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The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
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The Nightmare Stacks

by Charles Stross

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Laundry (7)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Charlie Stross reboots the Laundry series as neophyte operative Alex Schwartz comes to terms with being seconded into the British Government's secretive paranormal defence establishment. This is the second volume in which readers have seen Bob Howard on sabbatical (having been powered up to such an extent that it is harder to sympathise with his plight).

By contrast, having Alex in the driver's seat allows us to experience with fresh eyes the insane joys of bureaucratic labyrinths, pennypinching accountancy departments, and the peculiarly stupid protocols and hierarchies of the military. Alex of course, is coping with losing his high flying job as a mathematics whiz at an investment bank, whilst adapting to the very special disease of vampirism, which he has contracted through by dabbling too deeply in arcane mathematics. Alex's mundane task is to scope out the ground for a relocation of the Laundry operations to Leeds. The location is less than pleasing to Alex, whose grandchild deprived parents are residents of that fair city, and who are likely to be disappointed by Alex's reduced circumstances.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, the girl of Alex's dreams/nightmares is on a mission to find refuge for the remnant of her people, who have been just a little too enthusiastic in their warring on each other for primacy. Breaking up their moon was, in retrospect, not the best of ideas.

Needless to say, these star-crossed lovers cross paths, and mayhem ensues ( )
2 vote orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
I'm assuming that you've read at least some of the previous books in the series with this review.

With this seventh book in the story of looming supernatural disaster for the Human world we get a further installment of what that event might look like, as dark elves with a perfected system of combat magic burst into England, leaving the Laundry and the higher security authorities reeling unless Alex Schwartz, junior paranormal intelligence operative and neurotic vampire, can penetrate the fae court. While some reviewers have used the word "fun" to describe this work, the course of the invasion (once that begins) is desperate and bloody, with the conclusion of the book coming like a car smashing into a brick wall and being something of a cliffhanger.

Do I recommend this book to previous readers of the series? Yes. But it is rapidly morphing into something very different than what Charlie Stross started out with "The Atrocity Archives." ( )
  Shrike58 | Oct 12, 2016 |
I really liked this.

I was skeptical of the viewpoint change--it was fine.

I had a few reservations while reading. I didn't think C***** was fleshed out as a character enough in our world--but then again, she was wearing someone else's face and memories. I thought Alex's family aversion was a little over the top, until I met them.

I really hope we get to see the integration of C*****'s folk into our defenses. ( )
  adamwolf | Oct 2, 2016 |
Out and about with a young vampire initiate into the Laundry, instead of Bob and Mo. He’s pretty gormless, except for being a math wizard—and that’s literal, with the Laundry. The plot is essentially: superpowered elvish princess comes to prepare the way for her people’s invasion, then falls in love with this minor functionary who is everything she’s ever wanted in a man. Does it help that Stross lampshades this very clearly as Stockholm Syndrome? I can’t decide, but I’m still reading Stross, so I guess that’s a decision in itself. ( )
1 vote rivkat | Sep 27, 2016 |
Minor spoilers.

The Nightmare Stacks is, I think, best approached as a generalization of the previous Laundry Files novels. Although the novel is about Alex, it's not about his reactions in the same way that the early novels were about Bob's reactions (usually for humorous effects). This is about the role of the Laundry as a whole in a world shifting towards Nightmare.

Interestingly enough, the background suggests that the invasion is driven not by developments along our timeline, but by those along the elves' timeline. That they happen to erupt into an England shifting towards CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is just bad (or perhaps good) luck.

Thematically, Stross has moved on from looking at enforcement to the very image of authority itself.

His elves have hierarchy to a degree no historical monarchy in human history has had: to get close, you have to cross the absolutism of Louis XIV and James II (see Steve Pincus' 1688 for a detailed discussion of James II and how new this model was) with the god-kings of some ancient cultures. Most human "monarchies" have tended to be oligarchies with a constrained leader: piss off enough of your nobility and you end up dead (William II, Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI, Richard III) or embroiled in much civil strife (Stephen, John). (Charles I and James II fall into special classes of their own, facing a broader opposition in Parliament.) The elves have a strict hierarchy driven by absolute authority (and an almost Eddorian penchant for undermining each other).

For all that, they also stand for our past. Understanding not only social but natural order as hierarchical has a long history, and Ulysses' speech in Troilus and Cressida merely sets out a generally accepted commonplace. And if we're too dull to miss the point, we're given, late on, a Cabinet meeting where the PM makes all the same types of mistakes, on the same types of assumptions, that the Elvish All-Highest does.

Because one of the themes of the book is that top-down hierarchies don't work very well. Just about every single decision made by the elves is bad, because it prioritizes retaining or exerting power over seeing the world as it is and responding appropriately.

They would have lost, eventually, no matter what; if not in England then when they had to deal with the Black Chamber or BLUE HADES or were simply nuked from orbit. What the story tells is how, even with missteps, losses were minimized, partly by sheer luck (Cassie's personality, Alex's existence, itself improbable until very shortly before, accidents of timing).

Another thing to think about is civilization. The elves are, in one sense, more "civilized" than we are: better aesthetics, more advanced in their technology than we are in ours. Their word for us, as Stross presents it, is the Tolkienian Elvish word for "orcs". (Some of this is not a new perception: both Chesterton and Lewis noted that a medieval perception of the modern world would be dominated by the word "drab" in a great many contexts.) But they are also destructive, violent, and brutal. So civilization has two senses which are here opposed.

I like the shift to Alex's viewpoint: aside from the way in which his lack of seniority is required for the mechanics of the plot to work, triangulation gives a better perspective.

In one sense, the action plot - lots of things that deliver an Earth-shattering kaboom - makes this an easily accessible book, and we do get a high-level overview of CASE NIGHTMARE RAINBOW, so it could be considered a reasonable point of entry into the series (especially as it calls for no back story re Bob and Mo), but I'm inclined to think that it gains more from knowledge of the already established context, so I would recommend beginning earlier and coming to this with that background under one's belt. ( )
2 vote jsburbidge | Aug 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Strossprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rostant, LarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
--John Harington (16th century)
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures than swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs ... No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger ... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
--H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
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In memory of Terry Pratchett, who showed us all how it's done
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A vampire is haunting Whitby; it's traditional.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425281191, Hardcover)

The Laundry Files’ “fast-paced blend of espionage thrills, mundane office comedy and Lovecraftian horror” (SFX) continues as Hugo Award-winning author Charles Stross assigns a day trader to a permanent position on the night shift...

After stumbling upon the algorithm that turned him and his fellow merchant bankers into vampires, Alex Schwartz was drafted by The Laundry, Britain’s secret counter-occult agency that’s humanity’s first line of defense against the forces of darkness. Dependent on his new employers for his continued existence—as Alex has no stomach for predatory bloodsucking—he has little choice but to accept his new role as an operative-in-training. 

Dispatched to Leeds, Alex’s first assignment is to help assess the costs of renovating a 1950s Cold War bunker into The Laundry’s new headquarters. Unfortunately, Leeds is Alex’s hometown, and the thought of breaking the news to his parents that he’s left banking for civil service, while hiding his undead condition, is causing more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses.

Alex’s only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a drama student appearing in the local Goth Festival who is inexplicably attracted to him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock. 

But Cassie has secrets of her own—secrets that make Alex’s night life behaviors seem positively normal...

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 28 Oct 2015 18:01:18 -0400)

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