(2010) Charles Stross, Orbit, £7.99, pbk, 354pp, ISBN 978-1-841-49770-9
Bob Howard is an overworked and underpaid IT specialist working in the British civil service. Only the think is that the part of the civil service for whom he works is 'The Laundry', a covert department. The problem is that there is a mole in the department who has to be identified if the Laundry is to be secure. All well and good, except this covert department does not deal with spies but Lovecraftian-style paranormal entities from other dimensions!
Now before we go any further, let me make it clear that Stross' paranormal is more science fiction based than fantasy: there is a raison d'être to the way things are and so our traditional view of the occult is one akin to how a medieval culture might perceive 21st century scientific understanding and technology. And so Britain, for example, has a squadron flying across a plain in another dimension to keep an eye out for changes that might be a threat to us on Earth. Then there are the counterpart espionage agencies from other countries, such as Russia, that do similar work as The Laundry.
Matters for Bob take a bad turn one day when: his wife (another agent) gets attacked by a zombie; his boss goes missing; and it transpires so does a top secret document called 'The Fuller Memorandum'. With Bob in the centre of it all, his day can hardly get worse…
Though drawing on Harry Palmer and Lovecraft in equal measure, the SFnal underpinning adds a refreshing spin. Furthermore the grit of the Palmer-like espionage world and the horror of the Lovecraftian elements, balance the dry, accidental happy-go-lucky humour imbued by the novel. I say 'accidental' for the book is meant to be Bob's official secret diary to be written up in the event of his death so that Bob's experience can benefit those from the Laundry who will carry on with defending our nation and worldly existence: Bob's humour is unintentional and a coping device that enables him to retain his sanity given the things he witnesses and has to do at work.
So what Stross has given us is a romp of a fantastical comedy thriller.
I should also point out that there are a couple of previous novels in Stross' 'Laundry' series but you do not have to read these first to enjoy The Fuller Memorandum: you can trust me on this for I have not read these other titles but thoroughly enjoyed this one without getting lost. The other titles are The Atrocity Archives (which has sometimes been published with the novella called 'The Concrete Jungle' (that explains how Milton Keynes got its concrete cows) and The Jennifer Morgue.
As for The Fuller Memorandum, rip-roaring fun.
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