Oct 162017
 

The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross

Synopsis: A modern, snarky take on the Lovecraft mythos that combines IT geekery, eldritch horrors, and James Bond.

Book Review: Most of my readers are likely already familiar with the Laundry Files series, because it’s basically aimed directly at us. Modern humor, lots of tech-culture feel and computer geek in-jokes (due to magic being a branch of applied mathematics), all the Lovecraft references you can shake a stick at, etc. It’s like if the Buffy TV series was written by someone even nerdier and very well read in Lovecraft. Also Stross wrote “Accelerando,” which is a staple of the rationalist fiction reader’s diet.

But hey, maybe like me, you haven’t had a chance to get to The Jennifer Morgue yet. So here we go!

If you like the things I mentioned above (Buffy, snark, Lovecraft, tech culture humor), you’ll likely enjoy this. Charles Stross writes well, and he’s obviously having a lot of fun while putting in solid work!

The most frustrating part of The Jennifer Morgue is that it’s written in the style of a James Bond novel. I’m not sure why exactly Stross decided to do this, maybe just as an exercise for himself? At times it’s fun, but more often than not it gets in the way. It’s introduced via a clunky “invoking narrative magic” way, which immediately reminded me of placebomancy from Unsung. But in Unsong, Alvarez used the fact that the universe runs on narrative magic to exploit the fuck out of the universe! It was rationalist-fiction style reality-hacking, and it was hilarious and beautiful. In Jennifer Morgue the protagonist is not allowed to know about it (that’s part of the magic…) and so we don’t get any cool exploits. Instead we get a hand-wave whenever anything dumb happens as “This is because James Bond novels have dumb things like this happening, and the story is required by magic to follow a similar plot arc.” It’s specifically called out a few times, such as when the villain begins monologueing. Which is just lazy. There’s better ways to do that. It feels very much like Stross simply couldn’t take the Bond novel seriously, and kept apologizing for it. IMHO, if you’re gonna write a Bond novel, write a Bond novel! Commit to it. :)

The Bond novel also doesn’t fit the characters very well. The protagonist has to be involved with a femme fatal, but he’s a monogamist in a committed relationship, so we get the kind of sex stuff you see in romance aimed at Puritanical Americans – the protagonist is forced into a hot relationship against their will while secretly enjoying all of it, so the audience can read the salacious bits but still feel like they are chaste and pure in the end because it was out of the protagonist’s control (ala 50 Shades of Grey).

I also both love and hate the ending. I love that there is a really cool twist at the end which makes everything about the book much cooler and better in retrospect. :) But on the other hand, the protagonist passes out as we’re getting to the climax, and then the story jumps to the epilogue.

That’s right, Stross skipped over the climax. He simply didn’t write it. It’s like someone ripped out the last ten pages. W.T.F??

I’m not unhappy that I read this. It really is enjoyable, I laughed several times, and was enraptured in wonder a few times too. I think, however, that other books in the Laundry Files series are probably better than this one. I assume they’ll all have the similar snarky humor, geek culture, and Lovecraft, sown together by a deft writer, but without the hampering James Bond frame. And hopefully including a climax. Slightly Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: In terms of enjoyability, this is a pretty good book for groups. It’s solid fun. But in terms of things to talk about, there really isn’t too much to spark conversation, and that’s how I rate these things. We chatted about the book for a while, shared some high points and some complaints, and then moved on to other topics. The reading is good, but there isn’t all that much to really dig into, discussion-wise. Unless your entire reading group is The Target Audience and you feel you’d all love this thing, probably Not Recommended.

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