There's not much development in the Mo and Bob relationship but since they're married, I'm not sure how much there should be. I do miss her serving as a field agent, however.

    In conclusion, probably my favorite book in the Laundry series so far. I congratulate Charles Stross for winning me back fully.


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