Book Review: Charles Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum
I’ve been looking forward to reading this book.
Not to say that I’m not looking forward to reading a lot of books, but The Fuller Memorandum is a book that I’ve been hunting for in bookstores (both new and used) for awhile now, as opposed to something where I say ‘oh, that looks interesting!’ and pick it up on a whim. That later bit is why I currently have about a dozen books in my ‘backlog,’ but if nothing else I’ll have something to distract me if the power goes out.
Anyway, The Fuller Memorandum is the third novel in Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry’ series. They’re Horror novels, but in an entertainingly genre-mashed-up way. You’ve got your standard Terrible Lovecraftian Elder Things floating around (and the obligatory cultists that wish to wake them, etc), but the key to doing magic is mathematics, which is why the series’ central character, Bob Howard, has the job title of computational demonologist.
Likewise, there’s a secret government agency devoted to keeping the world from ending (or at least mitigating the damage when it does)…but it’s still a government agency, so forms have to be filled out in triplicate whenever you need to get new paperclips. It’s Office Space vs. Cthulhu. This doesn’t take away from the horror of the setting, however, as the books can get fairly grim and messy, albeit in a messy way. There are a couple of Laundry stories available on Tor.com that can give you an idea of what the setting’s like. “Down on the Farm” is probably the most indicative of the series as a whole, while “Overtime” is a twisted Christmas story. “Equoid” is the most horror-y of the bunch, and it’s about unicorns. Horrible, horrible unicorns. You’ve been warned.
The Fuller Memorandum is exactly what one would expect from the Laundry files- a spy novel with horror in it. (Or would it be a Horror novel with spies in it?) Although it’s the third book in the series, it stands fairly well on its own as a stand-alone novel. There are little references throughout the book to earlier casefiles, but for the most part, once you get your head around the whole ‘spies vs. elder gods’ angle, it all fits together. It’s also worth noting The Fuller Memorandum is significantly darker than the earlier two novels, in that it really begins to push a sense of eminent apocalyptic doom- to the point where, early on, Howard notes how he and his wife don’t have any children because they know the Elder Gods will awaken in just a few years (if not sooner).
After a botched exorcism, Bob Howard returns to the home office only to discover his creepy spymaster boss has disappeared, along with the titular Memorandum. Things get worse from there. It all boils down to a ‘mole hunt,’ plot, just with zombies and cultists thrown into the mix (though there are Russians too, because this is a spy novel).
The style of the novel is just a bit odd, I will note. It’s written in the present tense, which can be hard to pull off correctly. Stross does a good job, however, and it results in the novel moving along at a fairly quick clip. On the other hand, the book’s written in First Person- which is fine, except for a couple of segments that pull away from Bob Howard and describe action elsewhere, centering on other characters. Seems a little bit of a ‘cheat,’ to me, but again, it helps the novel move forward, so I can’t complain too much about it.
Anyway, I heartily recommend The Fuller Memorandum to anybody who digs spy fiction or horror fiction- though again, starting with some of the earlier Laundry novels (or at least the short stories available online) might be a better place to start.
This said, I’m looking forward to tracking down the next book in the series, The Apocalypse Codex. So maybe there’ll be a review of that one up here before too long.