It’s onlyÂ a few days after the announcement of this year’s Locus Awards finalists, and something interesting has fallen through the mailbox. Earlier this year there was some talk about a Dutch edition of The Locus Awards, and I just received my contributor’s copy. I know copies are making their way out to all of the contributors via the good folk at HarperCollins, and other business stuff will get there soon too, but the main thing is the book exists! How weird and cool that I did some onder redactie-ing on De Locus Awards, which includes 30 jaar van de beste science fiction en fantasyverhalen. Who knew?
Charles Stross made his first attempt at combining the worlds of spy fiction and Lovecraft in “A Colder War”, one of his first major short stories. He cranked things up a notch when he debuted The Atrocity Archive in the pages of Spectrum SF in 2001. It told the story of Bob Howard, a slash-dot reading hacker geek who makes exactly the wrong connections and is sucked down the rabbit hole into the world of the Laundry, a British government agency charged with keeping the British Isles safe from the scum of the multiverse. Having already become familiar with the world of applied hacking, Bob adds demonology to his range of skills, comes face to face with Lovecraft’s Old Ones, and adapts to working for an agency which finds it just as useful to know what to do with a hand of glory as how to achieve ISO-900 compliance.
The Atrocity Archive was expanded and republished in 2004 as The Atrocity Archives, along with a new story, “The Concrete Jungle” which continued Howard’s adventures withe Laundry, and went on to win the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Stross has often said, though, that The Atrocity Archives would be the first in a series of novels, each a homage to a different spy thriller novelist. Where The Atrocity Archive paid tribute to the work of Len Deighton, Stross mentioned The Jennifer Library and The Nightmare Stacks, which would be homages to Ian Fleming and Christopher Hodder-Williams respectively.
Well, several years have passed and the title has morphed into The Jennifer Morgue, but the Fleming pastiche is here, and it’s both one of the most enjoyable novels of the year and one of Stross’s most complete works to date. The book opens with a failed attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine, involves raising an eldritch horror code-named â€˜The Jennifer Morgueâ€™ from the deep sea floor, an inevitable trip to the Caribbean, a terrible villain and a bevy of beauties. Stross carefully takes his demonology hacker, Howard, has him become entangled with an agent from the Black Chamber (the US equivalent of the Laundry), and then steps carefully through all of the archetypes of a classic Bond adventure without ever becoming predictable. The resolution is as perfect as it is unexpected.
To be honest, Iâ€™d doubted whether Stross could effectively extend the gag that underlay The Atrocity Archives. In the end, heâ€™s done much more than that. Heâ€™s raised the stakes, taking his story well beyond any kind of â€œgagâ€, both incorporating and transcending his material in one of the most enjoyable novels I expect to read for a while. Kudos to publisher Golden Gryphon as well. While the bonus story that comes with The Jennifer Morgue isnâ€™t quite up to the same standard as â€œThe Concrete Jungleâ€, itâ€™s still good, and the cover is a corker. It wonâ€™t be out till November, but be sure to get your order in early. The Jennifer Morgue is the first essential book of 2006 and the Golden Gryphon edition is pretty much perfect.