Ace, 2010, 312 pages, C$31.00 hc, ISBN 978-0-441-01867-3
There are books I look forward to, and then there are new books by Charles Stross. From the moment I saw The Fuller Memorandum in my local bookstore (a few days ahead of its official publication date), I knew that the rest of my day would revolve around finishing the book. As an excuse to pull up a comfortable chair, a jug of ice tea and read uninterrupted for a few hours, I couldn’t have asked for anything better: I consider Stross’ two previous Laundry Files novels to be among the most enjoyable Science Fiction books of the past decade, and they’re only a part of why he’s one of the best SF authors working at the moment.
Initially launched at Golden Gryphon with The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue, Stross’ Laundry Files series blends together an unusual mixture of geeky humor, lovecraftian horror and espionage thrills. Narrator Bob Howard starts as a geek whose explorations of higher mathematics landed him an irrevocable job within a British secret agency dedicated to protecting the world against para-dimensional Evil Ones. The ideal target audience for this series is equally able to giggle at UNIX jokes, feel the vertiginous awe at alien horrors and appreciate the twists of spy-novel pastiches. In short, the target audience looks a lot like me, and part of why I like the Laundry Files novels so much is the knowledge that I’m catching references that others aren’t –and missing out on quite a few as well. (SF fans will be pleased to see The Fuller Memorandum nod briefly at David Langford, and give a much more substantial homage to Mike Ford. Other chuckles include Bob’s weakness against shiny Apple products, and the real reason why the Laundry is so hilariously paranoid about paperclip requisitions.)
Still, the most interesting thing about The Fuller Memorandum as an entry in The Laundry Files is how it pivots Bob Howard’s adventures from two loosely connected larks to a much longer sustained series. The narration is darker, the action stays close to the Laundry’s London HQ, Howard is physically damaged by the events of the volume and we’re starting to see how a number of threads are starting to fit together. Many of them concern the terrifying Case Nightmare Green mentioned almost as a throwaway in the previous volumes, and that’s no laughing matter. Among The Fuller Memorandum’s big revelations is the true identity of Angleton, and that has a number of unpleasant implications for the rest of the series as well. Perhaps more significantly, it’s a volume that definitely exists as a part of a series: While The Jennifer Morgue could be enjoyed on its own as a Fleming/Bond parody, the Anthony-Price-inspired The Fuller Memorandum does its best to provide essential context but fits better in the continuity of the Laundry Files.
For instance, Howard’s growth as a narrator is best appreciated by those who have seen him discover the terrors out there during The Atrocity Archives and lose quite a bit more of his innocence during The Jennifer Morgue. By the time this third volume ends, Bob has become something… very different and considerably more dangerous. His relationship with now-wife Mo is further tested, and even his place as a narrator of the series isn’t quite so secure: Thanks to an elegant narrative sleigh-of-hand, Stross gradually trains us to be less reliant upon Bob’s first-person narration and that shift of perspective proves essential during the three-ring circus that is the climax of the novel. The result, along with a far darker outlook on the universe of the series despite a just-as-light narration, is reminiscent of Stross’ other Merchant Princes series in how it chips away at the foundations of the series, and trends toward ever-grimmer plot developments.
The result is that even if The Fuller Memorandum doesn’t quite manage the kicks-per-page density of its predecessors, it’s very satisfying and lays down the groundwork for a promising series without locking the author in a repeating pattern. Case Nightmare Green provides an anchor point for the next few volumes –and if Stross’ past stories are an indication, we may get a truly wide-screen apocalypse by the time the series reaches a conclusion. Which is why, as I finally let go of the book after a pleasant afternoon of uninterrupted reading, I am satisfied but barely satiated by this third entry in the Laudry Files series. Stross hasn’t even finished writing The Apocalypse Codex yet, and already I can’t wait for it.