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Another nibble: "Skills Matrix"

Yes, it's published today!

... And if you've already read the prologue and first chapter, here's the second chapter of "The Apocalypse Codex"! (Below the cut.)

Skills Matrix

Ms MacDougal squints at me disapprovingly over the top of her Gucci spectacles: "This year you're going to take at least three weeks of Professional Development training, Mr. Howard. No ifs, no buts. With great power comes great authority, and if you want to stay on track for SSO 5(L) you will need to acquire an intimate and sympathetic understanding of the way people work outside the narrow scope of your department."

I will say this for Emma MacDougal: she may be a fire–breathing HR dragon, but she doesn't short us on training opportunities. "What should I be looking at?" I ask her.

"The Fast Stream track: leadership and people management skills," she says without batting an eyelid. I nearly choke on my coffee. (It's a sign of how far I've come lately that when I'm summoned to the departmental HR manager's office I rate the comfy chair and the complimentary refreshments.) "This is foundation work for your PSG and Grade Seven/SCS induction." Which is HR–speak for promotion: Professional Skills for Government and Senior Civil Service. "Your divisional heads have endorsed you for SCS, and I gather you've shown up on the radar Upstairs—" she means Mahogany Row—"so they'll be taking a look at you in due course to decide whether you're suitable for further promotion. So it's my job to see you get the grounding you need in essential operational delivery and stakeholder management. You're going to have to go back to school—Sunningdale Park."

I grin uncertainly at her buzz–words. Where I come from, stakeholder management is all about making sure you've got your vampire where you want it. "Isn't Sunningdale Park for regular Civil Service?"

"Yes. So what?"

"But"—we don't exist is on the tip of my tongue—"this is the Laundry." Which really doesn't exist, as far as most of the civil service is concerned; we're so superblack that the COBRA Committee has never heard of us. (In actual fact we're a subdivision of SOE, an organization that was officially disbanded in 1945.) Our senior management, Mahogany Row, are so superblack that most of us don't ever see them; as far as I can tell, you hit a certain level in the Laundry and you vanish into such total obscurity that you might as well not be in the same organization. "Isn't Sunningdale Park big on teamwork and horizontal networking across departmental boundaries? Who am I supposed to tell them I work for?"

"Oh, all our fast track candidates are assigned a plausible cover story with backup documentation." Emma stares at me thoughtfully. "I think . . . Yes, wait a minute." She turns to her very expensive tablet PC and rattles off a memo. "You're going to be a network security manager from, ah, the Highways Agency. Securing our nation's vital arteries of commerce against the scum of the internet, road tax dodgers and drunk drivers, and so on." A carnivorous smile plays across her lips as she continues: "You're being promoted because they need someone who understands these machines—" her fingers linger on the keyboard "—to supervise the GPS and number–plate recognition side of the National Road–Pricing Scheme."

"But I'll be about as popular as herpes!" I protest. The NRPS is the nanny state poster–child project of the decade—monitoring vehicle number plate movements and billing the owners for road usage, automatically fining them if they move between two monitoring sites faster than the national speed limit permits. It's hugely overambitious, hated by everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to the Ambulance Service, supposedly due to be self–funded out of revenue raised from fines, and destined to overrun its budget faster than you can say "public–private prolapse."

"Exactly; nobody's going to want to get too close to you." Her wicked grin erupts. "Isn't that what you were worried about a moment ago?"

"But—but—" I surrender—"Okay." I've got to admit, it's the perfect cover. "But what about the networking and schmoozing side of things?"

"Your second–level story is that you're looking for an exit strategy from the Highways Agency; they'll talk to you out of pity." She shrugs. "You don't need me to draw you a diagram, Mr. Howard. I'll set up the training account and book you in as soon as possible; the rest is up to you."

* * *

That evening I break the bad news to Mo. "They're sending me to management school."

"That'll be an eye–opener, I'm sure." She peers at me over her rimless spectacles, then picks up the open bottle: "More wine?"

"Yes please. They're trying to turn me into one of them." I shudder slightly at the memory of managers past. Bridget and Harriet, banes of my life, who lost a game of king–of–the–castle to Angleton. Andy, who is a nice guy with a bad habit of dropping me in it occasionally. Iris, the best line manager I ever had, who turned out to have hidden depths of a most peculiar and unpleasant kind. I generally have terrible luck with managers—except for Angleton, who isn't a manager exactly (he just scares the crap out of everyone who tries to use him as a chess piece). Sitting uneasily somewhere outside the regular org chart, off to one side, doing special projects for Mahogany Row, he hardly counts.

"You're wrong," Mo says crisply, and pours a goodly dollop of pinot noir into my glass. "If they tried to turn you into another pointy–haired clone they'd destroy your utility to the organization—and beating swords into ploughshares is not in the game plan. They're gearing up to fight a shooting war." She tops up her own glass. "Here's to your imminent officer's commission, love."

"They'll make me wear a tie!" I protest.

"No they won't." She pauses to reconsider. "Well, if they're sending you on regular civil service training courses at the National School of Government you probably ought to dress the part, but there's no need to go over the top." She looks at me appraisingly, and there's something very professional about her gaze. Like me, my wife works for the Laundry; unlike me, she keeps one foot in the outside world, holding down a part–time lectureship in Philosophy of Mathematics at King's College. (Maintaining that much contact with everyday life is central to keeping Agent CANDID sane—I've seen what the other half of her job does to her, and it's heart breaking.) "You're going there as a student so you can probably get away with business casual, especially at your grade and given a technical specialty as a background."

"Huh." I finally raise my glass and take a sip of wine. "But I'm going to be stuck there for a whole week. Stranded in deepest Ruralshire without you. There's on–site accommodation, run by some god–awful outsourcing partnership; there probably isn't even a pub within a fifteen kilometer radius."

"Nonsense. It's suburbia; you can get into town of an evening, there's a bus service, and there are bars and restaurants on campus."

The kitchen timer goes off right then, yammering until she walks over and silences it, then opens the oven door. That's my cue to stand up and start hauling out plates and serving spoons. Dinner is a for–two curry set from Tesco, and we've been married long enough to have worked out the division of labor thing: you know the drill.

(It's funny how, despite the yawning abyss that has opened up beneath the foundations of reality, we cling desperately to the everyday rituals of domestic life. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt . . . )

Mo tugs at the frayed edges of my management–phobia over the wreckage of a passable saag gosht and a stack of parathas. "Sending you on a course on leadership and people skills sounds like a really good idea to me," she says. Tearing off a piece of the bread and wrapping it around a lump of lamb and spinach: "They're not saddling you with stuff like public administration, procurement policy, or PRINCE2. That's significant, Bob: you're getting a very odd take on management from this one." She chews thoughtfully. "Leadership and people skills. Next thing you know they'll be whisking you off to the Joint Services Command and Staff College."

"I am so not cut out for that."

"Oh. Really?" She raises an eyebrow.

"Marching around in uniform, spit and polish and exercise and healthy outdoor living, that kind of thing." I'm making excuses. We've both worked as civilian auxiliaries with the police and military on occasion. I chase a chunk of spinach around my plate with a fork, not meeting her eyes. "I don't get it. This particular training schedule, I mean. There's a lot of work I should be doing, and there are courses at the Village—" Dunwich, our very own not–on–the–map training and R&R facility—"that I could be auditing. Stuff that really will improve my survival prospects when the tentacles hit the pentacle."

Mo sighs and puts down her spoon. "Bob. Look at me. What's coming next?"

"What's—dessert?" I try to parse the precise nuanced meaning of her frown. "The big picture? DEEP SIX rising? Um, the Sleeper in the Pyramid's alarm clock going off? The Red Skull cult taking the sightseeing elevator up the Burj Khalifa with a black goat and a SCSI cable—oh, you mean CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN?" She nods: kindly encouragement for the cognitively challenged. "The end of the world as we know it? Lovecraft's singularity, when the monsters from beyond spacetime bleed through the walls of the universe, everyone simultaneously acquires the power of a god and the sanity of an eight–week–old kitten, and the Dead Minds finally awaken?" She nods vigorously: clearly I'm on the right track. "Oh, that. We fight until we go down. Fighting. Then we fight some more."

I look at my plate, at the smeary streaks of drying curry and the mortal remains of a dead sheep's slaughtered, butchered, and cooked haunch. "Hopefully we don't end up as someone else's dinner." For a moment I feel a stab of remorse for the lamb: born into an infinite, hostile universe and destined from birth to be nothing more than fodder for uncaring alien intelligences vaster by far than it can comprehend. "'Scuse me, I'm having a Heather Mills moment here."

Mo makes my plate disappear into the dishwasher. That's what my Agent CANDID does for the Laundry: she makes messes vanish. (And sometimes I have to hold her in the night until the terror passes.) "What you missed, love, is that it's not enough for you to be good at your job. When the shit hits the fan your job's going to get a lot bigger, so big that it takes more people to do the work. And you've got to show those other people how to do it; and you've got to be good at leading and motivating them. That's why they want you to go on this course. It's about getting you ready to lead from the front. Next thing you know Mahogany Row will be taking a look to see if you've got what it takes to be an executive."

I stare at my wine glass for a moment. That latter bit is so wildly out there that it'd be laughable, if the big picture wasn't so dire. What do executives do, anyway? It's not as if there's ever anyone in the posh offices when I'm called upstairs to deliver an eyes–only report. It's like they've transmigrated to another dimension, or moved outside the organization entirely. Maybe they're squatting in the House of Lords. But she's right about the job getting bigger and the need for rad management skillz, that's the hell of it. "I suppose so," I admit.

"So. When do you start?" she asks.

I blink. "I thought I told you? It's next Monday!"

"Oh, for—" Mo picks up the wine bottle. "That's a bit sudden." She drains it into our glasses, then adds it to the recycling bucket. "All next week?"

"Yes, I'm supposed to check in on Sunday evening. So we've got tomorrow and Saturday."

"Bugger." She looks at me hungrily. "Well I suppose we shall just have to make up for time apart in advance, won't we?"

My pulse speeds up. "If you want . . ."

* * *

By Monday afternoon the torture has not only begun, it is well underway.

"Hello, and welcome to this afternoon's workshop breakout session exploring leadership and ownership of challenging projects. I'm Dr. Tring and I'm part of the department of public administration at Nottingham Trent Business School. We like to keep these breakout sessions small so we can all get to know one another, and they're deliberately structured as safe space: you all work for different agencies and we've made sure there's no overlap in your roles or responsibilities. We're on Chatham House rules here—anything that's said here is non–attributable and any names or other, ah, incriminating evidence gets left behind when we leave. Are we all clear with that?"

I nod like a parcel–shelf puppy. Around me the three other students in this session are doing likewise. We're sitting knee–to–knee in a tight circle in the middle of a whitewashed seminar room. The powder–blue conference seats were clearly not designed by anyone familiar with human anatomy: we're fifteen minutes in and my bum is already numb. Dr. Tring is about my age and wears a suit that makes him look more like a department store sales clerk than an academic. As far as my fellow students go, I'm one of the two dangerous rebels who turned up in office casual; the rest are so desperately sober that if you could bottle them you could put the Betty Ford Clinic out of business.

This morning we started with a power breakfast and a PowerP oint–assisted presentation on the goals and deliverables of this week's course. Then we broke for an hour–long meet–and–greet get–to–know–you team building session, followed by a two–hour peptalk on the importance of common core values and respect for diversity among next–generation leadership. Then lunch (with more awkward small talk over the wilted lettuce–infested sandwiches), and now this.

"I'd like to start by asking you all to introduce yourselves by name and department, then give us a brief sketch of what you do there. Not in great detail: a minute or two is enough. If you'd like to begin, Ms . . . ?"

Ms . . . gives a quick giggle, rapidly suppressed. "I'm Debbie Williams, Department for International Development." Blonde and on the plump side, she's one of the suits, subtype: black with shoulder pads, very formal, the kind you see folks wearing when they want to convince their boss that they're serious about earning that promotion. (Or when they work for a particularly stuffy law firm.) "I'm in the strategy unit for Governance in Challenging Environments. We work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to develop robust accounting standards for promoting better budgetary administration for NGOs working in questionable—"

I zone out. Her mouth is moving and emitting sounds, but my mind's a thousand kilometers away, deep in a flashback. I'm in the middle of a platoon of SAS territorials, all of us in full–body pressure suits with oxygen tanks on our backs, boots crunching across the frozen air of a nightmare plain beneath a moon carved in the likeness of Hitler's face as we march towards a dark castle . . . I pinch myself and try to force my attention back to the here and now, where Debbie Somebody is burbling enthusiastically about recovery of depreciated assets and retention of stakeholder engagement to ensure the delivery of best value to local allies—

"Thank you, that's very good, Debbie!" Dr. Tring has the baton again. "Next, if you'd like to fill us in on your background, Mr.—"

"Bevan, Andrew Bevan." Andrew has a Midlands accent, positively Mancunian, and although he's another suit–wearer, his is brown tweed. "Hi, everyone, I'm with the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport, and I'm really excited to be part of the Olympic Delivery Authority's Post–Event Assets Realization Team! As you know, the Olympics went swimmingly and were a big hit for Britain, but even though the games are over the administrative issues raised by hosting the Olympics are still with us—"

And I'm gone again (four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire), held prisoner in a stateroom aboard a luxury yacht—a thinly disguised ex–Soviet guided missile destroyer—with a silver–plated keel and a crew of jump–suited, mirrorshade–wearing minions, cruising the Caribbean under the orders of a madman who is trying to raise a dead horror from the Abyss (and though the holes were rather small, they had to count them all)—

I pull myself back to the present just as Mr. Bevan explains the urgent necessity of documenting best practices for monetizing tangible assets including but not limited to new–build Crown estate properties in order to write down the balance sheet deficit left by the games.

"Thank you, Mr. Bevan, for that fascinating peek inside the invaluable work of the DCMS. Ah, and now you, Mr., ah, Howard, is it?"

I blink back to the here and now, open my mouth, and freeze.

What I was about to say was something like this: "Hi, I'm Bob Howard. I'm a computational demonologist and senior field agent working for an organization you don't know exists. My job involves a wide range of tasks, including: writing specifications for structured cabling runs in departmental offices; diving through holes in spacetime that lead to dead worlds and fighting off the things with too many tentacles and mouths that I find there; liaising with procurement officers to draft the functional requirements for our new classified document processing architecture; exorcising haunted jet fighters; ensuring departmental compliance with service backup policy; engaging in gunfights with the inbred cannibal worshippers of undead alien gods; and sitting in committee meetings."

All of which is entirely true, and utterly, impossibly inadmissible: if I actually said it smoke would come out of my ears and my hair would catch fire long before I died, thanks to the oath of office I have sworn and the geas under which Crown authority is vested in me.

"Mr. Howard?" I snap into focus. Dr. Tring is peering at me, an expression of faint concern on his face.

"Sorry, must be something I ate." Quick, pull yourself together, Bob! "The name's Howard, Bob Howard. I work in IT security for, uh, the Highways Agency, in Leeds. My job involves a wide range of tasks, including: writing specifications for structured cabling runs in departmental offices; liaising with procurement officers to draft the functional requirements for our new automatic numberplate recognition–based road pricing scheme's penalty ticket management system; ensuring departmental compliance with service backup policy; and sitting in committee meetings."

I blink. They're all staring at me as if I've grown a second head, or coughed to being a senior field agent in a highly classified security organization.

"That's the system for handing out automatic fines to people who exceed the speed limit between cameras anywhere on the road network, isn't it?" Debbie from DFID chirps, bright and menacing.

"Um, yes?" Living as we do in central London, inside the Congestion Charge Zone, Mo and I don't own a car.

"My mum got one of them," observes Andrew from the Olympics. "She was driving my dad to the A&E unit, he swore blind 'e'd just got indigestion, but 'e'd already 'ad one heart attack—" The dropped aitches are coming out; the mob of angry peasants with the pitchforks and torches will be along in a moment.

"I think they're stupid, too," I say, perhaps a trifle too desperately; Dr. Tring is focusing on me with the expressionless gaze of a zombie assassin—don't think about those things, you're in public—"but it's part of the integrated transport safety policy." I hunch my back and roll my eyes as disarmingly as any semi–professional Igor to the Transport Secretary's Frankenstein, but they're not buying it. "Speed kills," I squeak. From the way they stare at me, you'd think I'd confessed to eating babies.

"That's enough," says Dr. Tring, finally condescending to drag the seminar back on course. "Ah, Ms Steele, if you don't mind telling us a little about your specialty, which would be managing an audit team for HMRC . . . ?"

And Ms Steele—thin–faced and serious as sudden death—launches straight into a series of adventures in carousel duty evasion and international reverse double–taxation law, during which I retreat into vindictive fantasies about setting my classmates' cars on fire.

* * *

Four hours of soul–destroyingly banal tedium—vapid nostrums about leadership values, stupid role–playing games involving pretending to be circus performers organizing a fantasy big top night, sly digs from the Ministry of Sport—pass me by in a blur. I go upstairs to my bedroom, force myself to shower and unkink my clenched jaw muscles, then dress again, and go downstairs.

They've set up a buffet in one of the meeting rooms. It's piled high with tuna mayo sandwiches, cold chicken drumsticks, and greasy mini–samosas, evidently in a misplaced attempt to encourage us to mingle and network after working hours. Halfway across the campus there's a bar, although the beer's fizzy piss and the spirits are overpriced. I check the clock: it's only six  thirty. If I do the mingling thing they'll start badgering me about their aunts' speeding tickets, but the prospect of drinking on my own does not appeal.

I make the best of a bad deal and strike out across the campus to the nearest bar, where I order a pint of lemonade to calm my nerves and contemplate the menu without much enthusiasm. The ghastly truth is beginning to sink in when one of my fellow victims walks in and approaches the bar. At least I think he's a victim; he might be staff. Three–piece suit, mid–fifties, distinguished gray hair and a salt–and–pepper mustache. Something about his bearing is familiar, then I realize where I've seen it before—ten to one he's ex–military. As he taps the brass bell–push he catches me watching him and nods. "Ah, Mr. Howard."

I stare at him. "That's me. Who are you?" It's rude, I know, but I'm not in a terribly good mood right now.

"I heard one of you young people would be here, and thought I ought to meet you." The barman, who looks younger than most of the single malts behind the bar, sticks his head up. "Ah, that'll be a Talisker, the sixteen–year–old, and—" He looks at me—"what's your poison, Mr. Howard?"

"I'll try the Glengoyne ten," I say automatically.

"Bill it to my tab," says my nameless benefactor. "No ice!" he adds, with an expression of mild horror as the barman reaches for the bucket. "That will be all." The barman, to my surprise, makes himself scarce, leaving two tumblers of amber water–of–life atop the bar. "Make yourself comfortable," he says, gesturing at a couple of armchairs beside the empty fireplace. He makes it sound like an order.

I sit down. He sits down opposite me. "You still haven't introduced yourself," I say.

"Indeed." He smiles faintly.

"Indeed." There's nothing I can say to that without being rude, and we in the Laundry have an old saying: Do not in haste be rude to whoever's buying the drinks. So I raise my tumbler, take a good sniff (just to make sure it isn't poison), and examine him over the rim.

"You surprised Dr. Tring, you know. Most of the students here are aiming to network and make connections; you might want to pick a slightly less objectionable cover story next time."

Cover story. I give him the hairy eyeball. "For the third time. Who's asking?"

He reaches into his jacket pocket with his right hand and withdraws a familiar–looking card. Which he then holds in front of me while I read the name on it and feel a prickling in the balls of my thumbs (and a vibration in the ward that hangs on a chain around my neck) that tells me it's the real thing.

"All right, Mr. Lockhart." I take a sip of his whisky and allow myself to relax—but only a little. "I'll take your helpful advice under consideration, although in my defense, I have to say, the story wasn't my idea. But what—if I may ask—are you doing here?"

"I'd have thought it was obvious; I'm enjoying an after–work drink and networking with a useful contact in the Highways Agency." Gerald Lockhart, who at SSO8(L) is a stratospheric four grades above me—that's four grades up in the same organization—replies without any noticeable inflection.

"Uh huh." I think for a moment. "We couldn't possibly be running an ongoing effort here to identify suitable candidates for recruitment from within other branches of the civil service—or to implant geases in up–and–coming players fast–tracked for promotion that will enable us to work more effectively with them in future. Could we?"

"Certainly not, Mr. Howard, and I'd thank you to stop speculating along such lines. You're not cleared for them."

Oops. "Okay, I'll stop." But I can't avoid a little jab: "But you're obviously cleared for me, aren't you?"

Lockhart fixes me with a reptilian stare: "James warned me about your sense of humor, young man. I think he indulges you too much."

Young man? I'm in my early thirties. On the other hand, I can take a hint that I'm in over my head: when your sparring partner turns out to be on a first–name basis with Angleton, it's time to back off.

I put my glass down, even though it's not empty. "Look, I don't need this. You obviously want to talk to me about something. But I've had a bad day, I'm not terribly happy to be here, and I'm not handling this very well. So I'd appreciate it if you'd just say your piece, all right?"

I can see his jaw working, behind the salt–and–pepper topiary on his upper lip. "If that's the way you want it." He takes a sip of his single malt. "I expect you've noticed that there are a lot of high–flyers here. Civil servants who are being groomed for upper management roles, where in ten years time they'll deal with members of the government and represent their departments in public. You should be making notes, Mr. Howard, because although you won't be dealing with the general public, you'll certainly be representing us in front of these people. You're going to need those people–handling skills. If we all live long enough for you to acquire them. Ha, ha."

"Ha—" I try not to look unsuitably unamused—"ha. So?"

"James is assigning you to my department for a little project—nothing you can't handle, I assure you. I'll see you in my office next Monday morning at eleven o'clock sharp. In the meantime, you have some background reading to catch up on." He slides a dog–eared paperback towards me across the table before I can respond. "Good night, Mr. Howard." He rises, and before I can open my mouth and insert any additional limbs he vanishes.

I pick up the book and turn it over in my hands. Spy–Catcher, it says, by Peter Wright. New York Times bestseller. I stare at it. Background reading? Wasn't he a rogue Security Service officer from the seventies or something? How bizarre. I pick up my whisky glass, and open the book.

Oh well, at least I've got something to pass the evenings with now . . .



I rush to Amazon and see...16th July.

I hate international publishing deals.


Believe it or not, someone has to edit and typeset the thing! Because I'm primarily acquired by the US publisher, they've taken the lead on that process.

In previous years, my UK and US publishers managed to get the job of simultaneous publication down to a fine art, so that the typeset text (from the US typesetting agency) was available to the UK publisher's bureau in time to merge with the cover and front matter of the UK edition before going to press at the same time.

However, due to staff turnover the folks doing this process right now have never done it before, and had to add two weeks of contingency time to the process. (They'd previously intended to publish it three months later in the UK; cutting the delay down to two weeks is all we could manage.)

Hopefully things will be back to normal in time for my next book (in July 2013) to show up simultaneously on both sides of the pond.


when the tentacles hit the pentacle


As you know, the Olympics went swimmingly and were a big hit for Britain

....taking a bit of a flier there, aren't you?


3: actually, on second thoughts, you aren't; if it's a complete dog's breakfast, that line will read as sarcasm.


I expect Bob to recognize that the management theory being taught in Professional Development Training is right out of the Necronomicon.


After reading the prologue, now I gotta the Apocalypse Codex actually redacted, with black bars and all, to be eventually republished in an unredacted version at a later date? Because that would be an awesome stunt if it was.


I'm reading this in a HR department trying desperately not to laugh at the horror of training. That and desperately trying to think of a book shop in the vicinity that doesn't close as I leave work!

A Stross Publication Day, happy happy!


Happy release day Charlie! I am about to go back to enjoying it. Bought the ebook before I even got dressed this morning. My bosses insist that I work today, however, so I won't be able to read it all day. This evening though. Oh will it be read this evening.


Looking forward to getting my copy in 2 weeks time. My daughter ordered it as a late birthday present. I'll have to fight her off first ....

Beware of letting your children loose on your bookshelves. I'm not sure Harry Harrison and E.E. Doc Smith was healthy for a pre-teen :-)

Mind you she is now reading Chemistry at Oxford


Looks like I've got some background reading to do, too -- I'd never even heard of Spy-Catcher, and now I'm not going to be happy until I've read it.


You are not missing much. But it does give one insiders view of British intelligence operations. Whether you can trust that view, I dunno. John Le Carre is also an insider, and a far better writer. You might as well enjoy your research.


when the tentacles hit the pentacle

That's a great line. The ventilatory-fecal intersection variant was getting overused (and so is river in Egypt, to be blunt), but this is fresher and conjures up some nice imagery.


also, somehow it made me think of "the flagon with the dragon" and I had to suppress quite a giggle at the office ..


Stop torturing me, you swine. I've already pre-ordered the damned thing!


Barnes & Noble say In Stock at my local stores. Guess where I'm going this afternoon.

Intentionally not reading these previews. Reading of actual book will be delayed slighty (as usual) while I finish Banks' "State of the Art". But it is definitely bumped up the to read list.


Wow! It is a pleasure to read such sly smart funny prose. (And nice technical work of back-storying, too.)

So are you really intending to sacrifice the pleasures of a contemporary setting, and sharp institutional humour, for open mayhem in Nightmare Green? Or do we get both--- an almost plausible contemporary world, which nobody notices is going to the gods.

As another child of the Cold War, I still feel surprised we made it this far...


The joys of playing bullshit bingo in meetings.

19: 10 Para 2 - That's about when I started in on them, the Saint, Asimov, Clarke, Bashful Inferno et al. Be afraid, be very afraid, because I know what I'm like now, and I'd have been worse if I'd read chemistry! 15 - So have I!

That bit about the Olympics... bit of a gamble wasn't it?


Curse you humble typesetters doesn't sound as good though.


It's obviously sarcasm, and not a big risk from the author because the financial clusterfuck was predicted years ago. Bevan goes on to explain his job involves writing off some of the deficit.


"As you know, the Olympics went swimmingly and were a big hit for Britain..."

I doubt any civil servant would be that sarcastic if AQ drops a plane on the stadium.


I doubt any civil servant would be that sarcastic if AQ drops a plane on the stadium.

But we have emplaced surface to air missiles on top of apartment blocks to stop that from happening!

What could possibly go wrong?

(What AQ really need to do is smuggle operatives contaminated with rotavirus into the athletes' village. That'd set the cat among the pigeons!)


Well, self selected operative of the AQ franchise seem to be a bit dim from a technological POV. Witness the plan to blow up Glasgow(?) airport by setting themselves on fire and hoping that the propane cylinders on board would explode like in Hollywood movies. They obviously did not watch Mythbusters, nor know about pressure release safety valves.


They were medical students. QED.

(This probably makes more sense/is funnier if you ever had to mop up after the havoc caused by new house officers on the ward ...)


This morning we started with a power breakfast and a PowerP oint–assisted presentation...

Is "PowerP oint" the first spotted typo? I admit hoping that it snuck in somehow later and doesn't appear in the printed version.


You mean they actually had A levels in science related subjects??? The education system has obviously been dumbed down. When I was at school I made REAL bombs. Still, I imagine that given their incompetence many lives were saved by them cutting their medical careers short.


The proper rejoinder to "Denial isn't just a river in Egypt" is "well, F_ isn't just a village in Austria! So what?"

And if you terrorists come to Glasgow, we'll set about ye!

Spycatcher. Damn, I remember when that was in the news. Sort of "The Satanic Verses" for spooks. I bought a copy but never got around to reading it. Guess I'll have to now.


Looks like I've got some background reading to do, too -- I'd never even heard of Spy-Catcher, and now I'm not going to be happy until I've read it.

1) "Spycatcher" not "Spy-Catcher". (typo in the book?)

2) It's a reasonable read if rather self-pitying - his suspicions of, eg, Hollis are a bit out of date, but his description of the real James Angleton is memorable, as is a lot of the techie stuff (also cameo appearance by Peter Ustinov's dad).


You mean they actually had A levels in science related subjects?

Er, if I understood Charlie right, they were of the medical persuasion. The only field of study outside of economics, humanities etc. we biologists are allowed to look down on in terms of ALL[1] physics, chemistry and mathematics, though the latter needs some clarification "except for the cash".

[1] We're looking down on physicist in terms of chemistry, though both chemists and physicist look down on us in terms of physics. For the medics, suffice it to say a pentavalent carbon is known as a "Medizinerkohlenstoff" (medical practitioner's carbon) at most German universities. And then there's the whole purity fun:


No no no...i must not be tempted by this or the previous extract but there's at least a class five glamour on this stuff.


This isn't fair. Release this stuff in the evenings, not the morning.

Some of us had to spend the lunchtime reading this(*), and then face into an afternoon of PRINCE2 meetings, knowing they wouldn't inflict that sort of hell on you in the Laundry. Not fair.

(*) Is reading your blog compulsory, or just required?


@3 "Went swimmingly" - as in sunk in the blocked-off Lea Canal (down which I USED to be able to cycle) without trace. Fascist crooks & liars, LOCOG, that is. Symbols? olympic rings?

Charlie @ 24 As mentioned, they've closed off the canal towpath, but left a 10-minute in EACH DIRECTION train service, running through the middle. No, you couldn't make it up. Fascist, arrogant, moronic tugs, the lot of them. Living where I do, you would not guess form the ploiticos public lies, just how much the XXXth olympiad is HATED in this part of London.

Dirk @ 28 You too? Mind the real expert was my late father - worked at Ardeer 1941-45 - drafted as a civil servant - rather like Bob Howard, now I think of it. Certainly, up until about 1960, if you wanted it to go BANG, he was the man to ask....


the new mmo i'm playing < the secret world> seems to be set during CNG they ought to ask OGH if they want any more plots writing


When do you think you'll throw up the spoiler discussion thread? (Hours/Days/Weeks)


"Or do we get both--- an almost plausible contemporary world, which nobody notices is going to the gods."

No, I don't think Charlie is writing fiction set in exactly the world we live in.


What makes you think I have any intention of hosting a spoiler thread in the next few years?


Downloaded to the Nook first thing this morning, would be further along if it wasn't for having to work the night shift...

Thanks, Charlie.


I have just been spammed by a Border Security Conference which is to be held in London, mid-October.

The opening/keynote speech is by the Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Minister of State for Immigration.

We're not just being robbed by the fascists, we're being spammed by them.

Incidentally, if they want to claim they are carefully selecting the people they mail this to, I am boggled at the thought of these security professionals selecting me as a potential delegate.


Have done my bit to feed the cat. Had to stop myself from browsing too much when I spotted a certain local megachurch*--I'm hoping nasty things happen there, but will wait to find out.

*BTW Charlie, did you get to visit it?


I forgot to add ... "Peter Wright / Spycatcher" ? You what? Wasn't this guy pinked off, in public at least, as a lying fantasist, with 150%-zero knowledge of real science? Which would explain, of course, why he is, err, erm, relevant, perhaps to the Laundry? O what a twisted web we weave, indeed.


Meant to ask: Ray Schiller = Robert Schuller + Shill?

In my mother's early Army days, mid/late 70s, she was a Chaplain's Assistant (aka Chap Ass) to an orthodox Rabbi, when Schuller visited the post chapel and she had to play tour guide. She describes him as "a short, little twerp", or words to that effect.


Incidentally, why is Tony Blair on the cover?



Who he?


One of the first Televangilists.

hard to tell if you're being sarcastic.


No sarcasm: I'd never heard of the guy.


Sorry, didn't think so.

Schuller's not as well known as he was, and apparently wasn't a big shyster like Falwell, Bakker, or Swaggart.


Been reading TAC on my Kindle and enjoying it!

One of my Sociology profs at university was an expert on radio/tv evangelists and his lecture on them was fascinating. (This was in the 1980s, btw!) A friend worked in IT at Oral Roberts' operation in the late 70s and it was very, very sophisticated.


Awesome book. Only two problems with it:

  • Having to wait three to four years for the next book.

  • Still nothing about what has become of Bob's ex-girlfriend.

  • 51:

    Fun Summer Reading [Crooked Timber]

    by Henry on July 3, 2012

    It being the season, some recommendations for entertaining fiction – feel free to castigate my narrow tastes in comments, to make your own recommendations, or both, as suits you best.

    Charles Stross – The Apocalypse Codex (Powells, Amazon ). The new Laundry book, and the best one imo since the first. Without giving anything major away, things are really beginning to move


    Just finished it. I'm so sorry I couldn't make it last longer, but I'm weak.

    I am amused to have seen reviews already that complain about this book's "hostility" toward "all" of christianity, when what I see is amusement at the harmless kind combined with a quite reasonable fear of what the crazies are up to.

    Charlie: Did you pick the year of the antagonists' organization's founding for any particular reason? I misremembered that year as the first year TheWatchtower_ was published, but not so much, so ?


    Aaand I completely forgot to go to the bookstore before it closed.

    Guess the ebook thing continues, its just too hard to argue with the free instant shipping.

    I am amused to have seen reviews already that complain about this book's "hostility" toward "all" of christianity, when what I see is amusement at the harmless kind combined with a quite reasonable fear of what the crazies are up to.

    Really? Got any links because I need a laugh as much as the next man?!


    I'm still waiting in agony for my UK iTunes pre-order.

    Now, though, to add to the fun, on anxious re-examination of the iTunes page, it says I need iOS 4.3 or above, whereas I'm sure when I ordered I checked that it would be OK with my iPhone 3G which cannot be upgraded beyond 4.2.1. Here's hoping it's an egregious error. Obv not your fault, just moaning.


    Regarding eBooks,

    In Capitalist America (and elsewhere), eBook reads you.


    Oh, man, that takes me back. I grew up in Houston, Texas, below the buckle of the Bible Belt, which is Dallas. In that part of the country, televangelists are more numerous than chiggers and fire ants.

    Houston currently boasts Joel Osteen, a whey-faced prosperity-gospel preacher who inherited his dad's empire and whose wife acts like local royalty. A few years ago, he bought the Summit, an arena where I saw a lot of great rock concerts in the '70s and '80s (and saw the Houston Rockets play a few times).

    Dallas had three famous preachers: Criswell (not the Criswell of Criswell Predicts) of the First Baptist Church, Robert Tilton, now known as the Farting Preacher, and Bob Larson, who my friends used to troll in the late '80s/early '90s. And, of course, the Church of the Subgenius was founded there.

    It's in the water.

    Just up north was Rev. Oral Roberts, who saw Jesus appear to him 900 feet high (yet still look at him eye to eye).

    I really miss the Reverend Dr. Gene Scott, God's Angry Man.

    "We're fightin' demon forces, some damn computer hack has tied up, every national phone is tied up!"

    "Don't waste time taking lame-brained excuses--if they're not calling in with money, SLAM IT UP IN THEIR FACE!"

    Alas, his classic "Kill A Pissant For Jesus" is currently not to be found on the intertubes...

    TV preachers are still around, advising US politicians or helping Ugandan parliamentarians make homosexuality a capital crime. They just don't loom over the landscape like they did in the 1980s, because the mediasphere is so much larger now. But they're out there. OGH has a massive pool to draw from.


    Ref your reply to #28 - Do the names George Campbell and John Patterson Patterson (JP^2) mean anything to you?

    My grandfather and one of his friends, also ex Nobel Ardeer (and Poughfoot (sp) in Dunfrieshire) and our family's go to men for making stuff go BANG.


    That kind of corporate behaviour is almost certainly illegal in the EU (obvious violation of the data protection directives and the right to privacy).

    I will note, that you can probably avoid having your reading habits tracked by stripping the DRM off your ebooks and transcoding them before re-loading them onto your ebook reader. You'll lose the fancy bookmark-sharing features, but gain a measure of anonymity, because once the book loses its cryptographic ID it can't easily be used as a key into the ebook vendor's database: it's just some random file you've sideloaded.

    (My guess is that title/author combos aren't useful for data mining purposes: any damn' fool can retitle a ripped copy of "The Apocalypse Codex" as "The Lord of the Rings". To be useful for snooping on your reading habits they need to actually have a unique key, which in practice probably means a crypto token embedded in the DRM'd file they fed you.)


    OT, but speaking of EU law, I imagine at least some people here are aware of yesterday's ruling from the EU court of Justice that digital downloads can be resold by the purchaser?[1] While the ruling itself is specifically for software, it seems likely that now a legal precedent has been set for one type of digital download, it's going to be hard to argue that others (like e-books) should be different. I forsee a lot of arguing and people suddenly asserting that their downloads now come as a 99-year lease rather than a purchase, but it seems (to me) like a modest step towards making virtual things behave more like their physical predecessors. Any thoughts?

    [1] to quote the ruling:

    An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet The exclusive right of distribution of a copy of a computer program covered by such a licence is exhausted on its first sale

    I suspect that an awful lot of DRM schemes would come under the general heading of "opposing the resale", because they make it unreasonably difficult.


    About twenty years ago, some clever person programmed a Commodore 64 to dial Jerry Falwell's fund raising line every minute, Mr. Falwell was not pleased about the reduction in contributions as humans couldn't get in to waste the rent money.


    [2012-07-03 early am PDT] Largish quantity of TAC arrives at Local_Bookstore (  Glad they decided to order a bunch!

    [2012-07-03 2100 PDT] LocalBookstore double-checks, then confirms that all copies of TAC have been sold already… LB unable to restock tomorrow (due to national holiday or something:), but expect next shipment by Thursday; with luck they will remember to reserve a copy pour moi.

    Charlie, I hope you'll appreciate this news more than I did. :-/


    See upcoming blog entry ...


    ""Peter Wright / Spycatcher""

    He was obviously called a liar by the establishment he was dishing the dirt on, but there is no doubt he was quite highly placed within MI5 (SS), being an Assistant Director.


    I have requested a signed copy from Transreal (a tiny bit more than signed, really - hopefully having written the rest of the novel makes writing a couple of dozen extra words on the flyleaf seem trivial), on the basis that purchasing from Transreal tops Mr Stross' list of how to give him money in exchange for the book (and indeed, the publishing chaps who, as Mr Stross has vouchsafed, work jolly hard adding value and deserve to be paid for their efforts).

    This is the first book I have purchased in hardback upon first printing for many years, and in no small part is due to Mr Stross' engagement with his audience. What can I say? The system does work, and I'm giving serious thought now to participating in Doctorow's "buy a copy for a school" programme for his own works.


    Apologies if this has been posted before; if so please regard it as a reminder for those, like me, who missed it the first time.

    With presciently perfect timing for the launch of TAC, BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting HP Lovecraft's 'At The Mountains of Madness' each evening this week - catch up on the i-player at


    It's a while since I've been at Sunningdale but generally the food is quite good especially if you are on the course which Bob is on (I've been on the one on which you seem to have modelled this). The beer on campus is, indeed, keg but there is a great pub just round the road which certainly used to do a cracking pint of Harvey's. Very few, if any, people on the course wore suits or ties and most were pretty smart and agreeably sceptical about the whole business.

    However at some point I came to the realisation that I no longer wanted to work for the soul sucking entity from a dead dimension which is the UK Civil Service, so I left.


    It's Radio 4 Extra, not Radio 4. The station used to be known as Radio 7.

    Broadcasts are at 18:30 and 00:30 the next day. It's a reading by Richard Coyle.

    There is an iPlayer app in the Google Play store for Android. Windows and Mac, you go to the BBC website.

    The way things are in this part of the UK, I could listen to the unreliable digital radio, or resort to iPlayer. I find my cheap tablet is quite good for this. (I've been listening to The Further Adventures of Dr. Syn)

    Hmm, scarecrows and Romney Marsh....


    Oh. Except I won't be. Seems signed US hardback editions can't be supplied after all. That's a shame. I was really looking forwards to reading that (or rather, reading it in proper hardback bought from a small bookseller as prompted by the author). The first hardback novel I was buying since about 2001. I suppose I can buy it from Amazon in the US, but it would have been nice to buy from the top of Mr Stross' list, that being the one of most benefit to him.

    Such is publishing, I suppose. I expect the reasoning behind this sort of thing has been covered in a post here somewhere. I'll go back and revisit that set of posts discussing publishing.

    I really am quite disappointed, though :(


    I get most of my books from the Science Fiction Book Club and my copy arrived on Tuesday July 3rd. Very pleasant surprise.


    My pre-order with Amazon in the US was delivered July 3. Finished it before I went to bed - good thing there's this holiday and I can sleep in...

    Loved it. Particularly the implementation of the Peter O'Donnell references, and as always the geek humor.



    "Your politicians have made money their god, but what they are buying is disaster." Captain Charles Upham VC & Bar (in 1971, but nothing much seems to have changed, it's just accelerating).

    On topic bit: it looks as though I'm going to have to get my copy from The Book Suppository (or perhaps FP), since Transreal have apparently been muzzled.




    I did the Combined Arms Training Course in the mid-90s at Warminster; a hugely enjoyable experience, and far more "practically-based" than the Staff College course that I did the year before. Expensive, too - we spent most of a week on Salisbury Plain providing the command infrastructure for a fully-manned battlegroup of infantry and tanks, with all of the attached services, and even a few Chinooks - of the variety that had recently been crash-tested at the Mull of Kintyre, as I pointed out to others on board, while ours had a woman driver (it broke down halfway through a lift, leaving me with 30 minutes to H-Hour and a Company in three groups spread across two km of countryside. *^$£$^&! RAF...)

    Our syndicate contained a Civil Servant, who joined in and did everything except "commanding troops" and "carrying a weapon". He was an MoD operational analyst, and a two-week course with a bunch of reservists was apparently the perfect length to gain further insight into the operational planning of the British Army (we also had a newly-appointed US Army exchange officer who had been posted to Yorkshire, and who was of course greeted with "Y'all ain't from around heah, are you, boah?" and sundry other Jackie Gleason impersonations that he took in good humour; and a baby fighter pilot who was at a loose end until his next flying course started).

    :) Of course, now I wonder whether "operational analyst" was a cover story :)


    Actually, it was "antagonism", not "hostility"; a subtle distinction to be sure:

    Ah, the tears--they nourish me.


    Confession time: I've never been to Sunningdale Park. (And never will, now that they're closing it -- or so I'm told.)



    I was most amused at the sign inside one of the accommodation block doors saying "Press the red button to open the door"

    The only button was green.

    Aside from that, a pleasant enough place to stay and not as archaic as many Oxbridge colleges.


    Just finished TAC - great fun! Though I hope we'll get to see a bit of the fallout in the next novel. There are still rather a lot of people walking around who (avoiding spoilers) have had some rather unusual religious experiences.

    Also: I'd love to see how governments of the global South deal with occult defense and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. How does the Democratic Republic of the Congo deal with this stuff - or, if the (very weak) government has no clue, who takes responsibility for it? (You can't very well just let nameless horrors from beyond space-time run rampant through a country the size of Western Europe - 71 million souls make too tasty an entree).


    Ok, just read it. And my earlier question doesn't apply; you're clearly going for the logical conclusion.. playing it straight, taking Nightmare Green seriously. Horror not humour; Bob & Mo do not get the bris for the son. Smart and clever, but none the less apocalypse, not gentle play with nerd culture.


    I prefered the humour, the world on the edge, as our own Cold War was, ridiculously teetering unfallen, without collapsing into nuclear atrocity. However unlikely it felt to our 12 year old selves.

    Fabulous novel. Glad you're going to take a break of a few years before starting the next one however. Just dont get eaten by a grue first.

    (And do try to spare the US in the next novels---- mass murder, even fictional, is just too close to history for comfort).


    I know this isn't your fault, but I gotta rant at the font... the font used for the start of a scene is awful and the letters H and K are hard to distinguish, which leads to things like "I HNOCH ON THE DOOR".

    I don't know what HNOCHing is, but I'm not sure that Bob should admit to doing it :-)


    Finished reading this book. It ties with "Jennifer Morgue" for my favorite in the series.

    But one quibble: We say "for rent", not "to let" in the US. ;)


    I don't like that typeface either.

    I complained about the first-line font when I saw the page proofs. Turns out nothing can be done about it that late in the day; and they want to maintain visual consistency with earlier books. I'll try and whine about it for the paperback reflow.


    I was working at Sidmouth Folk Festival when the largest joint ops airlift exercise ever flew over the site - very impressive to see. Joke was it was June Tabor's luggage being delivered..

    Flying from Macrihanish once in poor weather I commented we'd probably be okay as not in a Chinook. No smiles from the flight crew.

    Plenty of great pubs near Sunningdale, as it happens. It's been a while since I was there but the one on the green in Englefield Green was superb.

    Looking forward to reading the new Laundry book, not in my Waterstones yet (Canterbury) so I'm spending the money on drink. Will look again next week and if not there will order a copy.

    Btw I appreciate the humour of Bob's cover, but surely he'd fall under DSAC in some sense? Plenty of them on courses.


    I finished reading The Apocalypse Codex last night and really enjoyed it except that my drive to work takes me past the headquarters of Pillar of Fire International in Zaraphath, New Jersey. Reading TAC prompted me to look it up on Wikipedia... I rather wish I hadn't now.


    Nothing like having a founder of a religion who hates everyone.


    Oh yes they would...


    He was actually an 'assistant to the director' and so worked in the director's office.

    I think that was because of his peculiar status as he was never 'staff'.


    [Spoiler ahead] Discovered a very minor inconsistency in the text: US hardcover, page 173, Persephone listening to the nurses:

    There's something wrong with their voices ... She should have noticed it before, the slightly mangled syllables of the believers. It's the hosts ...

    US hardcover, page 189, Persephone talking with Bob about the bible:

    "I took it from the nurse I stole the truck from. ... It's her bible and she is one of them, a true believer, not an involuntary convert."

    So did that particular nurse have an "isopod from hell" or not? First passage suggests yes, 2nd passage suggests no.


    [Spoiler ahead]

    (forgot to add in the previous post)

    Oh, and in that passage on page 173, shouldn't "hosts" be replaced with "parasites" or equivalent? In that particular infectious relationship, wouldn't the humans be considered the "hosts" and not the isopods?.


    In the Christian mythos, the host is the sacramental bread (the 'wafer') that is taken into the mouth during the service of communion, and which is the body of Christ. In the case of the isopods, they are what is taken in.

    So if you're talking parasitology, the isopods are not the hosts. But if you're talking wacky religion, they are.


    The involuntary converts are the ones forced to take the isopods. The true believers don't need to be forced.


    [spoilers ahead] Actually, after some more careful reading to track where the bible was first referenced, the discrepancy becomes even more minor.

    US Hardcover, p. 173 (right above the previously quoted passage, Persephone sneaking through the clinic):

    ... but a number of bedside lecterns feature bibles that are open at particularly educational passages ... One of the bibles sits beside an empty bed; acting on impulse she [Persephone] takes it ...

    So it probably wasn't directly owned by the nurse whose car Persephone stole, but I guess she meant "I took it from the nurse" in general terms. (I originally thought the bible was already in the car. The passage where Persephone finds the gun in the car and puts in next to the bible in her bag (p. 174), along with the passage on page 189 conflated things in my head.)

    As for the hosts bit, Bellingham is right, I withdraw my complaint. It's being used consistently throughout the novel in the sense of (very horrific kind of) communion hosts. It's just that it looks "wrong" when taken out of context (like what I did in my previous comment), which is why I commented on it after the fact without thinking it through. (Also I'm not Christian nor raised one, so I'm not used to that usage for host.)


    I had the same experience, and misread one heading as "I Hate to Hill."

    But what a great, great book. Loved it. Absolutely loved it!


    Finished The Apocalypse Codex this morning, and really loved it. Really good job, Charlie! At least as good as any of the others in the series, and maybe just barely the best (I need to wait a bit and re-read before making a decision on that).

    <Spoilers ahead> One question I did have after finishing: how many of the worshippers at the ceremony were sacrificed before Persephone closed the gate at the New Life Church? I think that's a question whose answer would be important to Bob, and I was a little surprised he didn't mention it in the classified appendix.

    Incidentally ... I noticed for the first time in Bob's memory of the Nazi universe from The Atrocity Archive that there were enough clues to get a reasonably accurate estimate of how cold it was there. There's only about an 8K range between 55K and 63K in which oxygen is still a liquid while nitrogen is a solid. I had been going by the mention of liquid nitrogen that it must be below 77K but had not realized I had enough information to get a closer estimate. Nice bit of background, that. Also, brrrr!


    Very entertaining, Charlie!

    But without giving away any spoilers, I was curious as to whether that bit of dialog between the Senior Auditor and Officer Green referenced an incident from one of the earlier Laundry novels? It stood out, but left me puzzled, and I wasn't sure if had missed something important earlier in the narrative...


    It doesn't reference something from an earlier novel; it may well reference something from a later story or novel. It's part of the background, in other words.


    Something to add here, BTW, which is that as an American, the book really pushed some buttons. I don't mean this in a bad way - as a card-carrying Liberal I thought you were absolutely in the right place - but the metaphor is so right and true that I almost had to put the book down because it reminded me of so many things about my country that really piss me off and depress me.

    I will be reading it again as soon as I can pry it from the wife's hands.


    It didn't push any specific buttons, but it did make me wonder if there's any inter-reading between our host and Carrie Vaughn. Both authors have had Denver hit by supernatural ice storms while the protagonists waded through awful weather to stop magicians from doing something unpleasant (possibly the only literary similarity between Apocalypse Codex and Kitty Goes to War, for all that they're both enjoyable). Somehow I can't imagine Bob and Kitty chatting over coffee. Mo and Ben, maybe - they're more likely to have an evening pass without something bizarre crawling from the woodwork out.


    It pulled me right out of the book twice, if it can be fixed, please fix it


    Dear Mr. Stross

    Thank you for putting the first two chapters of your book online, so that I can read them while on vacation. However, I am as somewhat fast reader, so I need you to put chapters 3-9 online, so that I can read them NOW. What I have read so far have that 'catchy' quality, that gives me a certain feeling of urgency in wanting to read them, so please drop everything and comply with my reasonable request.

    Thanks in advance,



    Perhaps the lovely and talented Feorag could make some minor modifications to the font?


    I can't put any more of the book on my blog, for contractual reasons.

    However, as you can now buy the whole thing as an ebook, can I suggest that that's the fastest way to slake your thirst?



    I was disappointed that Angleton did not deploy The Nailer, maybe he is reserving that for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. (And maybe we will welcome the dissolution of our brains at that point.)

    I also have to say that while I enjoyed the book; I was aware this time I was eating junk food, something I would not have said about the other books, Fuller in particular. Maybe too much bleed over from the inspiration series this time? (If so, I would love a return to Deighton, that seemed the pefect voice (register?) for Bob.)

    I thought you were rather fair to the Nazgul in this book. I did not see the "trolling of America" in a big way, just some incidental snark.

    Beyond some nitpicks about character* and prose, my biggest problem is that Bob seems on his way to becoming a "Keanu Reeves" in the mode of other such epics. (See South Park's "Imaginationland" if the reference is obscure.) That might be a deal breaker for me if it continues. Also, I am not sure if the events of the novel back up its theme about bureaucratic structure, but maybe the protagonists' perspectives are not suppose to reflect an infallible authorial voice here.

    I would love to recast the climax as something more like the wedding in Big Trouble in Little China. (With a certain Entity in the part of Lo Pan and ... well, anything more would be a HUGE spoiler, but it would keep your QUILTBAG factor high.)

    The few times George Smiley gets physical, he does come off a lot like Bob does in many of Bob's action scenes throughout the series.

    *McTavish kept switching voice, internal as well as external, and did not fit with what we are told about him. Lupine narrative strategy?


    I'm thinking that the bureaucratic element has been falling in significance as Bob has moved up the hierarchy. BofH has become something of a cover-job for him.

    I'm also inclined to wonder about a more literal meaning of "Human Resources". What might such people be used for when CNG hits? A training cadre, or cannon-fodder?


    I have met few people who even know who Modesty Blaise is, much less Peter O'Donnell.

    Thank you very much for your tribute to one of my all time favorite characters in fiction.

    Thank you thank you thank you.


    Kindle Ebook

  • Omega Course

    Denver missing capitals.


    Er, and my pointing out a typo has a typo. lol



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