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The Fuller Memorandum
Charles Stross
Ace Books, 304 pages

The Fuller Memorandum
Charles Stross
Charles Stross was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and he now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He sold his first short story in 1987 to Interzone. But it was his first sale to Asimov's SF in 2001 that provided his big break into the US market.

Charles Stross Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Saturn's Children
SF Site Review: The Jennifer Morgue
SF Site Review: Missile Gap
SF Site Review: The Hidden Family and Accelerando
SF Site Review: The Atrocity Archives
SF Site Review: Singularity Sky

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ernest Lilley

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Besides the obvious and delightful spy-geek-Chuthluian horror cocktail that Charles Stross shakes together in his Laundry series, there's a bit of Stargate to it, what with the openings of gates into otherwhere and heroic types stepping through them. It's been that way since the beginning, when our man from the Laundry, a geek turned applied demonologist and secret agent, stepped through a hole in space to rescue the damsel in distress. As has been noted elsewhere, he's an odd sort for a classic secret agent, considering that he eventually got around to marrying the damsel, Mo... short for Dominique... and doesn't drive a car, let alone an Aston Martin, alternating between London's tubes and walkways. He should stick to the tube, considering the trouble he gets into when he wanders off down dark paths by himself.

Three books in, Bob Howard's grown considerably from the awkward bumbler as he started out. He's reminded of this by the head of Russian intelligence's own Thirteenth Directorate, their equivalent of the Laundry, while standing him to a pint and warning him not to lose track of something called "The Teapot." He's grown enough that the author decides it's time for a dark night of the soul, and chapter by chapter the lights get dimmer and dimmer for our hero.

Though the story is told in first person retrospective, under the guise of Bob having been directed to catch up on report filing from his missions, things get so dicey for him that it's easy to forget that this is a dead giveaway that he's bound to survive. Actually, there are points in the book where it's not at all clear that he will, even if he does wind up writing that report. Stross is that clever.

Teapot, it turns out, isn't actually a what, it's a who. Or maybe it is a what, considering that it's an entity inhabiting a human body. Actually, it turns out that it's a body that's highly placed in the Laundry, generally regarded as a deeply scary dude, and the knowledge that he's actually also the "The Eater of Souls" doesn't make him any cuddlier. Fortunately for all concerned, he's subject to an early experimental geas developed by the Laundry's labs, which binds him to loyalty to Queen and country. Or so they believe. What ultimately binds him to service is more likely what has bound Brits down through the ages. Duty and a compulsion to keep chaos at bay.

Unlike the previous two Laundry books, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum stays mostly indoors, shifting scenes between Bob's office in the secret facility and the house he and Mo share. There are other excursions, first to an RAF museum to decontaminate a haunted airplane, during which things go very wrong and a bystander is killed, and later to the underground warrens where the Laundry's librarians dwell, guarding secret documents in "abandoned" railway tunnels left over from the war. The final confrontation scene takes place underground as well, in the stygian depths of a London cemetery, where Bob finds himself at the center of a whole lot of dark energy.

The premise of the series is that what we consider magic is the result of forces conjured up by certain forms of computation, which makes magic a branch of what is normally highly theoretical mathematics, but which turns out to have practical, if not pleasant, applications. The Laundry gets most of its staff by co-opting them as an alternative to killing them off for accidentally discovering the power of mathematics to open doorways to other universes, ones where very hungry beasties wait wondering from where their next bite of soul (preferably human) food is going to come. Mo came in through that door in the first book, The Atrocity Archives, when a group of terrorists tried to use her to channel a demon to do their bidding. Bob saved her in true Bond fashion, even going so far as to disable a nuclear weapon in the bargain. In the second book, The Jennifer Morgue, things get really Bondian, when Bob and Mo find themselves fighting bad guys and a compulsion to act out the Bond plot formula. You think you know what's bound to happen, and then you realize you don't even know who's who. Really, it's brilliant.

Speaking of who's who, Stross pays tribute to a different master spy author with each book. For his first, it was Len Deighton, the second, Ian Fleming, and now Anthony Price, whose historian turned agent is a good fit for Stross' co-opted hacker character. The series also serves as a starting point for anyone who hasn't read the authors whose idiom it employs, which is a fine thing as well.

Bob had come into the firm via a different door than academics like Mo. A hacker trying to do something clever, he came close to inadvertently leveling the city he lived in, which brought him to the firm's attention. The result is that Bob's neither an academic, nor was he born and bred a civil servant. He's a bit of a loose cannon, like all our favorite secret agents, and is lucky, unlucky, and clever in equal measures. It's a combination that ensures that he'll live in interesting times, to our benefit if not his.

The interesting time he's living in has a code name: Case Nightmare Green. The code name doublespeak that Charles Stross strews around adds a lot of character to the story, much as Iain M. Banks snarky starship names in his Culture series. Case Nightmare Green is the code name for a singularity type event, in this case triggered by the number of souls on Earth rather than the number of teraflops a computer can perform, though given the computational nature of the story's magic, I'm sure that figures in somewhere as well.

In this scenario, when our soul density reaches some threshold, it rings a cosmic dinner bell for the "old ones" of gothic myth and the gates of horror swing wide. As Bob says in the intro; he's come to believe in "God," he's waiting for him with a shotgun, and he's saving the last shell for himself. Just in case.

Copyright © 2010 Ernest Lilley

Ernest Lilley is the former Sr. Editor/Publisher of SFRevu (www.sfrevu.com) and former radio Co-Host of Sci-Fi Talk with Tony Tellado. He currently publishes TechRevu (www.techrevu.com), occasionally writes for science and technology publications, and is Interactive Strategist for a DC based association (NAESP). He likes station wagons, road trips, and digital photography and currently lives in the Gernsback Continuum with that classic trope of SF, a red headed heroine. He can be found here on Facebook.


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