Asimov's Science Fiction Review

by Charles Stross
Golden Gryphon, $24.95 (hc)
ISBN: 1-930846-25-8

Stress shows his versatility with this one, a playful cross between espionage fiction in the manner of Len Deighton and supernatural horror in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft.

Bob works for Capital Laundry Services — a bland name that conceals a government bureau responsible for protecting the nation against invasions of the kinds of entities that inhabit Lovecraft's worlds. We follow him on a mission to hack into a corporate computer containing a mathematical proof that could open up doors to weird dimensions from which eldritch horrors will undoubtedly emerge. Then, to reinforce the point, at a training session one of Bob's coworkers mishandles a spell and is instantly possessed by an alien intelligence. Bob reacts in time to prevent further damage, but the coworker is dead.

With that beginning, Bob's adventures escalate, with our hero combating threats from arcane creatures with a combination of advanced cybercraft and good old-fashioned leg work. The internal politics of Capital Laundry Services are a thoroughly amusing British bureaucratic tangle, and Bob's home life — shared with two hopeless roommates and a shifting cast of love interests — puts the whole adventure in a convincing twenty-first century milieu.

Stress's affection for the suspense and horror novels that are the inspiration for the plot elements is obvious. Equally obvious is his familiarity with the world and lifestyle of the technogeeks who make up a large percentage of his characters. So despite the superficial seriousness of the events that Bob is faced with, one can sense the author smiling behind the scenes.

The book consists of two novella-length pieces in the same setting, which holds out the possibility of still more in the same vein. That would be welcome — Bob is a thoroughly entertaining protagonist, and his suspension between the highest of high-tech worlds and the almost anachronistic Lovecraftian pantheon makes for a heady blend of fictional treats.

— Peter Heck, "On Books," Asimov's Science Fiction, December 2004


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