Ok, so it’s not the review I promised you… or even the apocalyptic fiction blog… but it’s what you’re getting. So shush.
And it’s got an end of the world flavour to it anyway, what with cultists trying to bring the whole thing about… I’m not too sure if this is actually going to be the cover… but it’s all I could find for now. The book’s due in July. =)
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
The Laundry series is like Dan Brown (with less intrigue and better writing) meets Lovecraft (with less ridiculous synonyms), or a less dense Declare by Tim Powers. There’s some weird shit going down behind the scenes (behind what we perceive as reality) and it’s their business to keep us safe from it; ‘them’ being a covert department in the British secret service called the Laundry. And it definitely owes a hell of a lot to Lovecraft – I’ve not read enough H.P. to know if Stross’ gods (actually ancient, vastly powerful aliens) are ripped in their entirety from Lovecraft or just mostly… Lovecraft has Nyarlathhotep, Stross has N’yar lath-Hotep… So it’s only right that Stross makes direct reference to Lovecraft, “the mad pulp writer of Providence”.
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing from Lovecraft of course, there’s a fine tradition of spinning out and expanding his universe, except (and this could be my misinterpretation) Stross seems to be taking a sly swipe at him in a couple of places. Which is odd, since the Laundry exists to fight an evil that wouldn’t exist without Lovecraft’s work. Not that this has any direct influence on how good the book is, of course, more a point of thought.
The Fuller Memorandum is pulpy read: cheap and action-packed. Something bad happens, and just when the protagonist has got over that, something nasty and new strikes (sometimes even when he hasn’t got over the last thing). Bob Howard (yes, Bob) is sent on a routine assignment (isn’t that always the way) which goes wrong in a particularly traumatic fashion, then his wife gets in trouble on a job, then a zombie hitman turns up on their doorstep, then… you get the idea. It’s definitely not a bad thing, it keeps the book fast-paced and exciting, and the sense of humour, while not ‘laugh out loud’ funny, keeps the book light and entertaining.
Stross is another author I’ve been meaning to try, particularly the Atrocity Archives which has been recommended to me more than once. The Fuller Memorandum is actually the third book in a series which began with the aforementioned Atrocity Archives, something I wasn’t aware of when I originally offered to review the book (for a much smaller 100 word review for a magazine).
It’s an interesting thing, reading a book out of sequence; sometimes it makes little difference, other times major story arcs cross from book to book. Certain trilogies would fail badly if you were just to pick up the third, other series, like Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books, fall somewhere in the middle. You could pick up any of the first four books and enjoy them, although you might feel you were missing a little of the larger picture, but the fifth book is the culmination of a lot of the background arcs, it would be a much lesser work for someone who hadn’t read the others. (I highly recommend the Felix Castor series by the way – Mike Carey is one of my favourite writers, be that in comics or novels)
Back to the Fuller Memorandum, I don’t think I missed a great deal by not having read the earlier two (which isn’t to say they aren’t worth reading, I don’t know that, just that this one is easily readable without having done so). You might be slightly more invested in the characters if you have read the earlier ones, with them already having substance in your mind, but this book wasn’t huge on characterisation, so I shouldn’t think that’s too much of a factor.
It’s an enjoyable read, it certainly makes me want to go back and read the first two. I think it’s worst point is that it doesn’t always wear its first person skin very comfortably, with Bob Howard sometimes ‘imagining’ what the other characters were doing at certain points when the plot needs to happen in places he wasn’t, but I suppose it serves to keeps things moving – which is probably more important to this type of novel than literary finesse. The twists are pretty obvious too, but it’s more about the action and suspense rather than the intrigue and the whole thing builds to a pretty spectacular climax. When the plot goes off, it really goes off and you’re in for a few pages of pure blazing awesome. It does fall off a little in the wind down, unfortunately, I think things could have been explained a little more clearly, but that’s a minor quibble.
The Fuller Memorandum is definitely pulp fiction – thrilling, throw-away, page-turning action. If you’re up for some humorous, urban/ occult fantasy, this is for you. If you think a glibly-witted secret agent battling for his sanity and reality itself is your thing, then go for it. Dark gods, a zombie hitman, a cursed violin, crazy cultists, and the end of the world… perfect summer holiday reading.
And what is with this recent trend in books I’m reading where the minor characters I really like get killed…!?