Friday, July 2, 2010

The Laundry series by Charles Stross

The Laundry series is an ongoing series of books by Charles Stross. It's a genre mashup which includes Lovecraftian horror, science fiction, comedy, spy thriller and computer industry elements. Put simply, it's the story of a computer geek turned Bondesque British spy, set against a backdrop of horrible, multi-dimensional creatures that would like nothing more than to eat his brains (or at least cohabit with them).

The setup is rather brilliant on its own, and it's no surprise that it was quickly turned into its own roleplaying game. Our hero was a budding computer scientist who discovered just a bit too much about the nature of his field. In fact, it turns out that under the surface of the well-ordered mathematics of computer science lies magic. "Spells" are just complex mathematical problems like those introduced by Alan Turing during World War II, and those who accidentally solve them are quickly scooped up by The Laundry, the magical equivalent of MI6, as a possible risk to national security.

The Laundry is therefore populated with very smart people whose only option is to work for a giant government bureaucracy for the rest of their lives. The only way to move on to anything remotely rewarding appears to be the path to field agent status and that's where we pick up in the first book, The Atrocity Archives, with our hero Bob Howard as he embarks on his very first field mission.

The combination of computer science, general geekdom, horror and spy elements gives the books a hilariously perverse tone. There are times that I've had to stop reading, just to catch my breath, and that doesn't happen very often for me.

The second book in the series has been out for about a year and is titled The Jennifer Morgue. It traces Bob's exploits in a subsequent adventure that is more directly styled on the works of Ian Fleming, most especially the Bond novels.

The next book in the series is about to be released, and is called The Fuller Memorandum. It should be out by July 6, according to Amazon.com. I highly recommend picking up the first book and working your way up to The Fuller Memorandum, but much like the Bond books or movies, I don't think you absolutely have to read them in order. Certainly The Jennifer Morgue is a good enough book to stand on its own, should you prefer to start there, and I have high hopes for this next book for similar reasons.