Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross review

    I'm a huge fan of Charles Stross' Laundry Files series. I'm also a critic of it. When it's good, like The Apocalypse Codex, it's very-very good. When it's bad, The Jennifer Morgue, it's really bad. Don't hate me Charlie, it's just my opinion. Here? It's kind of weird because the really-really good parts are on display right next to the parts I found troublesome. I had to check myself, as well, because I needed to separate what was upsetting characterization from what is bad writing. Which is to say that the characters do actions which are upsetting to me but, which, are perfectly well-written. As a reader, I am merely an observer after all and need to accept the show is not always going to go the way I want it to.

    So, where was I? Oh yes, this is a very well-written novel. It's also got a premise I don't think jives with the Laundryverse as has been established. Also, Mo is a terrible person. She's a great lead, though! I happen to really dislike her as a character but I enjoyed reading about her. The former shouldn't make a difference in my score but it does because she's being a terrible person to the protagonist of the previous books.
    The premise is the saturation of the world with magic by CASE: NIGHTMARE GREEN (the rise of the Great Old Ones) has resulted in people spontaneously developing superpowers across the world. A minority of these people have decided to put on costumes and become superheroes. This, of course, necessitates a cover-up by the Laundry as they create an artificial Superman Crime Department for Dominque "Mo" O'Brien to head up.

    Joining her is Bob's ex-girlfriend Mhari and his brief love-interest Ramona. Mo is not in the best position to be doing this start-up as she is struggling with her control over the White Violin, which she named Lecter, that is attempting to seduce her both mentally as well as physically into becoming its prey.
    First, the positives. This is a delightfully off-beat premise for a story and the unromantic way which Charles Stross handles superheroes is entertaining even if it hits on the same problems which made me dislike the Jennifer Morgue. Which is, to say, that I like superheroes much the same way I like James Bond and he spends much of the book making fun of them. Still, a lot of what he touches on like the silly costumes for women and inherent right-wing fantasy elements are things I've often complained about myself.
    As for Mo as the viewpoint character? She is a well-developed three-dimensional character with a lot of hidden depths. Mo's also extremely self-absorbed, shallow, and selfish. It's rather striking given the amount of puppy-dog devotion Bob Howard shows her in previous entries that Mo doesn't reciprocate. She seems to vaguely hold her husband in contempt, constantly criticizing him and missing his deep personal trauma.

    Mo focuses entirely on whether she's getting emotional satisfaction from their marriage and wonders whether or not its salvageable based on the benefits it derives to her. Bob's recent losses both emotional and personal are kind of ignored in favor of her career issues. Speaking as a married man, this is rather horrifying. To be fair, this isn't bad writing. It's just a sharp contrast with Bob's concern about Mo's own emotional health.

    The choice to start dating while they're not formally separated is minor compared to the general callousness, in my humble opinion.

    I'm a big fan of tying the White Violin to the King in Yellow, Carcosa, and True Detective. I admit, though, it's kind of weird to have a world where the latter is on television while Doctor Mabuse is a real person. I enjoyed the homage to the movie Labyrinth which the White Violin conjures in Mo's dreams even if I felt their encounters had more than a whiff of sexual assault about them. Thankfully, this element is downplayed. The supporting cast in this book is excellent with Mhari, Ramona, Officer Friendly, and others all being excellent.
    In conclusion, this is a well-written book but an uncomfortable one and my second least favorite Laundry Files volume.

    I'm still picking up the next.


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