Poor Bob Oliver Frances Howard
. He's a British civil servant
and dearly wants to lead a quiet and undisturbed life. Unfortunately for him, he works for The Laundry
- Britain's occult defense and intelligence agency - as a Field Service Officer. In other words, he's an occult spy. Or combat necromancer. Or computational demonologist
. Or any one of several other labels, none of which add up to 'spending his declining years peacefully in bed.'
The Fuller Memorandum continues author Charles Stross's tales of his excellent pseudo-Lovecraftian Laundry universe, following the first two novels The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue as well as several short stories/novellas. As a result, this review may not make much sense if you haven't read those (you should, really) and may contain SPOILERS for those earlier books. You have been warned.
As with the earlier books, this one is a 'mash-up' of author styles. It's harder to pin down from the writing style itself, partially because by this point the Bob Howard/Laundry stories have evolved into a distinctive style of their own and no longer really need the slight gimmick of mashing up Lovecraft with a famous spy author in order to work. But the gimmick, while no longer front and center nor necessary, is still there. The best clue to this one is in the title - I'll freely admit that I'm guessing, but I think the title refers at least in part to The Quiller Memorandum, which is a Quiller novel by Adam Hall. Adam Hall was a pen name for author Elleston Trevor. Of course, it's about Bob Howard, so there is a generous helping of modern geek humor. Early on, Bob breaks his PDA, and needs to replace it. I'll give you one guess about what device he enters into combat/lust with for the rest of the book.
Quiller was a distinctive Cold War spy, one who survived just past the end of the Cold War but who was unabashedly a player of that Great Game. He had several quirks, which our protagonist Bob Howard doesn't really share - famously, he never carried a gun, for instance. But that's not really important, because as I said, the gimmick isn't foremost here.
The Fuller Memorandum is a significant expansion of our knowledge of the Laundry universe - both its history and its (expected) future. The plot is heavily concerned with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, a predicted near-future event which has been discussed in earlier laundry books and which gets much more time here. It's also intimately concerned with one of the most alluring mysteries of the Laundry - DSS Angleton. Who is he? Where did he come from? Who trained him? What is his agenda? Angleton, the operational superior (hooray matrix management!) of our protagonist Bob Howard, is a somewhat antiquated, spare, dusty, and damn-all terrifying operative of the Laundry. Howard tells us that his title (DSS, officially for 'Detached Special Secretary') is regarded inside the Laundry as actually standing for 'Deeply Scary Sorceror' and everyone we meet treats Angleton in just that way.
This book starts out with a bang - literally. Howard is dispatched by Angleton on a no-advance-briefing mission (the kind Angleton loves to hand out as 'teaching moments') to go visit an RAF museum, and 'take care of a couple of problems.' Well, as you might guess, things go somewhat pear-shaped; Bob is forced to improvise, makes mistakes, owns up to them-
And then it gets really weird.
In essence, this book is the continuation of several storylines. There's the tale of Angleton. There's Bob's own evolution as a Laundry operative. There's the career and life of his wife Mo (Dr. Dominique O'Brien), a Combat Epistomologist for the Laundry, and her horrific musical instrument. There's the ongoing worry and tale of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. And, of course, there are other players and other plots converging on the action. That's how it really feels like a Quiller novel, to be honest; it's a collision of several separate agendas and plots, all viewed from the point of view of the man on the spot who is watching the car wreck and who is expected (of course) to Make Things Right and come up with everything sorted. Bob, in other words.
The first few pages of the book make it difficult to see how he will.
The rest of the book doesn't really increase the reader's confidence.
The end of it? The end of it is indeed the end of this story. But it asks questions, too.
This is a good thing, because it means there will be more Laundry in the future.
The Fuller Memorandum
by Charles Stross ("Charlie Stross")
American hardcover publication by Ace Hardcover
July 26, 2010
Iron Noder 2010