The Apocalypse Codex - Charles Stross

~~Moved from GR~~

 

The Apocalypse Codex

by Charles Stross

 

After his last job as the tethered goat for a bunch of insane apocalypse-desiring cultists, Bob Howard, computational demonologist, is hoping for a little rest and relaxation so that he can try to shake his recent partial transformation into a demonic Eater of Souls. When he finally returns to work at The Laundry, the top-secret ministry of magic, he thinks his wish has been granted--after all, how hard can his new leadership and resource management position be?

Soon, he is embroiled in yet another cultist conspiracy: an American televangelist seems to be channelling a little too much Lovecraft in his sermons, so Bob is sent out to America to manage an off-the-books investigative team. He must battle with religious zealots, creepy creatures that crawl into brains and zombify their hosts, the terrifyingly harsh American equivalent to the Laundry, and (worst of all) rather a lot of bureaucracy. Can Bob make it through, save his assets, prevent the waking of a Lovecraftian sleeper, and, most difficult of all, can he keep all of his paperwork straight?

Somehow, this book fell a little flat for me. It's still a fun mixture of comedy and horror--but it's precisely the same mixture that I encountered in the last three books. I'm not sure why, but the series failed to make the transition from absurdist comedy to something with more depth. For me to really get sucked into a story, I have to genuinely care about the characters and feel anxiety for them; otherwise, the constant danger and disaster and damage just becomes something of a drag. I like Bob, I really do, but I don't think I particularly care about him, and the same holds true for most of the secondary characters. This general detachment was exacerbated in this book by the way that everyone around Bob kept harping on and on about how special and unique and intelligent he is. At one point, one character comments that one of his special talents is being underestimated. That talent must work overtime on me, because four books in, I still don't see what he's done to gain such respect and such a reputation as a rule-breaker. In the first book, he's a tech nerd with a few clever thoughts, in the second and third, he plays the Damsel in Distress, and in all the books, he sticks straight to the script that the Laundry gives him. Don't get me wrong; I found all that hilarious, but it means that the only indication of Bob's special talents comes from all the people around him telling him how brilliant he is. For me, part of the attraction of the stories was that Bob is a normal bloke, a tech nerd, who, despite being no one special, is forced into absurdly dangerous situations. I spent a large portion of the book musing on this, and what I see as unearned adulation tends to decrease whatever empathy I have for Bob.

I loved the portrayal of the incredibly evil American magical black ops--they get called the Nazgul!-- and the so-called American dialogue (I got the giggles every time Stross's "American" characters "shall," "shan't," or "shat"). As an ex-protestant/evangelical-Christian and current agnostic, I also somewhat enjoyed the portrayal of the frothing-at-the-mouth-crazy evangelists. However, I'd estimate a good 40% of the book is simply there to trash evangelical Christians, and it's not nice, rueful, kindly humour--it's got a nasty, mocking, vitriolic, hate-filled edge to it. My patience was repeatedly tried by multiple smug comments that characterized all evangelicals and even all Christians as obtuse, credulous idiots. I've always been a little mixed about the horror elements in these books--I don't like it when incidental characters die, and these books tend towards huge redshirt/zombie fodder ensembles. In this book, the horror and death elements significantly overshot my threshold. One reason for this may be the scant sympathy that Bob and Stross appeared to give the most of the hapless Christian sacrifices. The books also involve a lot less nerd/Lovecraftian humour and a lot more pop-culture stuff, which is a pro if you're not a computer scientist, but for me meant that a lot more jokes went whistling over my head, missing my comprehension zone by a mile.

Overall, Apocalypse Codex is a fun continuation to the series, but because I didn't feel that it significantly increased the depth, it fell a little flat for me. If you're looking for a little light Lovecraftian horror and won't get caught up in the death toll, take a look.