The Annihilation Score (A Laundry Files Novel) - Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score (Laundry #6)

by Charles Stross


"Please allow me to introduce myself…

No. Strike that. Period stop backspace backspace bloody computer no stop that stop listening stop dictating end end oh I give up.

Will you stop doing that?"

Meet Mo, a.k.a. Dominique, employee of the UK's super-secret black-ops magic organisation (they call it the Laundry), wife of Bob Howard (a.k.a. The Eater of Souls), bearer of a psychotically evil soul-sucking bone violin, and combat epistemologist. When Mo takes a trip to do a little glad-handing with the Deep Ones (aka BLUE HADES), she thinks she's finally going to get a bit of well-deserved R&R. But before she knows it, a tiny mistake has landed her neck-deep in trouble, and even worse, in bureaucratic paperwork. In Mo's world, the end is nigh, and all hell is beginning to break loose. As the barriers between our world and the Elder Ones of the Dungeon Dimensions break down, more and more people are gaining magical abilities. Magic is rationalized in the context of culture, and given the superhero craze, suddenly there are a disturbing number of people running (or flying) around in Lycra suits that may not precisely flatter them. And a series of mistakes leave Mo in charge of a brand-new superhero ops organization tasked with stopping the superhero singularity. To make things worse, there's a new supervillain Mad Scientist on the loose, and he he's leaving behind messages of the "Tremble, Fools, Before It is Too Late!" variety, and worst of all, the messages are printed in Comic Sans.


I suspect that the most divisive part of the book will be the change in narrators from Bob to Mo. Personally, I strongly preferred Mo to Bob. She's introduced to us in the midst of an unjustified attack of jealousy, but once she gets past that, I really warmed to her. I've grown a bit tired of Bob, and Mo's spiky, sarcastic, vibrant personality revived the series for me. I also wasn't too surprised by their marital issues; intentional or not on Stross's part, I've never sensed any chemistry between Bob and Mo. (Since much of the series is a Bond spoof, there are quite a few obligatory Bond girls, and Bob doesn't really think of Mo when she's not around.) While the previous books in the series don't really defy their Bond roots in the sexism department, I thought Stross did a pretty good job with his female characters here. He even has a wonderful riff on the Invisible Middle-Aged Woman syndrome. (Sure, there's the obsession on Bob's past partners, but Mo's Bechdel test failure moment is actually called out in-book.) The plot itself is rather measured, dealing mostly with Mo's struggles to get her fledgling superhero team going. I'm pretty sure anyone who has dealt with bureaucracy will find it amusing. For me, however, the ending was a bit of an off note.

If I understand matters correctly, the combined incompetence of Mo and the Laundry causes thousands of deaths. If the Laundry knew what was going on--and the conversations with the SA certainly suggests that--why not go after the organization? They're not all-powerful. They're not even magic. Surely a bit of explanation, shock and awe, or, in the worst case, deaths would have solved matters. Also, I'm a bit weirded out by the oath bit. We also have the "lawful" bit, but for us at least, "lawful" means that it has to pass the legislature and be part of the law--just because an executive said so wouldn't make it right or true. Firing upon unarmed civilians without cause is kinda not cool with the UCMJ. So what about an immoral order by a superior officer makes it lawful? And how on earth was there not a witchhunt against Mo? She was shown on live TV to be killing a mass number of people with an enchanted weapon she was known to own, and, presumably, control. I pretty much do consider Mo and the Laundry culpable, and that assessment includes the mitigating factors.


The other thing that really, really pissed me off was the ending, when Mo meets up with Mr Patronising Git, aka Dr Armstrong. In the last paragraph of the book, he responds to her valid concerns that (a) she did more harm than good, (b) she's worn out with it, and (c) the Laundry is an untrustworthy organization with a patronising speech in which he pretty much directly calls her hysterical.

And she apparently takes it.

There are moments in the book when Stross's gender biases surface. Mo spends a lot of time jealously obsessing over Bob and the women who knew him, and there's quite a bit of the catfight vibe in the opening. I found it rather irritating, but sure, maybe some women are like that. But Stross's complete ignorance of a serious hotbutton is just a step too far. There's a proud and ongoing tradition of dismissing women as hysterical or overemotional. It's so common that these days, it's part of bias training. Yet the book ends with this arrogant git calling her overemotional and telling her she'll "calm down" and "regain her center" and think better of it all? Really? And you're going to end the book with that?

I would have loved to give this book five stars. Up until the ending, I really thought it would happen. But between the too-neat cop-out and the blind sexism of the last paragraph, the end left a bad taste in my mouth.

(show spoiler)



As always, Stross is absolutely hilarious, and this time, you don't need a computer science degree to get in on the jokes. Some of my favourite quotes:

"Yes, she's a blood-sucking fiend. But she's also a superbly competent administrator and has an MBA which I think you'll agree makes up for a lot of sins."

"Scientific research is a bottomless money pit. You can approximate Doing Science to standing on the Crack of Doom throwing banknotes down it by the double-handful, in the hope that if you choke the volcano with enough paper it will cough up the One Ring."

"Despair, dismay, disorientation, and delusion: the four horsemen of the bureaucratic apocalypse."

 Unfortunately, though, I don't really think it's possible to read this without the context of the previous books. I skipped only one (#5, The Rhesus Chart) and found myself quite bewildered by the references to recent events. I can't imagine how hard it would be to read this without some knowledge of the Laundry, the Eater of Souls, and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. However, if you're looking to give the series a try, I think you can start with #2 (The Jennifer Morgue) or #3(The Fuller Memorandum)--I did.


**Note: quotes were taken from an uncorrected advanced reader copy of this ebook and may not reflect the final version. However, I believe they speak to the spirit of the book.

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Ace Books, a Penguin Random House imprint, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!~~