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23154785What’s it all about?

The Annihilation Score is Book 6 in Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series, so probably¬†not a good place for new readers to start, but very exciting for old hands like me ūüôā

This time around the focus is on Mo O’Brien, an agent for the Laundry, which is the secret government agency which deals with occult powers and the threats they present. Mo has a very special set of skills alongside wielding a bloodthirsty possessed violin as her main weapon.

Ordinary people are developing superpowers and the Laundry needs to work with the mainstream police force to contain the potential threat. Of course it’s not as simple as that and there are consequences (with a capital C).

Why did I want to read it?

I have been reading this series since it started and enjoy watching the characters develop and the shift in tone as different threats are dealt with; everything from megalomaniacs wanting to take over the world, Lovecraftian entities from other dimensions, underwater beings and, of course, vampires. Wouldn’t miss new entries in the series¬†for the world.

What did I think about it?

I really enjoyed this entry in the series, with its shift in focus away from Bob, our normal protagonist, to his wife Mo. The story stands or falls on whether you like Mo as a character or not and I do. I¬†particularly¬†liked the fact that a significant number of the leading characters in the story are women, and that they aren’t spending all of their time snarking at each other, but find a way to work together despite tensions in their working and personal relationships.

But the great joy in this series for an old civil servant like me is the accuracy of the bureaucracy¬†that always arises when different bits of the public sector have to work with each other more closely than they would like, and the jockeying for position and advantage that results. Setting aside the whole occult thing (obviously) some of the situations will be recognisable to anyone who has worked in an office environment, especially¬†within government.¬†Gives an added depth to what’s already a good story.

I already have book seven in the stacks, and book eight has been pre-ordered, so more Laundry shenanigans to come.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 4.47.12 PMWhat did I say I was going to do?

As I said in my sign up post, I am aiming to be a Brave Reader, which means reading 6-10 books during the course of the year.

How am I doing?

Really well actually! I have read and reviewed the following (assisted by signing up for the King’s March challenge so this is a bit heavy on Mr K’s work):

Short stories (individual and collections)

Novels

  • The Death House¬†by Sarah Pinborough – some might not call this horror but I thought it dealt with some very dark issues and it had huge impact on me
  • Revival¬†by Stephen King – King meets Lovecraft
  • Carrie¬†by Stephen King – where it all began, an important re-read for me
  • Cell¬†by Stephen King – King meets (sort-of) zombies

Series

I have been reading the Laundry Files novels by Charles Stross for several years and have now (almost) caught up. Many people consider these sci-fi but all the Lovecraftian stuff puts them firmly in horror for me.

So not bad at all. I really didn’t expect to do so well so early but that King challenge came along at the right time ūüôā

19196719What’s it all about?

Well, according to King’s own official website, Revival is

a dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism and what might exist on the other side

Jamie Morton is a small boy in New England when he meets the Rev Charles Jacobs who, with his wife Patsy and little boy Morrie, becomes an influence for good in the town. Well, at least until the dreadful accident that robs him of his family and possibly his faith. After the day of the Terrible Sermon he is driven out of town and when he and Jamie meet again the former is using his deep interest on electricity¬†to earn a living on the carny circuit and the latter is a musician and heroin addict. Jacobs uses his knowledge to cure Jamie and from that point on the two are intertwined, right to the very end when Jacobs’ obsession takes it’s final form.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve been reading and enjoying King’s works for *gulp* nearly 40 years. I haven’t read everything he’s written (not yet at least) but I always look forward to anything he publishes and he has never really let me down (not even with The Tommyknockers or Dreamcatcher, both flawed but still interesting). And the hints before publication and in early reviews that there was a Lovecraftian element to this book was just an added bonus. Two of my earliest horror influences coming together sounded just the ticket.

What did I think of it?

This was exactly what I needed to read during a stressful week where I was working flat-out, running an almost constant headache and not sleeping terribly well. For a couple of days as soon as work was over I was able to lose myself in the life of Jamie Morton, a flawed but basically decent person who has gone through some tough times and his interest in the man whom he has admired since he was a small boy and who was instrumental in helping him both kick his addiction and find a career. But Jamie always knew things weren’t quite right (‘Something Happened’) and over time he realises that he will have to confront Jacobs. And of course that’s when the nature of the older man’s obsession becomes clear and things get very weird indeed.

I thought this was great. I really liked Jamie which is essential if you are going to enjoy this book as it is told entirely¬†in the first person. And it really doesn’t read like a horror¬†novel until the last section, though there is a growing sense of foreboding and not-rightness (which isn’t a word but the best way to describe it I think). The Lovecraftian elements are pretty subtle until the end, and of course there are Repercussions; one of the things I’ve always liked about King is that there are always consequences and sometimes (most times) the good guys don’t get away unscathed.

King himself mentions that¬†The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen¬†(which I haven’t read¬†for years) was a major influence on Revival.

It’s not King’s¬†scariest novel by any means but it’s a strong story with disturbing elements. I really liked it¬†and definitely recommend it.

IMG_0218What’s it all about?

The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth in the series of novels set in The Laundry, the really really secret bit of the British Civil Service that deals with nasties from other dimensions, the Old Ones and their ilk.

This time Bob Howard, our hero, is contending with, well, the impending Apocalypse. Specifically, an attempt to awaken Something from Another Dimension (capitals always seem necessary here) which Bob has come across before, mostly in his dreams nightmares.

This time round he has the “help” of two external assets – Persephone Hazard (who is basically a witch) and Jonny McTavish (who has form with the kind of cultish religion involved here).

Oh and they are in Colorado dodging the local equivalent of the Laundry (amongst other things).

Why did I want to read it?

As I’ve said before I’m working my way through the series in order (as is only right and proper). Thoughts on¬†The Atrocity Archives,¬†The Jennifer Morgue¬†and The Fuller Memorandum have already been shared as linked.

What did I think of it?

I don’t know whether it’s because I read this so close to finishing the previous volume (and that’s why I usually take longish breaks between elements of a series) but it took me a bit¬†longer to get into The Apocalypse Codex than normal, and the use of a greater amount of third person narrative (as opposed to us mostly seeing the action through Bob’s perspective) might not have helped. But once the Big Bad was identified and the action got under way then I was sucked in as per usual. The main new characters this time round were Jonny and Persephone (as mentioned above) and Gordon Lockhart, a senior manager in the Laundry who looks after External Assets. So lots of new people and consequently not enough Mo or Angleton for my taste but once we are in the USA dealing with a completely bonkers evangelical church with a charismatic leader and a plan to bring forward the end of the world and save us all whether we want to be saved or not then those reservations all passed.

Of course the bad guys are (partially) unwitting dupes of something other¬†than they expect, and of course the new guys underestimate Bob’s talents and skills because he looks like a boring civil servant, and of course it all goes a bit pear-shaped and they have to make it up as they go along, but the end of the world is diverted once again, we learn a lot more about the internal workings of the Laundry and things change for Bob, probably in a good way but we’ll wait and see.

I am still really enjoying this series and have one novel and three short stories to go to catch up, but may give myself a break for a bitto keep it all fresh. But as always, recommended if Lovecraftian-related administrative shenanigans are your bag.

IMG_0214What’s it all about?

The Fuller Memorandum is the third in the series of novels set in The Laundry, the really really secret bit of the British Civil Service that deals with nasties from other dimensions, the Old Ones and their ilk.

This time Bob Howard, our hero, is contending with secret dossiers, the odder-than-usual behaviour of his scary boss Angleton, zombie killers, Russian counterparts, apocalyptic death cults and the end of the world being a bit more imminent than originally thought. But at least he has an understanding manager.

Why did I want to read it?

I’m working my way through the series in order (as is only right and proper). Thoughts on The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue have already been shared as linked. And it’s¬†paranormal-civil-servanty-espionage after all.

What did I think of it?

I think this is probably my favourite of the Laundry Files so far. Bob has a bit of a problem at the beginning of the book which means that he isn’t working as normal when all the oddness starts happening, so that adds a slightly different perspective as he has to do quite a bit of sneaking around.

But what makes this a particularly fine entry into the series is that we lean more about Mo, Bob’s wife, who also works at the Laundry, and the toll that her duties take on her (she sees some really really nasty stuff as part of her day job) as well as finding out quite a bit about Angleton (one of my favourite characters), information that serves to explain a lot about his position int he organisation.

Chuck in some authentic Russian history with an occult twist, a very unpleasant cult who are actually dying (in more ways than one) to get those other-dimensional through to our side to wreak havoc on the world, season with really black humour and some proper horror and you have a gripping story that I couldn’t put down. Made all the better for an old civil servant like me because of¬†all the bureaucratic nonsense, which is not that far from the truth (except for the zombies of course). Looking forward to continuing with the series.

IMG_0213What’s it all about?

North American Lake Monsters is a collection of horror stories set in the modern USA. I described it in my reading notes as

horror at the periphery of everyday lives of working people, mostly men

The description I’ve seen elsewhere (and not until after I’d finished the book) is

In this striking, bleak yet luminous debut collection, Nathan Ballingrud, winner of the inaugural Shirley Jackson Award, uses the trappings of the Gothic and the uncanny to investigate a distinctly American landscape: the loneliest and darkest corners of contemporary life.

So better put but fairly similar *phew*

Why did I want to read it?

I had come across a couple of Ballingrud’s stories in other collections and want to give his wider work a try. I hadn’t realised how many awards he had been nominated for until I got my hands on the volume (though nominations or award wins¬†don’t always affect whether I want to read something).

What did I think of it?

Hmm.¬†This was really a bit of¬†a mixed bag. It contained the two stories I had read elsewhere, one of which didn’t stand up to a second read; the other,¬†The Crevasse, was wonderfully¬†Lovecraftian¬†in its Antarctic setting and I enjoyed it just as much this time around. As for the others, I could appreciate the skill but they just didn’t connect with me; perhaps they were just too bleak (not that I mind bleak usually, but there was no relief at all here that I could see), and *whispers* too masculine for me. That’s not something I think I would have noticed if I’d come across any of these stories mixed in with the work of others, but it just leapt out at me reading them in a single volume.

Glad I gave it a shot but I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking out any more of his work.

I read this as part of the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge.

IMG_0209Whats it all about?

The Wide Carnivorous Sky (subtitle and Other Monstrous Geographies) is a collection of nine modern horror stories.

Why did I want to read it?

I came across the work of John Langan through the annual best of horror anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow where his stories stuck out as something exceptional. I wanted to read more and got a hold of this collection as a good starting point. He is clearly highly regarded by his peers.

What did I think about it?

I really enjoyed this collection which nicely covers the full range of horror themes. Cannibalistic children? Check. Zombie apocalypse in the style of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town? Check. Werewolf-type things? Check. Unspeakable Lovecraftian entities breaking into our world and creating havoc? Why yes. Reasons why you shouldn’t hitch-hike? Indeed.

Particular favourites were

  • Technicolor – what was Poe up to in his lost week, what’s the Masque of the Red Death about,¬†why you should really pay attention in your English Lit class
  • The Wide Carnivorous Sky – space vampires meet USA’s finest but not in a good way; assuming there is in fact a good way….

and my absolute favourite in the collection

  • Mother of Stone –¬†the story of an academic investigating what appears to be an urban legend of about the events that follow the digging up and installation in a local hotel of a statue of headless pregnant woman, taking in myths, ancient religions, all manner of Fortean stuff and turning it into a disturbing tale of what happens when you don’t leave something well enough alone.

The collection also includes an introduction by Jeffery Ford and an afterword by Laird Barron, as well as notes on the stories by the author himself (I love author’s notes and aways read them where they are included) which give some insight into the genesis of the stories and what he was trying to achieve.

I’m pleased that my initial feelings about Langan’s work have been reinforced by the stories in this¬†book, and I’ll definitely be looking out for more.

I read this as part of the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge. I also learned that I have real problems typing the word “carnivorous”.

13603362What’s it all about?

Shoggoths in Bloom is a collection of shorter fiction by Elizabeth Bear, must-award winning sci-fi and fantasy author. Includes a couple of tales that bagged her one or two Hugos.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read some of her work before in anthologies and her stories have always stuck out for me (she was probably my favourite from the¬†recent Lovecraft themed collection which I read and reviewed here), particularly as she often writes tales related to the Cthulu mythos. So I wanted to get to know her work better.

Plus I loved the cover.

And the title.

What did I think of it?

A really strong collection showcasing the variety of her work. If I’m honest I was a tiny wee bit disappointed in the title story, which was good but not great IMHO. But there wasn’t a bad story in here and my particular favourites were:

  • Tideline – one of the Hugo winners, very moving. Loved Chalcedony.
  • In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns – a murder mystery in¬†a futuristic India, with one of the characters being a genetically manufactured hyacinth parrot-cat
  • Cryptic Coloration – dealing with mythical beasties in the real world
  • Confessor – what’s really going on in that hidden lab up that mountain trail?

There are some themes that Bear is clearly interested in, mythical creatures and genetic modifications but two. I like¬†the¬†fact that she writes well across a range of genres and she is a genuine pleasure to read. I’ve already got my hands on more of her stories. Recommended.

t8714Lovecraft Unbound is one of the books I flagged up in my series of Spring Cleaning posts earlier in the year (back in April I think) where I tackled the huge started but not finished pile; and was one of the titles I thought I would definitely go back to; I finally got round to picking it up again this weekend.

What’s it all about and why did I want to read it?

[…] twenty-two of today’s most respected writers of the fantastic present their visions of HP Lovecraft’s world and creations.

What did I think of it?

Like all anthologies it was patchy but the good ones were very good indeed. Some of the Lovecraftian-ness was tenuous but there were enough set in Antarctic wastes and Tibetan planes as well as ancient horrors in modern life to make it worthwhile.

Highlights for me:

  • Cold Water Survival by Holly Phillips (one of the icy ones)
  • In the Black Mill by Michael Chabon (though I spotted early on what the “secret” was but¬†I’m not sure he was trying to hide it that hard)
  • Commencement by Joyce Carol Oates (because, well, it’s JCO, one of my heroes)
  • Mongoose by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear – probably my favourite

There is a companion volume called Lovecraft’s Monsters which has mysteriously found its way onto my Kindle app and I’m sure I’ll dip into that shortly because *whispers* Neil Gaiman’s in it, if for no other reason ūüôā

Update: and in tagging this post for publication I realise that I had already written about the first five stories as part of RIP VI back in 2011, which you can read here if you so desire!

IMG_0169What’s it all about?

The Jennifer Morgue is the second in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series, where espionage, the joy of the civil service and Cthulhu-adjacent occult matters all meet. In this case our hero Bob Howard is tasked with going into the field (the Caribbean, what a shame) to deal with a demon hell-bent in taking over the world through a suitably megalomaniac billionaire, and to do so is paired with a rather lovely partner who is not all she seems (OK, she’s an assassin under a glamour and possessed by a sex-vampire, but nobody’s perfect)

Why did I want thread it?

I love the Laundry Files and re-read the first volume (The Atrocity Archives, reviewed here) earlier this year. I am planning to work my way through the whole series.

What did I think of it?

I¬†must admit I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first because it seemed very much a parody of the classic James Bond movies – location, gadgets, bad guy intent on sharing his details plans with the hero rather than just killing him, gorgeous good girl sidekick, gorgeous bad girl sidekick,¬†super villain lair and so on – which all seemed a bit weird until it becomes clear that the James Bond thing is actually the whole point – it’s the occult construction that the baddies are using to control the whole thing and prevent themselves from being stopped. Though of course it doesn’t work out that way…

As always the fun here is in the combination of occult weirdness with classic civil service bureaucracy and infighting which is oh so recognisable to anyone who has ever worked in that world, though normally you’re not likely to get possessed with something tentacular. Not normally.

This was very enjoyable and raced along. It is also very funny in places and for anyone of my age who grew up with Dr No and Blofeld the Bond references are particularly enjoyable, right down to the white cat. And the nasties are very nasty indeed. There’s also a nice little additional story as a bonus.

Loved it, and looking forward to reading the next one.

This was my fifth read for RIP IX.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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