Friday, 24 August 2007
'The Jennifer Morgue' - Charles Stross (Orbit Books)
Fighting Cthulu just got sexy! Well, it would if you were a geeky demonology hacker working with a gorgeous blonde who's part mermaid and part succubus. And if you're forced to work under a geas that is modelled on the fictional stories of a certain super spy then there are certain rules that have to be followed… Welcome to the world of Bob Howard, harassed civil servant and occasional field agent for a top secret government agency that exists to make sure that the Earth is not swallowed whole by tentacle faced monsters. An insane billionaire trying to get hold of forbidden technology from under the sea is far from conducive to the fragile peace that exists between humans and, erm… slimy sea dwelling monsters. Cue Bob Howard along with explosions, high stakes baccarat, beautiful women, double crossing intrigue and a particularly damning (and accurate) view of the British Civil Service. It’s more of the same (not a bad thing!) if you’ve read ‘The Atrocity Archives’ but it’s also a good place to start if you’ve never read anything by Stross and want to give him a go.
Having spent a large part of my life working in various government/council departments, I fully sympathise with Bob’s efforts to negotiate his way around Human Resources, back stabbing colleagues and mountains of needless paperwork. Stross asks the reader ‘which battle would you rather fight?’ I have to say that at least you know where you are with a squid faced demon that wants to eat your soul! Without spoiling things, I will also say that I’ve long had my suspicions about PowerPoint presentations and I will be careful around these in the future…
Stross is full of ideas and views and wants nothing more than to share them with his readers. The end result is that ‘The Jennifer Morgue’ has a little something for everyone whether you’re a fan of thrillers, conspiracy theories or you just want something that will make you chuckle. A slight hitch to this approach is that if you blink (or get otherwise distracted) you will find yourself lost very quickly and have to go back and read several pages again! It’s a book that demands your attention but it’s worth the effort.
The use of the ‘James Bond Geas’ (a spell that forces everyone to obey certain conventions) could have easily turned ‘Jennifer Morgue’ into nothing more than a cheap pastiche. While the book is essentially a pastiche, Stross avoids the obvious pitfalls by introducing a plot twist (right at the end) that forces the reader to re-evaluate everything that they have been told. I never saw it coming but it made so much sense.
Stross also pokes fun at the ‘James Bond theme’ by giving his own little twist to certain scenes that you would expect to see in any of the films. My favourites were the ‘evil megalomaniac explains the plan to his captives’ and ‘our agent is kitted out for the field’ (some of the gadgets are pure genius)
Where ‘Jennifer Morgue’ fell down for me was Stross’ insistence on showing the reader on how much he knows about the ins and outs of computer technology. I know nothing about this kind of thing and really struggled with some of the more ‘information dense’ paragraphs. On the whole though, Stross does this sort of thing very well and it has really whetted my appetite for ‘Halting State’. A fast paced read for the beach that will make you think at the same time.
Eight and a Half out of Ten