Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Review: The Annihilation Score

The Annihilation Score
Charles Stross

This is the latest in the "Laundry Files" series. In case you're not familiar with it, Charles Stross had the clever idea of combining the two most paranoid genres in fiction--cosmic horror and espionage--and setting them in a realistic government agency (the eponymous Laundry). That is, the spies don't swan around Monaco in tuxes; they trudge around Whitehall filing expense reports and undergoing team-building exercises.

It is, as I said, a clever notion. Stross has used it to play with various genres and genre combinations, with an odd but winning combo of horror, humor, and genuine characterization. In this case, a marriage breaks down; a new government agency springs into being; and Britain suffers from an outbreak of superheroes. 

To be honest, I think Charles Stross missed a trick here. He sets up the book as a departure from his oeuvre, in two ways:

  1. In previous books, the Laundry has done its work invisibly, with any little incidents being explained away. In The Annihilation Score, the truth comes out with a bang. There's no longer any pretense that this could be a secret history of our world.
  2. Our usual protagonist, Bob Howard--former IT guy turned computational demonologist--is largely off-stage. The protagonist is Bob's wife Mo.
However, this setup doesn't actually change anything. Mo's narrative voice is largely indistinguishable from Bob's, and the plot and resolution are largely similar to several other books in the series. Don't get me wrong: The Annihilation Score is a fun read. It's just that the setup led me to expect more, and there is no more here.

If you liked the other "Laundry Files" books, you'll probably like The Annihilation Score. If you haven't tried them, don't start here; go back to the beginning.

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