On My Shelves: The Jennifer Morgue

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Bob Howard is back. A hacker-turned-agent for the supernatural covert agency of the United Kingdom, The Laundry, Bob has recovered from his earlier encounters with a parallel-world Nazi plot to summon an energy-consuming "ice giant" into the world and an internal power struggle that revealed part of the government's plans for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (when the Stars are Right and Things emerge from beyond the realm of sanity).

But things are never quiet when you're one of the people on the front lines between the rest of humanity and someone who misuses the wrong mathematics and unleashes Yog-Sothoth or something equally monstrous on mankind. In between collaring gaming geeks who have modded one too many modules or mathematical researchers who've rediscovered the basic principles of probability-sheaf manipulation by calculation, Bob finds himself sent on assignment to deal with a plan by a multibillionaire to salvage – or perhaps steal would be the better word – JENNIFER MORGUE.

Unfortunately, "JENNIFER MORGUE" is a weapon – or something else – in the deep ocean, which is controlled by entities codenamed BLUE HADES, or in more Lovecraftian parlance, the Deep Ones and Cthonians. These beings have demonstrated that their powers are vastly beyond most, if not all, weapons humanity can wield, and any intrusion into their domain could trigger an apocalypse.

So Bob is sent out to deal with the problem – and immediately linked up, spiritually and mentally, to a drop-dead gorgeous assassin – where "drop-dead" is quite literal. The assassin, Ramona, isn't pure human; she's also a succubus, and contact with her can be lethal.

Being connected to her for too long could also be lethal.

So now Bob is in the Caribbean, his target a billionaire on a cruise ship with a mad plan to take over the world, and his only ally a beautiful woman who could kill him at any moment.

 

(spoilers for the rest of the book follow, so don't go farther if you don't want them!)

 

The Jennifer Morgue is Charlie Stross' Lovecraftian take on James Bond, and he does it well, arranging all of the standard Bond tropes and then dunking them in a wonderfully concentrated sauce of creeping eldritch horror and cynical snark from Bob and occasionally others around him.

The resemblance of the plot to a Bond novel turns out to be far from coincidence; the villain has consciously forced that trope to be active, using a magical binding that uses the power of the Bond mythos to direct the allowable events to follow the basic script of a Bond movie. This is actually quite clever, the way the villain has arranged it, because it means that nothing the governments and military can do can stop him; only one lone Hero, the selected James Bond stand-in, has any chance of doing so, and the villain plans to break the binding just before the climax, reducing his would-be nemesis to just one other civil servant he can kill off.

Of course, in true Bondian fashion, that very part of his plan is subject to the same tropes. His plan to break the binding cannot work – something that, alas, he probably couldn't see specifically because the villain in the plot isn't allowed to notice the gaping holes in his plan. Since the binding can't be destroyed, the book has to come to a Bondian climax… which it does, but in a very, very Strossian way that breaks our expectations even as it plays to them.

I do have to wonder about the end, though; they think they're breaking Bond tradition, but James Bond DID propose, and get married, to one of his Bond Girls. Once. And the ending was not good.

While this is billed as the second book, I have a feeling of having missed something, especially as regards Mo wielding the Music of Erich Zann, so to speak. It's not necessary for me to understand to read the novel, but it did make me feel as though something was left out.

As with The Atrocity Archives, there is a second short story at the end of The Jennifer Morgue, titled Pimpf (why, I'm not sure; the references I find are either Nazi or Depeche Mode, neither of which seem relevant to the story). This is a fairly straightforward if very well-done tale of what can happen if you cross the mystical mathematics that can manipulate reality with an MMORPG setting, and of Bob ending up with an intern he's responsible for.

Also included is an essay on the Golden Age of Spying, including "A Colder War?", which connects James Bond to the Lovecraftian mythos. For someone who read all of the Bond novels and saw most of the movies, like me, it wasn't as educational as it might be for someone younger or less well-read, but it's very well written all the same.

Overall, a strong follow-up to The Atrocity Archives, and I look forward to tackling The Fuller Memorandum.

 

Comments

  1. Bo Lindbergh says:

    The title “Pimpf” becomes obvious once you notice that the assistant’s initials are “P.F.Y.”.

Your comments or questions welcomed!