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The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

The Fuller Memorandum (edition 2011)

by Charles Stross

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1,014418,402 (4)20
Title:The Fuller Memorandum
Authors:Charles Stross
Info:Ace Books 2011-06-28 (2011), Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

  1. 40
    Declare by Tim Powers (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: There is a shared delight in mixing Cold War paranoia and the mystical/fantastic in these two novels.

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The third novel in Stross' Laundry series, The Fuller Memorandum continues the adventures of computer geek Bob Howard working for the eponymous Laundry, a shadowy department of the British secret service tasked with protecting the UK from threats occult and other-dimensional – in practice, HP Lovecraft's Old Gods, which turn out to be all too real. Of course, as the Horrors from Beyond Space and Time rarely recognise national boundaries, this usually comes down to saving the world as a side effect of protecting Her Britannic Majesty's domains. As other countries also possess ultra-top secret agencies with a similar remit but differing national objectives – The Black Chamber in the US, for example – Bob and his colleagues as often find themselves fighting against fellow humans as slimy, squamous terrors.

Each of the novels has been modelled after a different example of the spy genre. The Atrocity Archives was in the mould of Len Deighton (described by Stross in the afterword as the best horror writer of the twentieth century, who just happened to write spy stories) full of paranoia and with the overhanging threat of nuclear annihilation replaced by the menace of unstoppable monsters from another dimension. The Jennifer Morgue was a Bond pastiche, a rich mogul trying to advance his own ends and in the process threatening world security – in this case threatening to wake the things that lurk in the deeps. In The Fuller Memorandum, we move into classier territory with a le Carre inspired post-Cold War tale. Bob is now married to another Laundry operative, is enjoying his work (there has been far more of the fixing computer networks in the office and less of the facing unspeakable horrors, which makes him happy). Inevitably, things begin to go wrong and when Bob's boss goes missing, it might just be the end of the world.

Stross has a deft hand with the horror, which is perhaps starker in this book than previously. There is some excellent characterisation, although in this case the author concentrates on Bob and his wife leaving the supporting characters more in the periphery than previously, which allows him to realistic reactions to the unreal situations; not heroically setting the jaw to face things, or shlock-horror movie running around screaming. This is also leavened by a low key dry humour, often geek-culture references (the main character is a computer nerd who fights Cthuloid monstrosities, for crissakes) and some Dilbert-esque office jokes. Pointedly, while the horrors from other dimonsions are always in the background as the great threat, the evil acts in the books are always perpetrated by human beings of their own free will. By the nature of the background, secret societies proliferate and conspiracy theories abound, but the reality is close enough to ours that things are far too complex for any over-arching hand to be in control and cock-up rules more than conspiracy, individual passions vices and morality make fate redundant.

In The Laundry books, Charles Stross has used some well established tropes to create fun reads that are also thought-provoking and, at times, horrific. The next is due for publication late this year or early next, and I can't wait to see what terrors Bob Howard will be protecting the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and associated Dominions (and the rest of the world) from next. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
Another fun installment in the series. ( )
  Gwendydd | Apr 17, 2017 |
This 2010 novel is the third in Stross's series of light horror thrillers about Britain's occult secret service, the Laundry. Stories about secret organizations tasked with managing the world's magic are pretty routine today, but were maybe a bit less so in the late 1990s when he started the series.

Science fiction writer Stross imagines magic as Lovecraftian. Our world is menaced by monsters, with various of H. P. Lovecraft's boldfaced names turning up. Magic is also mathematical and algorithmic, so that the spells required to invoke and control otherworldly entities can be regularized and improved by the disciplines involved in computer science. Thus, magic has become much more powerful in the 20th and 21st centuries than in antiquity, and our hero, Bob Howard, a "computational demonologist," is a computer geek who has to keep the Beowulf clusters running when he's not fighting either horrors from beyond spacetime, or the hidebound British Civil Service.

The story begins with a fatal incident during a routine exorcism. Later, Bob is attacked by a zombie, his boss disappears after assigning him some upsetting reading dating from the Russian Civil War, his wife is emotionally distressed due to an encounter with a horrific cult, there's an occult RAF squadron, a mole in the Laundry, the expected date of doomsday has been moved up - and who is going to "respond to the RFP on structured cabling requirements for the new subbasement extension in D Block?" Stross mixes his disjunct genres, horror, humor, and action, well. He adds a portion of tech geekery. We learn a bit about the Cold War English Electric Lightning interceptor, [[Vannevar Bush]]'s Memex, the narrow gauge London MailRail, and the arcane possibilities of the Apple iPhone. A fast-paced ending leaves Bob putting himself together for the next book. This story isn't for everyone; note trigger warning here for images of extreme violence, including brief references to violence against children. Death is a powerful engine of magic.

The series' first two books were each written as an homage to a particular Cold War spy-novel writer. [The Atrocity Archive] references [[Len Deighton]], and [The Jennifer Morgue], [[Ian Fleming]]. The current book follows [[Anthony Price]], with whom I'm not familiar. I might quibble that it's not quite as innovative as those first two, but then that's a high bar. I've not been keeping up; Stross has published seven of a projected nine novels in the series, plus a few shorter stories, and I expect I'll be reading all of them.

The overall arcs of the series become clearer in this installment. First of these is Britain's preparation for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the rapidly-approaching moment when the elder gods awaken and devour every living mind on Earth. All those nuclear weapons the great powers built during the Cold War? They aren't meant for us, but for those Lovecraftian critters. All those cameras ringing London? They have a basilisk mode that can combust anything organic. The second arc is that of Bob's formidible wife Dominique, who was someone to be rescued in book one, and is now at least Bob's equal, a "combat epistemologist" armed with an extremely fearsome violin.

Stross's great contribution to horror is his recognition of a deep relationship between the Lovecraftian mode and Cold War nuclear terror: the possibility of vast calamity beyond the human scale, which we may only hope not to see, in the tiny speck of space and time we personally inhabit. Stross started writing this series in the post-Cold War, "end of history" era. History has restarted since then, and I can't decide whether that makes these books relevant, or unbearable to read. ( )
  dukedom_enough | Feb 16, 2017 |
funny and fast, a little confusing as ever but love the bureaucratic parts of The Laundry (probably more than the monster part) ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
Not his usual unfathomable technobabble but still a fair amount of babel. The "magic is tech" concept is not very convincing and the story is just not all that interesting. Barely made the 80 page test. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
The Fuller Memorandum is not a perfect book, but there are more things I like than dislike about it. It’s definitely not a sequel that skulks in the shadows of its predecessors, trying to repeat what was done before; it’s braver, and branches out into more unfamiliar territory. And fails a little bit, but manages to get pounding on shore in the end.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stross, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
DeFex, Annette FioreCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frederickson, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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While recovering a missing top secret dossier that his boss is accused of stealing, British super spy Bob Howard must safely navigate Russian agents, ancient demons, and an undead entity called the Eater of Souls.

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