On My Shelves: The Annihilation Score


Dominique "Mo" O'Brien is a combat epistemologist, expert violinist, and field agent for The Laundry, the same ultra-top-secret bureaucracy that Bob Howard works for. In fact, Mo is married to Bob. Their marriage has had… stresses on it.

All Mo has to deal with is her eldritch violin trying to either seduce her or control her (it's hard to say which), being suddenly assigned to run a brand-new division of law enforcement, having to work with Bob's fearsome ex Mhari, the sudden outbreak of superheroes (and villains) popping up everywhere, the disaster at the Laundry we saw in The Rhesus Chart, and her and Bob's fragmented and desperate attempts to save their marriage… even as she finds herself in close contact with a charming, witty, heroic man who is clearly attracted to her…

And this being the Laundryverse, things are about to get worse.

This episode of the Laundry Files puts Mo front-and-center. While The Rhesus Chart featured young Alex' point of view, and there were a few interludes of Mo's point of view in The Jennifer Morgue, this is the first Laundry novel told entirely without Bob's point of view, and it gives us a different perspective not just on Mo, but on Bob and some of the other characters we've previously only seen through Bob's eyes. For a book that actually spends a lot of time with people talking in rooms, The Annihilation Score moves pretty darn fast towards its conclusion. This is probably due to the fact that it pretty much addresses all of the problems listed above in ONE book, which is just about as jam-packed as you want a book to be.

This is of course reflected in Mo's own overworked self; there is scarcely a chance for her to catch her breath even when she desperately needs it. Naturally, there is much, much more going on than even Mo suspects, and some of the forces operating around her are hoping very much that this will cause her to slip up at just the right time…














Domestically, poor Mo and Bob are kinda screwed, and definitely not in the good way. First she comes home after an emergency recall message (the same Code Red that ends The Rhesus Chart) to find Mhari (Bob's now-vampire ex) sleeping in their living room. Exhausted and on edge, she jumps to what is, admittedly, a perfectly justifiable conclusion. Unfortunately, as said conclusion comes with anger, loss, betrayal, and out-and-out rage, this is the kind of thing you don't want to have happen when the person in question is carrying an eldritch monster in the shape of a violin around with them.

"Lecter" – Mo's nickname for the White Violin – almost causes Mo to kill Mhari and Bob; he would have killed them, if Bob hadn't ordered him to stop in a language and tone of voice that is, most definitely, not Bob's.

And that's how she learns that Angleton is dead… and her husband is now the Eater of Souls, having inherited the power fully once Angleton passed.

So Bob is a potential monster… and she's carrying, and in a way bonded to, a very different monster who would not mind at all killing off the competition for her attention.

While there is more – much more – to the White Violin's intentions and plans, there is an explicit element of sexual seduction and coercion in its connection with Mo – as it demonstrates in dreams of hallucinogenic intensity. I normally skip sexual content in books, but in this case there's a plot-relevant aspect to the scenes that make them unskippable… and deeply disturbing.

Which is as it should be, when the dreamweaver is a Lovecraftian monster.

It was interesting reading Charlie's "take" on superheroes in the Laundryverse, as I've also written a superhero novel set in my own main universe. To an extent we had some parallel thoughts – especially as to the manifestations of such powers being guided by the societal gestalt relevant to the powers, so that those heavily influenced by the current Western fascination with superheroes would tend to create superheroes from the manifestations.

Where he goes with this idea, of course, is very different, and a lot darker, than my own. The "superpowers" in the Laundryverse are basically subconscious summoning-and-binding incantations – you are playing host and controller to Something from Outside. Apparently you can generally control that Something, whatever it is… but as with most other practitioners of sorcery, this activity can attract the "feeders", and pretty soon they are – literally – eating your brain away.

Mo has managed to miss the news about the emergence of superbeings (she's been very busy and often incommunicado) so when she's suddenly thrust into a "situation" involving a crazed supervillain, she's forced to intervene with Lecter… and it's caught on TV.

Faced with a security breach of effectively uncloseable proportions, the Laundry reacts in what is, honestly, probably the most effective way it could under the circumstances: immediately creates a "secret government agency" that's tasked with dealing with superhuman threats, implying the agency's been around for quite a while, and puts Doctor Dominique O'Brien in the Director's seat…

This is a combination of wincingly painful stuff to watch Mo go through, and sometimes hysterically funny as poor Mo has to deal with everything from an office with literally no furniture (yet) to discovering someone in Personnel has decided to make two of her most important department members Mhari (the previously mentioned vampire ex-girlfriend) and Ramona Random (the succubus Deep One we met way back in The Jennifer Morgue – the one who was destiny-entangled with Bob).

On the other hand, there is the other member of the team: Jim Grey, a fine Chief Superintendent of Police, upright, clean-cut, honest, witty… who also happens to be the only superhero policeman, "Officer Friendly".

Quite an attractive package… as Mo starts to realize.

In, around, and behind all these rather personal issues are much larger ones. The rise of the superheroes is one of the consequences of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the time when "The Stars Are Right", which began quite some months back. Other forces – much more malign – are in operation, some in the guise of superbeings such as The Mandate – someone so utterly charismatic that everyone finds themselves agreeing with him, no matter how ludicrous the circumstances – and some, such as the violin Mo calls Lecter, who are monsters beyond easy human understanding.

The climax of the book comes very swiftly and, if you don't know what to look for, unexpectedly. Mo is not quite as detached an observer and narrator as Bob, and thus the story is more emotionally powerful – and perhaps even stressful, for a while, to the reader that sympathizes too much.

The world goes on… but Mo has paid some very heavy prices for that.


And The Nightmare Stacks is not far away…


Your comments or questions welcomed!