Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Jennifer Morgue

The Jennifer Morgue
by Charles Stross
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the second novel of the Laundry Files, U.K. government secret agent Bob Howard – who identifies as an applied computational demonologist and is also his office's IT guy – goes on a field assignment in the steamy Caribbean that showcases all the ways he isn't James Bond. Ironically, it does this by entangling him in a geas that compels him to act a part in an Ian Fleming novel, or perhaps an Albert Broccoli movie. This is the fiendish villain's way of ensuring that nobody can stop him before he achieves world domination – unless that person performs 007's role without missing a step. Hampering Bob in doing that is his essential nerdiness, the fact that his department's budget only allows him to rent a Smart Fortwo (a world away from an Aston Martin), and a bit of jiggery pokery that has linked him psychically with a not-entirely-human agent named Ramona Random, whose sex appeal is barbed with death.

Let's not even talk about what Bob's girlfriend will do when she catches up to them, or the betrayal of the local station chief, or the fact that the island of St. Martin is crawling with zombies, black beret-wearing goons, and cosmetics saleswomen whose products give them young looking skin at the cost of their souls. What's really of concern is a sunken piece of alien weaponry whose location, far below the ocean's surface, means that it belongs to the Deep Ones and, under the terms of the Benthic Treaty, messing with it could be more than the human race's survival is worth. But mess with it is what tech magnate Ellis Billington means to do, and he has a record of pursuing his goals with a ruthlessness equal to that of any Bond villain – augmented by a knack for necromancy.

This book blends, and bends, the tropes of spy thrillers, high-tech science fiction and Lovecraftian horror in a sexy, self-referentially funny way. It takes wry pokes at the software industry, government bureaucracy, corporate culture and pyramid schemes that peddle beauty aids. It chills with scenes depicting demonic possession, thrills with stunts like hitting the ejector button on a subcompact car, and keeps the scenery interesting with undead shootouts, gadgets concealed as eveningwear and two characters pscyhically handcuffed together.

Also included in this book is a short story titled "Pimpf," which (I just learned; thank you, Internet) is German slang for a boy whose voice hasn't changed. I guess that explains why Stross chose that title for a goofy romp in which Bob gets an intern, then almost loses him when a first-person-shooter computer game inhales his mind. Supported by his techie pals Pinky and Brains (keep up, now), Bob plunges into the cyberworld to rescue him, only to face the vilest enemy mankind may ever know: Human Resources. Stross adds an afterword in which he muses entertainingly about the Bond franchise. I recommend it all around, especially if you (like me) plan to move on quickly to Book 3 of the Laundry Files, The Fuller Memorandum.

The series continues with several other short stories and, most recently, a ninth novel titled The Labyrinth Index. Stross is also the author of three Singularity Sky novels, six Merchant Princes books and about 15 other books.

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