Monday, July 14, 2014

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross review

    "Everybody knows vampires don't exist."

    I love the Laundry series, it's one of the most interesting urban fantasy works I've read. It's a unique combination of British spy fiction, computer lingo, and the Cthulhu Mythos. While I wasn't a big fan of The Jennifer Morgue, I've loved all of the novels before and since. I also am quite fond of the short-stories and novellas. So, when The Rhesus Chart came out, I was one of the first buyers.

    The premise of The Rhesus Chart is secret agent/computer geek Bob Howard discovers no one in the Laundry believes in vampires. This is strange given all of its members are well aware of three facts: 1. Monsters are real. 2. Magic is real. 3. Magic is capable of making anything real, especially monsters.

    I confess, I was initially rather put off by this premise. There is no end of vampire novels and the ones I like the most, such as the Dresden Files, barely deal with them. The Laundry has, by and large, dealt with the much less-well-developed concept of alien monsters. Could Charles Stross bring his special brand of oddity to the well-trodden path of vampire fiction?

    Kind of. Yeah.

    I say this because The Rhesus Chart does a lot of things differently about vampires. They burn up in the sun, need blood to survive, are immortal, and super-strong but this is about the only things they have going for them. For one, everyone they bite *dies* and they're the product of magic rather than the "traditional" method of turning. In this case, the vampires who appear to be the first of their kind are all modern investment bankers too.

    So not much has changed for their lifestyle (*rimshot*). Actually, I was surprised at how few jokes about the deplorable state of the banking industry was made by Charles Stross. Perhaps he thought it would be too easy of a joke to make. Either way, the vampires are some of the most hilarious parts of this book as we see them cope with an existence which is increasingly revealed to be dangerous to all mankind.

    The mixture of humor and pathos in this book is surprising. On the humor side, we have the whining babied executives and Bob Howard's struggle to be taken seriously as he tries to explain that, yes, vampires are real. There's an almost too-over-the-top moment where Bob is assigned to read the complete works of some of the past three decades best vampire fiction authors and write a report on them--which is great, except for the fact they're fictional while the real ones are next door. They even get the codename DRESDEN RICE.

    That's adorable.

    On the pathos side, we suffer some surprising deaths and the removal of a longstanding series element. There's also a tragic story about Mo's PTSD stemming from having to deal with the fact she's anti-capital punishment but forced to cooperate with governments who practice it frequently in order to deal with a supernatural problem. Which wouldn't be bad if not for her help resulting in potentially hundreds of more executions occurring.

    We also get the return of Bob's first girlfriend in the series: Mhari. I, for one, didn't welcome this change as the character was one-note and a stereotype at first. While she's broadened considerably, Mhari's still a shallow character. This is more than made up for by the fact the rest of the book is filled with conspiracy, plans within plans, and Bob being extremely competent at rooting out traitors.

    In conclusion,  I heartily approve of the latest addition to the Laundry franchise. I can't wait for the next book and look forward to reading it.


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