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Crib Sheet: The Apocalypse Codex

(I'm closing in on the end of this sequence, now: I'm going to establish a rule that I won't emit a crib sheet essay until a book has been out in its final edition in the US and UK for at least three months—that's currently the US mass market paperback—so I won't tackle "Neptune's Brood" until September 2014 at the earliest. However, I'm going to do a fill-in essay on the novellas and omnibuses and anything else I've missed.)

The first three Laundry Files novels all had a somewhat troubled commercial gestation, but were easy enough to write. Not so with "The Apocalypse Codex", where the commercial side of things went through smoothly but the writing was hard ...

Commerce, first: having handed in "Rule 34" at last, my agent and I went back to negotiate a new three book deal with Ace (for North American rights) and, simultaneously, Orbit (for UK/commonwealth rights). What we offered was: a new Laundry Files novel, a new space opera (nominally a sequel to "Saturn's Children", to be titled "Neptune's Brood"), and a third Edinburgh near-future novel, which was to be "The Lambda Functionary". (I'll explain why this didn't happen in the forthcoming Miscellanea crib sheet.)

I felt slightly dirty about this. Sequels are an easy sell because your editor can simply look up the sales figures, take them to Marketing, and say "more of the same". But in 2009 publishing was still reeling from the events of November 2008 and Black Thursday, in which the New York publishing trade collectively shat itself over the economic outlook and quarterly figures and fired 10% of their staff. (The only dissident corporation being Hachette, who imposed a hiring and pay freeze but declared that even though times were grim right now, they intended to ride it out and keep their valuable editorial teams intact. (If you've ever wondered why I stick with Orbit—which is a division of Hachette—despite their obsession with DRM, this is your answer. I may consider one aspect of their business practices to be wrong-headed, but in other respects they win big.) Digression over.) And because of the general softness of the market, we decided to play it safe for the time being.

However. I wrote the first three Laundry novels in 1999-2000, 2005, and 2008. Pushing out a fourth in 2010-12 felt almost premature—going from a 3-5 yearly tempo up to a biannual one. Could I do it? More importantly, where was I going to get the skeleton? The first three Laundry Files novels were all homages to British spy thriller authors—Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, and Anthony Price. For reasons I'm not going to repeat, John le Carre was off the menu. So was Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor), although the title of "The Fuller Memorandum" reflected an early stab in his direction. (The first novel and movie about his master ferret, Quiller, was titled "The Quiller Memorandum". It's still a classic of cold war espionage pulp. Recommended, if you can find it.)

Several things were clearly happening in the series story arc that was beginning to emerge. "The Atrocity Archive" was written as a stand-alone, until "The Concrete Jungle" happened and proved that I had a protagonist. "The Jennifer Morgue" told me that I had a structural model for novels in this setting. "The Fuller Memorandum" extended it further and taught me that Bob was aging at roughly one year per year of real-world time, and that there was a story arc with Bad Things due to happen in another few years. It forced me to reset the clock on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (originally a throwaway in "The Concrete Jungle", intended to provide a pretext for the plot McGuffin of the SCORPION STATE network). And because Bob was maturing and presumably being promoted steadily, he was in danger of leveling up (to use a term of art series fiction has handily borrowed from the gaming world). A protagonist who levels up can meet new and bigger, badder adversaries. But a protagonist who levels up without new and interesting handicaps risks walking an endless treadmill rather than embarking on a hero's journey with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In "The Fuller Memorandum", the idiot meddling cultists inadvertently entangled Bob with the Eater of Souls; in return, he got a nasty physical scar and some deeper psychological wounds. So it seemed obvious that in the new book, Bob was going to be (a) promoted into junior management (he thought), (b) meet new and exciting co-workers and a new and unpleasantly exciting enemy, and (c) experience unanticipated side-effects of the changes inflicted on him in the previous book.

Then I saw the news that Peter O'Donnell had died and decided, "what the hell, let's write a Modesty Blaise novel," and ran into a woman called Persephone Hazard in the pub, and asked if I could borrow her nom de guerre, and Chapter One in Schloss Neuschwanstein happened. (I got to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein in 2012. I didn't get it too wrong, working from floor plans and internet resources, but Google Streetview didn't exactly cover itself in glory back then.)

But then I realized I had a structural consistency problem. Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish are freelancers. That's the Modesty Blaise paradigm. But we've been told consistently throughout the earlier books, by Bob, that everyone who learns The Truth ends up in the Laundry, toiling away as a civil servant. So I had to work out a rationale by which deniable freelancers could exist and work for the Laundry on occasion. Hence the invention of External Assets, and the gradual exploration of what Mahogany Row—initially seen by the lowly Bob as some kind of management and executive stratum—actually is and does. This in turn forced some expansion of the long-term back story of the Laundry, which has a pre-SOE history going all the way back to Sir Francis Walsingham and Dr. John Dee. Which in turn forced me to confront the issue of ritual magic in the Laundry universe—skilled mathematicians or symbolic visualizers who can accomplish some of the jobs Bob usually programs his PDA to do in their own brains, albeit at risk of Krantzberg Syndrome.

Now for the adversaries. For some years I'd been watching the gathering popularity of fundamentalist Christian supremacists with considerable unease. Speaking as an atheist, from the outside, Christian evangelism looks a lot like Amway, only the product being sold is Jesus, a kind of proxy server for divine salvation by way of Jehovah 1.0 (with the inconvenient early genocidal injunctions and the stuff about not mixing polyester with thy cotton, or observing times, swept under the rug). Some of the doctrines of the Millenarian sects bear such a striking resemblance to the Technological singularity that I can only view the latter these days as a post-rationalist, post-enlightenment, secularized paint job on the body of the former. And I feel able to confess that the Quiverfull movement scares me shitless. There are large numbers of people out there who believe that The Handmaid's Tale is a road-map rather than a warning (oh, and ditto for the NSA/GCHQ and "1984", but that's old news these days).

I recognize that my perspective on this belief system is not a universal one. But in writing a horror novel, it helps to have a concrete nugget of unease at the center of your big evil. Bait-and-switch scares everybody, so ... why not pick a fundamentalist cult that scares me, and demonstrate that it's a wrapper for something that scares everyone (at least, everyone who doesn't want to have their tongue eaten and their brain possessed by an extradimensional parasite—which I assume can be approximated to everyone reading this essay)?

So I sat down (metaphorically: this was all done in email) with some friends who were either ex-fundamentalists or had fundamentalist family members, to try and make sure that the Golden Promise Ministries held to an outer doctrine that was within the spectrum of existing evangelical churches. Then I worked out what Ray Schiller's inner doctrine might be (the inner/outer layered doctrinal split thing is common to many new model religions, such as a certain litigious organization founded by a former SF novelist). It's easy enough to generate a new religion simply by messing with the Bible. Different Christian creeds, ones following the Nicean Creed, may vary some of the books: the Christian Bible's Old Testament is substantially different from the Pentateuch and Haftorah, and there are plenty of apocrypha out there that got left out. In the Laundry universe, adding a bunch of extra relevations at the end is a no-brainer: and adding a character to interpret them (Pete the Vicar) goes with the territory—you will meet Pete again in future Laundry Files stories.

The key plot armature is this: it is notionally the duty of Christians to either live righteously and await the Second Coming, or to prepare the ground for the Second Coming (by bringing as many people as possible into a state of grace. (Indeed, if you think the Second Coming is imminent and you believe this stuff, then failure to convert everyone is to condemn their souls to hell, or at least purgatory.) But we can go a step further: suppose that one of the Apostles left behind a manual for setting up a summoning that would bring about the Second Coming. Isn't it also your holy duty to perform that rite? Well, it all depends on whether the label on the tin accurately describes the contents ...

Colorado Springs was the obvious and logical location to set such a church. Alas, I didn't get a chance to visit that city until one week after the time window for copy-editing the manuscript expired (at which point the book had to go into production). Luckily Google Streetview covers Colorado Springs a lot better than Schloss Neuschwanstein! The biggest error I made was the typical weather for the time of year the novel was supposed to take place, and as the weather in the book was anything but natural in origin, I think I got away with it.

Up against this doomsday-oriented cult we position Modesty Blaise With Magic Persephone Hazard, and Bob. Bob thinks he's there to manage Persephone. Bob is actually there to act as an intermediary between Persephone and the huge pool of resources that the Laundry can provide, and to some extent as an under-study, to determine whether he's suitable for this type of work (spoiler: he is).

We generate the Freelancer/Cult intersection by having the cultists get too close to the Prime Minister. One of the strong rules that the Security Service (MI5) runs on is that they're not supposed to snoop on cabinet ministers or the Prime Minister. (Anyone in those posts should have been vetted and cleared long before they got there; meanwhile, historically MI6 paranoia during the cold war nearly led to a military coup on two occasions. There were abrupt early retirements: nobody wants to go there again.) But if a loose cannon who isn't directly employed by the Laundry were to take an interest, the Laundry would have to send someone to keep tabs on them, and of course report back on whatever the deniable assets discovered.

Finally, we have the question of Bob's burgeoning powers. I don't think I need to go into them here, other than to note that if you compare Bob's capabilities in "The Fuller Memorandum" with "The Apocalypse Codex" and "The Rhesus Chart" (forthcoming in July 2014) you'll see a steady progression. In fact, it's getting difficult to write from Bob's point of view: he isn't an unsteady newbie any more, he's being forced to leave important material out of the work journals that might be used for briefing the next generation of Deeply Scary Sorcerer, and the next couple of Laundry Files novels after "The Rhesus Chart" will probably have to be narrated by somebody else (unless I can come up with a Boss-level threat, or a way to deprive Bob of much of his leverage).

Which brings me to another momentous decision that I think I can now confess to.

The first four Laundry novels were the spy thriller homages. But I ran out of authors I wanted to pay homage to after "The Apocalypse Codex", so I'm taking the series in a very different direction. The forthcoming novella "Equoid" (which will appear on Tor.com in September) is about alien parasitology and is narrated by a much younger Bob (midway between "The Jennifer Morgue" and "The Fuller Memorandum"). The next novel, "The Rhesus Chart" (appearing in 2014 instead of the I-couldn't-write-it-and-hit-my-deadlines "The Lambda Functionary") is a homage not to a spy thriller author, but to a fantasy sub-genre. That's what I intend to do with novels #6 and #7—focus on genre tropes rather than authors—and I intend to write and publish those novels sooner rather than later (in fact, as soon as I've written the next generation Merchant Princes trilogy).

So, those of you who've been demanding "more Laundry Files" are going to get what you've been asking for: only it's turning into a setting (like Discworld) rather than a series of pastiches about a central character (like Rincewind). I hope you like it ...

And I'm going to leave you with the first sentence of "The Rhesus Chart":

"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "everybody knows vampires don't exist."




PS: Footnote about "The Lambda Functionary" and "The Rhesus Chart". TLF as pitched was going to be the hugely ambitious capstone to the trilogy beginning with "Halting State" and "Rule 34". However, by the time I got to summer 2012, it was obvious that (a) it would take me at least two years to write (and my contract allowed me 12 months), (b) my publishers might accept me being a year late on delivery but my bank manager certainly wouldn't (I'd be skipping a year's income), and (c) a novel set in a world I'd designed in 2006 to depict the near-future of 2017-22 would not be published until 2015, putting it in some sort of weird alternate present. This all looked like a really bad idea from a earning-enough-to-eat perspective. Then the first sentence of "The Rhesus Chart" bit me on the jugular, along with about 70% of the plot of the novel, in the space of about three hours. And it was obviously a novel that wanted to be written, now. So I did dinner with my editor from Ace during the Worldcon in 2012, and pitched it at her, and she said "get your agent to write me a letter asking for a variance on the contract", presumably because getting a novel Charlie is enthusiastic about writing and puts him ahead of schedule is a lot better than having a year-long gap in the schedule while a depressed author grapples with his unstrung harp and tries to learn to love lentils.

224 Comments

1:

Very much like the idea of Laundry as "Discworld". Gives you an amazing amount of freedom. Not that a novel about Bob's Millennial hip internet generation haxorgrrl PFY wouldn't be a lot of fun - but it reminds me of when Pratchett said that he didn't want to get to the point where Carrot, Vimes, Nobby and Colon were out of town so he could write a Watch story about a new bunch of characters.

2:

I think I can promise you that Bob will show up as a character in most of the non-Bob novels. You will note that Mo is largely absent from "The Apocalypse Codex"; this doesn't make her a minor character, and indeed, my current plan is for book 6 to be one of Mo's work journals (in which we get to see Bob from her point of view, and also to see what it is that she does). So yes, I'm roughly even with PTerry on how far in that direction I want to go.

3:

One thing that bothers me a bit in the Codex, is that the US counterpart of the Laundry are scarier than the antagonists. Is this intentional?

>>>a fantasy sub-genre
>>>"everybody knows vampires don't exist."

Oh, my. We are getting CASE TWILIGHT GREEN, aren't we?

4:

Two points.

1. The US intelligence-industrial complex that we know of, that is admitted in public, has at least 17 major agencies and scores of minor ones. The Black Chamber are a major worry and preoccupation for the Laundry because they are indeed deeply scary. This doesn't mean that they're running the entire nation, though. Or even the only OCCINT agency over there.

2. The Laundry is much scarier than Bob himself realizes at the time of "The Apocalypse Codex".

Oh, and ...

3. Vampires in the Laundry universe do sparkle -- when you shoot them with a basilisk gun, and only for a few microseconds.

5:

One thing I should have done, when I visited Colorado Springs as part of my vacation to that state recently, was to check to see how well it matched up with events in the book. Drat!

Given the drought and wild weather we've had lately, meteorological 'inaccuracy' really didn't bother me.

6:

1+2.

If indeed Laundry is comparable to The Black Chamber, then aren't you running into the problem of "who fights monsters" very fast? Or is this also intentional?

From lovecraftian POV at least, it makes perfect sense. The only thing that can fight Cthulhu is another Cthulhu. Doesn't bode well for the civilians, though. I'm not sure I'd care about the _intentions_ of whatever monster that is going to eat my brain.

7:

aren't you running into the problem of "who fights monsters" very fast?

Yes. As will become clear in the next three novels. And as was lampshaded in "The Fuller Memorandum" when Iris tried to convert Bob to the Dark Side.

TFM was set during CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, remember. It's a lengthy frog-boiling sequence, not a sudden apocalypse. (Yes, I know the urban legend about frogs isn't actually true: but it's the best slippery-slope metaphor for this job.)

8:

Can you tell us if Persephone and Johnnie will be recurring characters? I speak as a Modesty/Willie fangirl.

9:

They don't appear in "The Rhesus Chart". Beyond that, I can't say.

10:

Thanks for the update on the Laundry sequence. I just finished Codex (again) a few nights ago, and Persephone's final words regarding getting nested in for the phony war hit an odd note in me...particularly as you describe Bob's scope growing larger.

NIGHTMARE GREEN continually gets discussed by Mo/Bob as a case where everyone essentially gets a nuclear bomb's worth of destructive power (albeit late in the sequence) - a point where the level of calamity is so great that the book would need to be a Disaster novel homage, and then enter into post-apocalyptic territory. That doesn't seem to be where you are heading.

As of Codex, the managers have been pointing at End of the World without much of a solution. It makes me wonder whether Persephone's final words are pointing at a middle-game dustup between US and UK forces, or at a larger issue that the prep for the stars coming right is simply a ramp-up for; something beyond NIGHTMARE GREEN's timeframe.

I may simply be reading too much into it. Thanks so much.

11:

I may simply be reading too much into it. Thanks so much.

You're misreading it.

12:

One does not merely "run into" Seph. One experiences her presence.

It could be interesting to see this world from Mo's perspective.

The thing which strikes me as most unrealistic about the Laundry, compared to my experiences of the real-world civil service bodies, is the extent to which (occasional power grabs notwithstanding) it manages to keep pulling in the same direction and getting things done effectively. Or in other words: it is straining my suspension of disbelief because the Laundry is too competent. (Yes, heroics, I know)

13:

Given The Laundry use computers for their occult work, I'd really love to read about their software-testing methodologies.

For instance, do they use regression-testing ?

"Always remember to mount a scratch ancient horror" ?

14:

First, apologies for the length, and I haven't read the previous comments yet.

I really looked forward to this one as soon as Charlie mentioned that it would deal with evangelicals and be partly set in Colorado Springs, where I have lived for too damn long 26 years (it's really not so bad). I was not disappointed.

the stuff about not mixing polyester with thy cotton
Strictly speaking Shatnez only applies to mixing linen and wool, but has been extended to mixing any fibers derived from animals and plants (iirc). I would guess it goes back to Cain and Abel--conflict between farmers and herders. Also polyester being a synthetic is likely considered Parve--neutral, so can be mixed with anything. Apologies for getting pedantic.

the inner/outer layered doctrinal split thing is common to many new model religions
The Mormons? When I was in 3rd grade, my class went on an evening field trip in Washington DC, one of the teachers thought it would be cool to go to the local Mormon Temple in Maryland. We got as far as the foyer before people came out asking who we were and what we were doing there, before they escorted us out. All I remember was a large, dark space lit with lots of candles.


The following are notes I made while reading the book and collecting the few typos for the typo hunt that didn't happen. Mainly the observations of a local.

pg.240 - 19 lines down:
...Ronald Reagan Expressway...
is actually Highway.
That's I-25 as it goes through Colorado Springs, but further south, through Pueblo, it's called the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway. Gives you an idea of the respective politics.

pg.134 - ...a local TV anchor named Sylvia...
There used to be one.

In various spots the Colorado highway patrol is mentioned. CO has a State Patrol instead of Highway Patrol--essentially the same thing. Since the mentions aren't capitalized (a generic reference) it's not a problem. Bob wouldn't know the difference. One of Schiller's people later says State Patrol, so Charlie got that right.

pg. 179 - ...scanning for exit 141...
That's a dangerous exit, poorly marked going southbound and a tight turn. Going northbound involves a curve in the highway where there are occasional crashes at night, particularly if the copper thieves have stripped the wire from the streetlights.

pg. 180 - ...houses at hundred meter intervals...
Only if Persephone has gone a bit south from the area around that exit, and ended up in the Broadmoor neighborhood--where the money is.

pg.213-214 - Persephone drives around from I-76, E-470, down to Meadow Lake Airport.
That's quite a drive; I-76 is north of Denver and Meadow Lake is well south, near Colorado Springs--less than a mile due east from some friends' homes.
E-470 is the Denver beltway, and ironically (to me at least) a toll road using camera ticketing, like what Bob claimed to work on during the management training

And a couple random things:

pg.284 -... Never trust a religion whose symbol of faith is a particularly gruesome form of execution, say I...
That's what I always say. I've wanted to ask some christian: If Jebus had been hung, would you wear a noose around your neck?
And as a Jew I sort of take crucifixes as a threat. After all J. wasn't the first or last Jew to be crucified.

The Pueblo Army Depot not only has a large cache of aging chemical weapons awaiting disposal (for the last few decades). Warehoused there is also a little known collection of captured Nazi artworks*. Imagine discovering that paintings that hung in the offices of H., or Himmler etc. were found--by X-Ray-- to have interesting under-paintings of an occult nature.

*googling for an article turned up what looks like a neo-nazi discussion board. I didn't look too carefully at it. Ick.

15:

>>>That's what I always say. I've wanted to ask some christian: If Jebus had been hung, would you wear a noose around your neck?

Christians aren't wearing the cross on their shoulders either.

16:

Will we be getting any commentary or observations on the current popularity of post-apocalyptic zombie scenarios in a future novel of yours?

17:

@JamesPadraicR: "one of the teachers thought it would be cool to go to the local Mormon Temple in Maryland. We got as far as the foyer before people came out asking who we were and what we were doing there, before they escorted us out. All I remember was a large, dark space lit with lots of candles."

I was a church going and temple-attending Mormon until a few decades ago.

The foyer of the DC temple back then was done in dark wood panelling, red carpets, and red drapes, with electric wall sconce lamps and some crystal chandeliers with electric lights.

You probably took in a few seconds view and then remapped it as "dark space with candles" in your memory. Some of the older temples were lit by candles and oil lamps up to the early 20th century, but it's all been electric since then.

The foyer entrance is as far as you would have gotten without passing a document and ID check, which sounds like it was as far as you got. Past the doors to the foyer, the decor brightened up quite a bit. By the time you reach the two "hearts" of the temple: the baptismal font and the celestial room, it's all white marble, thick white carpet, white silks, bright lights, white white white, with white flower arrangements. With filigrees of silver and gold. It can hurt your eyes, at times.

Every few years, each LDS temple is shut down for maintenance, upgrades, and cleaning. Replacing the carpet, doing construction upgrades, and so forth. After the work is done, it's reconsecrated and again closed to the public. During that time, it is open to the public, and there are free scheduled tours. I recommend people take them, just to see what really REALLY no-corners-cut very nice interior decor can look like.

I could joke that they hide the black curtains and the alter of blood for that time, but there are too many people who would think I'm not joking. There are a lot of things to not like about the Mormons, but stories about dark sacrifices and blood soaked orgies in the temple, while hilarious to me, are, shall we say, not even the slightest bit correct.

18:

I feel honored to have apparently been one of the first people to hear you tell that first sentence about vampires when we crossed paths at Chicon 7.

Thank you again for writing these stories behind the stories. I'm really enjoying them!

19:

I could joke that they hide the black curtains and the alter of blood for that time, but there are too many people who would think I'm not joking. There are a lot of things to not like about the Mormons, but stories about dark sacrifices and blood soaked orgies in the temple, while hilarious to me, are, shall we say, not even the slightest bit correct.

For a while my wife spent some time studying the history and origins of the Blood Libel. (You missed out the baby-eating bit. And the fathers-impregnating-their-daughters-on-the-altar that preceded it.)

Before the Mormons that one got pinned on the Jews. And if you trace it back far enough, in pre-Justinian Rome, it was a popular one to nail on the early Christians.

20:

You probably took in a few seconds view and then remapped it as "dark space with candles" in your memory

I suspected as much. It was 33 years ago, I was young, and we were ushered out pretty quickly.

21:

Martin: Zombies have featured in the Laundry Files since "The Concrete Jungle". They're called Residual Human Resources. Bob works with them ...

22:

Christians aren't wearing the cross on their shoulders either.

I have seen Penitentes bearing their crosses along the highways of New Mexico. And have seen supposed christians with large crosses tattooed across their backs. Would that count?

23:

BTW Charlie, what happened to Iris? Is there a special Azkaban in Laundry, or is it straight to RHR? :-)

24:

Well, I suppose in a reality where Jesus was hanged, there would be some special christian occasions where a full scale gallows replica will prove useful....

25:

Funny you find the fundies creepy as an atheist - speaking as an atheist who grew up steeped in Baptist theology in the heartland (Indiana in my case), let me tell you that the Apocalypse Codex pushed horror buttons I didn't even know I had, and it all rang oh-so-very-freaking-true.

Very, very well done, especially for a godless European.

Just one thing ... surplices. That one mention catapulted me right into the end of To Say Nothing of the Dog - which took place in England. It smacked of liturgicalism, which is, of course, not something Real Americans engage in.

26:

" if the copper thieves have stripped the wire from the streetlights."

I can see it now...

Comes Case Nightmare Green, The entire Scorpion Stare network fails because copper thieves stole all the networking cables.

What's worse in your world - christian fundamentalists or Muslim Jihadis? Christians blow up any train stations lately?
Cut heads of army guys and hold a press conference? Groom teenage girls for sex? Mutilate any genitals? Head; sand. Some assembly required.

27:

Ah, Iris. The answer to your question lies in a novella I haven't written yet (nor will I write it until I finish the current book), discussing the Laundry's equivalent of Camp X-Ray -- a former experimental Pontin's holiday camp in the Lake District where it rains sideways six days out of every five and pencils are rationed. Most of the inmates are eventually deprogrammed, subjected to a geas to keep them from babbling, and re-introduced to outside society ... but not all of them, and that's what the novella is going to be about.

That, and role playing games conventions.

28:

OK, now I'm a little confused. The Fuller Memorandum was set during case NIGHTMARE GREEN? I thought this was all just run-up to it. Is there some other code name for the whole idea that to many humans is going to bring elder gods knocking?

29:

Since hanging oneself is somewhat more common than crucifying oneself, and autoasphyxation has some, err, recreational side-effects, prepare for quite some squick in a scenario like that.

30:

Hmm... AFAIR, Iris was not actively influenced by anyone. One could argue she has more sense than the protagonists, in a Sarumanish kind of way. "If you can't beat them".

I suppose she can be either persuaded or shot. :-)

31:

Well, Christianity already has a lot of fun stuff like self-flagellation etc, so some ritual auto-erotic asphyxiation will fit right in.

32:

Charlie, how much is there communication, if at all, between you and the Laundry roleplaying game writers?

I have most of the supplements, and they give nice information about the Laundry world, from a different perspective than your novels. The magic system also fits the world quite well, and even could probably simulate the later books.

I have run one short game with the RPG. I prefer to run licensed RPGs as kind of an alternate reality, because the known characters create all kinds of trouble, game-wise. For example, Star Wars is a nice world to roleplay in, if you forget most of the stuff in the movies and other fiction, especially the big characters.

33:

David -- I believe CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN arrived earlier than previously predicted, and is just getting started as of TFM -- and will go on for years and years.

34:

CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN was explained in "The Fuller Memorandum". It's a 70-100 year period, and had already started circa 2008. So all novels from TFM onwards are set during CNG. But it's a storm that grows in intensity, rather than a sudden squall that comes out of nowhere.

35:
1. The US intelligence-industrial complex that we know of, that is admitted in public, has at least 17 major agencies and scores of minor ones. The Black Chamber are a major worry and preoccupation for the Laundry because they are indeed deeply scary. This doesn't mean that they're running the entire nation, though. Or even the only OCCINT agency over there.

Indeed, The original solution to "who watches the watchers" was to ensure there were at least 3 intelligence agencies, overlapping so that any one of them could be removed, and then setting them at each others throats ...
(e.g. in the UK, MI5, MI6, Army Intelligence. Now who has responsibility for Northern Ireland, etc.?)

Having worked in a previous administration that fell due to the FBI not being completely corrupted on-message in 1974, when he regained power in 2000 WARBUCKS was careful to remove such silliness and introduce a unified command in the DHS. Whats interesting is the way Obama did not move to dismantle the DHS in 2008 ...

36:

You definitely nailed the creepiness and horror with the evangelicals; it really worked well for this book, enough so that it doesn't feel much lighter than The Fuller Memorandum. A few questions:

How does Persephone resurrect Johnny with rather few wide effects? Usually coming back from the dead in the Laundryverse involves luminous green eyeballs, at the very least.

Will we be seeing more of the Auditors? It was very interesting to see them on-screen in this book. Also, are they technically part of Mahogany Row?

Why is the UK-US treaty one of the Benthic Treaties - what do BLUE HADES have to do with it?

Why do medusae/basilisk guns sometimes turn the target into rock instead of boiling/melting them?

37:

Hm, I recently had a long chat with a trekkie lately, I somewhat gave up on my cognitive metaparanoia[1] when he brought up Aubrey de Grey.

May I add that I think about petitioning the APA and the WHO to include a "high-functioning fanboy" category to the next editions of the DSM and ICD, respectively?

Some of these guys and gals not being fellow members of the ADHD/autism spectrum but rehabilitated Laundry assets might explain some things...

[1] E.g. the paranoia that you are going paranoid. The realisation that some of your cognitions sum up too nicely and are too salient. Problem is, it might mean the correlation is real, you are falling trap to some of the neurocognitive statistical hacks of our species, or you've finally crossed the line towards psychosis. Leaving the "schizophrenia window" in the late teens/twenties/early thirties is quite positive with this one. Though you're still in the "bipolar" one and approaching the "dementia" one.

See "I'll tell you what the human soul is, It's the part of you that knows when your brain isn't working right." in Vonnegut's Galapagos.

To elaborate on metaparanoia, I'd usually bring up the girl I compared early experiences in psychomotor education, anecdotes about absent minded family and/or impulsive members and industrial music with and who still has some of my Lovecraft and Lem, but I digress...

38:

Well, most flagellants don't regularly get a boner, so the erotic subtext is somewhat less obvious.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_erection

As for religion and sex, We. DON'T. WANT. To. Go. THERE. At least at the moment.

39:

>>Well, most flagellants don't regularly get a boner, so the erotic subtext is somewhat less obvious.

Oh come on. of course whips have erotic subtext. BDSM is one of the most common kinks.

>>As for religion and sex, We. DON'T. WANT. To. Go. THERE. At least at the moment.

Christians are EATING their god. If we can go there, we can go anywhere.

40:

Whats interesting is the way Obama did not move to dismantle the DHS in 2008 ...

It was already far too late by then. If DHS was to be dismantled, it needed to be done within two terms of its creation.

41:

All these questions tie in to back-story not visited for a while yet. Note, however, that Johnny isn't 100% human.

(There will be more BLUE HADES in a future novel. Lots more.) And lots more to do with the Auditors.

NB: I actually chickened out of my darkest plan for the evangelicals. Original plot called for Persephone to be captured and wake up in that hospital ward ...

42:

I suspect post-mortem erection in hanging is less to do with the cerebellum -- remember, the spinal cord is supposed to be ripped apart, so there are probably no afferent signals getting through from up top -- and more to do with autonomic dysreflexia causing paroxysmal hypertension and sympathomimetic stimulation. The brain isn't getting any inputs or feeling anything or in control of the process, it's too busy dying.

(Deeply unpleasant sub-topic: please discontinue it.)

43:

>>>NB: I actually chickened out of my darkest plan for the evangelicals. Original plot called for Persephone to be captured and wake up in that hospital ward

It does sound like an example of the "Stuffed into the Fridge" trope, which is best avoided. Unless you twist the hell out of it.

44:

"Sticks and stones may break my bones. But chains and whips excite me.", to qoute Rihanna, I know.

Don't get me wrong, I won't deny that flaggelation can have an erotic subtext. Still, to quote Freud in one of his more lucid moments, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. You can also get an erotic subtext with hiking, it's just not that usual:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misattribution_of_arousal

As for the relation, as an afficionado of the earlier NIN, I can see the potention in things like metal cilices of like.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cilice

I also see the nice fact that feeling horny makes you give in to the temptation, which makes you feeling guilty, which makes you feeling even more horny. Might have something to do with depression, migraine, OCD and being horny all tied to low serotonin, but I disgress.

Problem is, the relation between religion and sex is quite complex, e.g. Roman paganism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, especially in the RCC variant, are quite fond of family, where you don't get a family without sex. And then there is the nice Nietzsche quote I can't find where he muses about the similarity of moaning for religious and sexual ecstasy, funny, for a guy posing like this for a photo

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nietzsche_paul-ree_lou-von-salome188.jpg

he didn't bring up pain. Err, like I said, WE. DON'T. WANT. TO. GO. THERE. Still.

45:

Err, sorry for continuing the talk. I had written the last post before reading yours. Feel free to delete my postings as appropiate.

46:

Yep: I do not hold with fridging heroines. As motivational techniques go it's trite, not to mention misogynistic and reductionist. And that particular idea came too damn' close to it for comfort (or to the "reproductive stumps" in Frank Herbert's "Hellstrom's Hive".)

47:

Very interesting, and thanks for the answers!

(I am entirely fine with you not using your darkest ideas; that hospital ward was deeply terrifying as it is)

48:

@ #12 This may be a case of confirmation bias. Bob ended up slotted into the active agent clique when he failed to screw up his initial assignments. Pre-2008, it's possible that the Laundry was ticking over with no more than a few times the number of competent field groups that we've seen in-story. Imagine that the Artists Rifles are at best one-half of the enlightened bug-hunters the Laundry has, and there are only a dozen Bob Howards and two or three Mo's in the entire organization. For everyone else, the incompetent get civil service, the semi-competent are played off each other in interdepartment warfare that never touches the real budget, and the competent-but-squishy go into research where they either produce, loose their squish, or explode messily.

In other words, the concept of the inner and outer doctrine was a firm part of the series toolchest LONG before Golden Promise showed up. If someone with more awareness of the way the Laundry was run had been in Bob's place, they would have thought the fundies were cute while they proceeded to set the state of Colorado on fire, forever.


@ Charlie #19

The Blood Libel saw more recent use than that - I remember hearing stories on televised news programs of Iraqi soldiers storming into Kuwaiti hospitals and destroying incubators in the run-up to Gulf War 1. I was rather nonplussed, even as a 14-year-old.

49:

Manmountain: this is your yellow card for trolling. But you deserve a rebuttal and a warning before the ban hammer:

What's worse in your world - christian fundamentalists or Muslim Jihadis? Christians blow up any train stations lately?

The Christian fundamentalists mostly kill pregnant women. (And no, Savita Halappanavar was only notable because her death happened in Ireland, which country has out-sourced its abortion requirements to the UK. In Nicaragua, for example, there's been a marked upswing in maternal deaths due to the abortion ban. And this is recent history. Some of us still remember Tom Aikenhead's martyrdom.)

The Christian-influenced anti-muslim terrorism is on a somewhat smaller scale than jihadi activity in the middle east, but if you factor in the relative stability of the nations in question it's probably a toss-up: the UK hasn't had an imperialist superpower aggressor shooting people down in the streets with drones for a decade or two to get everyone used to the idea of mass murder.

To paraphrase someone or other, "fuck every ideology that puts doctrinal purity ahead of human suffering". (Oh, and fuck anybody who assigns other people to some presumed ideological category on the basis of their skin colour or nationality or their parents' religion.)

50:

Charlie,

Something I've wanted to know since I read The Apocalypse Codex - was the tongue-eating parasite based on Cymothoa exigua? The images of them in fish's mouths are pretty unsettling, and I can easily imagine seeing that somewhere and thinking "Yes, that'll make a good parasite for this story"

51:

Yup, it's based on Cymothoa exigua. Adds a whole new meaning to "speaking in tongues" ...

52:

I was going to stay quiet, but since OGH has kind of opened to door on this, the following.

In my experience, large numbers of Christians groom teenage girls for sex; it's often not explicitly part of their religion, but they're still Christian and they still do it. Some of the cults make it a bit more explicit.

Likewise for mutilating genitals; I direct your attention to the American obsession with circumcision that has enormous numbers of Christians doing just that every year.

53:

I wasn't opening the door to this discussion: I was explaining why that door needs to be kept closed.

Enough, already!

54:

" NB: I actually chickened out of my darkest plan for the evangelicals. Original plot called for Persephone to be captured and wake up in that hospital ward "

Which would have been entirely fitting within the context of the Modest Blaise books, given what Modesty did suffer by the way of rape and sexual abuse and then survived to grow stronger. Peter O'Donnells problem with the " Escape and Evasion " pattern of the plotting of his written novel/short story sequence was that he eventually ran out of madly outlandish ways in which his heroine and her henchman could escape from the villains ..towards the end of the series Peter O'Donnell actually had the Bad Guys sedate Blaise and Garvin into a state of total unconsciousness ...but wait!

The methodology of " With One Bound Our Hero was FREE !" would have worked given Blaises physical skills but ..well it was a bit of a stretch to say the very least.


I really liked the unspoken assumption in “ The Apocalypse Codex “ that Peter O’ Donnell had at some time met Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish and then used them as a template for the Blaise/Garvin stories – entirely reasonable given that Blaise/Garvin and no doubt their real life counterparts Hazard/ McTavish were much given to rescuing the innocent from various horrors....so Peter O'Donnell as an innocent artistic bystander who was rescued by Persephone Hazard would work.


The Apocalypse Codex actually took away some of the nasty aftertaste that was left with me after O’ Donnell terminated his series with “ The Cobra Trap “ which was ,well, in my opinion, rather sloppy and that maybe partook of Conan Doyle’s attempt to sign off Sherlock Holmes with a rather untidy death in company with the arch villain of the series.

55:

Might I be permited a link to this splendid, well I'd call it " How To Understand the Morman Mythos " flowchart? ...


" Seems like there’s a lot of confusion lately over what Mormons actually believe. If you are a befuddled believer or heathen, here’s a handy chart to help you out. This guide can help you track the progress of your soul from its disembodied birth in heaven to its final resting place in one of the four houses of the afterlife. Come to think of it, perhaps this would make a good board game . . ." ...


http://mollymuses.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/mormon-flow-chart-for-your-soul/


The responces/comment stream in " 137 thoughts on “Mormon Flow Chart for Your Soul” are almost as good as the chart itself.


How is your soul doing at the moment?

56:

Which would have been entirely fitting within the context of the Modest Blaise books, given what Modesty did suffer by the way of rape and sexual abuse and then survived to grow stronger.

I had some big issues with Peter O'Donnell's ... quirks ... which I just didn't want to revisit. The nailer, for one thing. (Not terribly effective in the post-Page Three world of the late 1970s and onwards.) His bad case of Male Gaze syndrome for another. The whole rape/sexual abuse angle, not to mention imprisonment/escape thing. In the end, I watered the hazards of Persephone Hazard down significantly, to make the format less offensive to modern sensibilities -- while adding back in horror elements to spice it up (in a different direction from the original).

Also: you did notice that it was a ward full of pregnant tetraplegics? There's not much escape from that, when the spinal cord is deliberately severed between the C4 and C5 vertebrae (high enough to paralyse the arms, abdomen and legs, low enough that breathing is still possible without a mechanical ventilator). It's a horror trope of a kind incompatible with the wiggling-through-the-bars escape typical of a Modesty Blaise plot.

57:

Ooh, I'm glad to hear you haven't binned that the Pontins Camp X-Ray idea. I'm still looking forward to reading that one... but later, later....

58:

I have written 270,000 words of Laundry fic in the past nine months. I do not need to add another 30,000 words at cost of exhaustion and blowing the deadline on my current job!

59:

Huh, and here I always thought TAC was based off the Tom Clancy structure. Good to know!

60:

" One does not merely "run into" Seph. One
experiences her presence."

Oh yes indeed.

A hint for budding writers of esoteric, occult, or fantastic fiction: the London Goths are a wellspring of astonishing characters and most of them will be delighted to appear in print; zome of them even (or especially) as villains.

Your problem is that you will have to tone it down or no-one will suspend their disbelief to read your work: Goths live life in the magnificent absurdity of Grand Opera and the inimitable Ms. Hazard is a princess in a court of queens.

61:

There is no way in hell that there will even be a Tom Clancy Laundry novel.

...

Well, not unless someone offers me a gigantic metric shitload of money. And then you'll all know that I sold out.

62:

The trouble with Tom Clancy is that he believes the manufacturers' catalogues. Which isn't automatically a bad thing for some kinds of fiction, but machines are not the same as political ideologies.

There are certainly plenty of historical instances of bad choices being made in weapon systems—the failures of the detonation mechanism and depth-keeping of US torpedoes early in WW2 could have been avoided with better testing—but Clancy seems to think the USA is immune to that.

I can imagine the Laundryverse novels including one from a US viewpoint, and that could easily have a Clancyesque element, but it could easily be rather boring. That might be something better suited to the RPG. Multiple rival agencies, possibly giving some backing to Cultist groups: can we say Taliban, children?

But the sort of American arrogance fits better with settings such as The Merchant Princes series.

63:

The use of zombies wasn't the issue. I was well aware they've been around since the start. I was refering to the post-apocalypse zombie story, where civilization has fallen or is in the process of collapse.

64:

The trouble with Tom Clancy is that he believes the manufacturers' catalogues.

Yeah, I saw an interview with him years ago, where he was talkng about his sources in the CIA and various technologies in the books. All I could think was he's either gullible, or being used for propaganda. Likely both. I haven't bothered with his books, and didn't care for the few movies of them I've seen. Well, "Hunt for Red October" was okay, because submarines are awesome, though you'll never catch me in one.

65:

"I hope you like it.'

Yes, absolutely. Laundry as a Platform instead of an Application is brilliant. The API should perhaps come with a warning about geometries not strictly Euclidean, Reimannian, etc.

66:

@14:
If Jebus had been hung, would you wear a noose around your neck?
--
I sometimes have to wear a noose around my neck to meet corporate dress code, but I use a four-in-hand or Windsor knot...

Around here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, it's not *that* rare to see someone crabbing down the sidewalk dragging a seven or eight foot crucifix.


67:

I was just reading about those earlier today; I was rereading Apocalypse Codex to see what I wanted to ask about, noticed the description of the tongue parasites as "cymothoan", looked that word up...and now I have one more entry on the list of ridiculously creepy parasites. Sometimes, nature is more horrifying than any fiction.

68:

We saw "Pacific Rim" on Friday, and I have to say, the kaiju incursion kept making me think of Case Nightmare Green, though the mecha certainly didn't seem like anything the Laundry or the Black Chamber would use.

69:

See this picture for Laundry-related mecha. http://www.dahr.ru/l_j/opros.gif

The title is translated as "Main problem of modern Russia". It's an illustration for a certain online interview of Putin, where the most voted-for questions were about Cthulhu and Giant Robots. Maybe the Russians suspect something...

70:

I can't be the only person who remembers you posting about the direction the Laundry verse was taking back in 2010: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/04/psa-new-book-deal.html

71:

Ok "asked and answered" but I'm another fan of RETIRING DEFLAGRATION.

Also ref Tom Clancy and "believing manufacturers' catalogues", just exactly what makes anyone think that the public catalogue overstates a system's capabilities?

72:

a former experimental Pontin's holiday camp in the Lake District where it rains sideways six days out of every five and pencils are rationed."

You've been to Heysham then...

73:

No, that's fine; I meant I can wait. There's 'Equoid' and Rhesus coming down the pike, after all.

74:

I'm looking forward to seeing a Lovecraftian take on Vampires. I'm a sucker for the horror classics and love it when someone does soemthing fresh with them. A horror trope can not be overdone in my opinion, all it needs is a good writer/creator to take a fresh look at it. I was all but done with Lovecraftian Horror until the Laundry Files. Brain Lumley's vampires were extra-dimensional parasites that took up residence in humans and had some interesting powers. There's also a great comic called Witch Doctor that has an original take on vampires, and Lovecraftian monsters in general, that I think Laundry Files fans would enjoy.

75:

"I sometimes have to wear a noose around my neck"

Don't you wear a device to prevent your throat being cut, in the style of a Croatian (cravat) mercenary?

@Charlie - the Lake District "Camp X-Ray" might not be entirely fictional?

Cover story here: http://www.lamrt.org.uk/news/important-information-about-navigating-crinkle-crags

76:


In response to Charlie noting that the DHS needed to be dissolved or wound up within two terms of its creation, I note that the KGB, after going through several incarnations since its first days as the Cheka, was wound up under Yeltsin in 1991.

As for its Tsarist predecessor, the Okhrana, Victor Serge had this to say:

"It would in fact be wrong to let oneself be taken in by the apparently perfect mechanism of Tsarist security. It is true that at the top there were some intelligent men, technicians of high professional standing; but the whole machine rested on the work of a mass of ignorant civil servants. In the best prepared reports some quite amusing discrepancies appear. Money oiled the wheels of this enormous machine; and gain is a strong but inadequate stimulus. Nothing great is achieved without disinterestedness. And the autocracy had no disinterested supporters.

Should it still, after the overthrow of March 26, 1917, be necessary to demonstrate, with facts taken from the history of the Russian Revolution, that the efforts of the Head of the Police Department were in vain, we could quote a whole number of arguments like that put forward by the ex-policeman M.E. Bakai. In 1906, after the suppression of the first revolution, when the Chief of Police, Trusevich, reorganised the Okhrana, the revolutionary organisations of Warsaw, and in particular the Polish Socialist Party [14], in the course of the year liquidated 20 military, 7 constables and 56 policemen and wounded 92; in all, they put 179 officers out of action. They also destroyed 149 consignments of excise alcohol. In the preparation of these actions hundreds of men took part, most of them remaining unknown to the police. M.E. Bakai observes that, in periods of revolutionary upsurge, agents provocateurs often lay low; but they reappeared as reaction gained the upper hand. Like carrion crows over the battle-fields.

In 1917, the autocracy fell without the legions of informers, provocateurs, hangmen, policemen, civil guards, Cossacks, judges, generals and priests being able to deflect the unswerving course of history. The reports from the Okhrana, written by General Globachev, affirm that the revolution is close at hand and offer the Tsar vain warnings. Just as the most knowledgeable doctors called to a deathbed can only observe, minute by minute, the progress of the disease, the omniscient police of the Empire watched impotently as the world of Tsarism plunged into the abyss.

For the revolution was the outcome of economic, psychological and moral causes outside their reach."

77:

"in the Lake District where it rains sideways six days out of every five"
That's a redundant sentence if you've ever been to the Lake District.
(I kid, it's a lovely part of the world, but it does rain a lot there.)

78:

Also ref Tom Clancy and "believing manufacturers' catalogues", just exactly what makes anyone think that the public catalogue overstates a system's capabilities?

Major US military procurement contracts involve hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs distributed over hundreds of congressional districts. If you think all of that goes away just because tests show the damn thing doesn't work, think again. Even when it does work, odds are it's so damn expensive that the old way was better, on a dollar per unit performance basis.

79:

In response to Charlie noting that the DHS needed to be dissolved or wound up within two terms of its creation, I note that the KGB, after going through several incarnations since its first days as the Cheka, was wound up under Yeltsin in 1991.

Ah but the KGB was always part of the Troika, along with the Party and the Army, which is analogous to the set up that amckinstry describes.

It would be interesting to know whether whatever succeeded the KGB maintained that status, or reflects the DHS approach.

On an unrelated matter, I once asked OGH whether his cats were in the habit of destroying his Aeron chair. He reassured me that they were not and I am happy to report that nor are mine and my shoulder no longer subjects me to agonising pain when I sit at my desk for any length of time.

The chair in question does have some tenuous connection to OGH's work, as it came from a certain high security plant that features in The Merchant Princes series, by way of a public surplus auction. I paid the princely sum of $1 for it, because it had a broken seat. A further $125 for a replacement and I now have a thousand dollar chair, for an outlay of $126.

I think it's fair to say that I would never have got this chair without OGH's enthusiastic recommendation of it - thanks, Charlie!

80:

WHat makes you think that any of your statement is actually relevant to my statement? People who've met me in meatspace and know what my employment is will also know that I know the differences between "public catalogue" and "actual performance" (quantitatively in some cases).

81:

For those who don't want to venture too far into TV Tropes, here's an excellent subversion of fridging a heroine.

82:

tom Clancy is terrible for assuming tech competence, everything USian works perfectly all ,the other guys tech is from 1975 . and it breaks a lot.
dale brown is another one like that- only in his case he likes bombers, he likes bombers a LOT
he likes b52s in particular.
the public claims for a weapon/ system are going to be massively overoptimistic. because the politicians really need to be convinced to spend obscene amounts on Whizzbang mk7 , of course, later when it turns out it didn't work very well

83:

From OGH: "NB: I actually chickened out of my darkest plan for the evangelicals. Original plot called for Persephone to be captured and wake up in that hospital ward ..."

I for one am damn glad you did. That concept of that ward gave me the damn creeps when you introduced it and the thought of a viewpoint character waking up in it, being prepped for their little surgery, is just goddamn awful.

So, thank you for remembering horror, but not dialing it up to 11.

84:

I thought everything with carbon in it sparkled when you shot it with a basilisk gun.

85:

So now you know that vampires are carbon-based lifeforms. Useful.

86:

>>>In response to Charlie noting that the DHS needed to be dissolved or wound up within two terms of its creation, I note that the KGB, after going through several incarnations since its first days as the Cheka, was wound up under Yeltsin in 1991.

Are you kidding me? Not only KGB still exists, now it more or less rules the country. Putin is from KGB, remember?

87:

The KGB as an arm of the Soviet state and an ideological adjunct to the Communist Party was dissolved in 1991. But its successor organization, the FSB, is still going strong, and yes, Vladimir Putin is indeed a former Chekist.

But the ideological framework the KGB (and NKVD before it) operated in train with has vanished, replaced by something a lot more tenuous.

88:

A colleage from . . . well let's just say a country somewhere in the former Soviet world once told me that in his opinion his country had more freedom (including freedom of speech) in Soviet times.

89:

Ideological framework changed, but the mindset is the same. Which is probably why they are now trying to recreate an ideological framework, using whatever is at disposal - Cossacks, Communist nostalgia, Orthodox Church...

Basically, the late Soviet Union -- a Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons - is still with us, only somewhat friendlier.

90:

I can't agree at all with this. The rise of Putin did put manners on the oligarchs, but it has not simply restore the status quo ante.

At the time of the neoliberalisation of the former eastern bloc, it was said that transforming the command economies into market economies was like taking a bowl of fish soup and turning it back into the aquarium from which it was made.

Putin's rise to power didn't simply turn the aquarium into a bowl of soup - it used it make a risotto, or a seafood pasta dish or something.

91:

I think that's why I can still read The Hunt For Red October. The American tech doesn't work without the right people using it. The Red October has a competent crew, and there's an implication that crew skills matter. I find that more plausible than later outbreaks of superior technology. Red October is good enough to have won, if Ramius had been fighting a war.

92:

Hey, as long as it’s for a good price.

Also, I was wondering if you’d seen (or seen reference to) the Barry Levinson movie The Bay[1], and if so what you thought of it. I saw the trailer and immediately thought, "Hey, someone's pinching from The Laundry." Of course both works are based on real-world parasites and nobody has a monopoly on the idea of tongue-replacing parasite zombification, but still...

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bay_%28film%29

93:

My military employment was at research labs, so the things we worked with didn't have catalogs yet. So I have no particular reason to distrust those particular documents, except that 80% of what I saw from similar companies and groups was skating a fine line between extreme optimism and willful misdirection.

94:

Nope, I watch maybe one movie a year -- in a busy movie-watching year.

95:

Actually, one can imagine a Tom Clancy-esque/Laundry mashup, as follows.

An officer in a military (presumably the UK) is a true anomaly: he never has technical problems. His stuff always works, as per the wildest advertisements of the manufacturers.

While his superiors are suspicious, they need someone like him to get the job done in some truly critical areas. And he does the job.

The problem: he's using magic to make up for all the shortfalls in the equipment, and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is close to taking hold.

The Laundry gets called in to figure out what the heck to do about Mr. Super-Officer. Does one liquidate him to cancel the apocalypse, but leave a hole in British defenses big enough to drive a fleet through, or do you let him continue on his way, knowing that if he screws up, the world may end?

And why the heck is Bob Howard involved in this at all, anyway?

96:

So now that we are in CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN & bleakness increases, I am wondering about the end of the series: are you going to go all Peter Watts on us?


(I'd actually prefer if you didn't answer that.)

97:

I think it's reasonable to say that "Equoid" has some monumentally nasty bits. But "The Rhesus Chart" isn't an unremitting downward spiral of doom, and the planned Laundry #6 is somewhat lighter-hearted (if a bit grim in places, too).

98:

"His stuff always works" - looks like fusion, but actually uses fission, for example? 'Short Granite', 'Orange Herald', and 'Purple Granite'.. And he's so useful they've also overlooked that he doesn't seem to have aged much since 1957.

99:

Entirely coincidentally, and much to my surprise when $SOCIAL_MEDIA_APP brought it to my attention, today appears to have been her birthday.

100:

I was thinking dusting them with anti matter would make any vampire sparkle.

Q about basilisk guns to laundry operators have to wear radiation dosimeters and fill in forms for the radiation safety officer after firing.

101:

Hmm I recall a mate of mine who used to work for the RAE apparently one day on Salisbury plain in a landrover going 35/40 MPH they where passed at speed by a chieftain tank going at least 60 (god knows what the GPM was at that point and what it was doing to the track life)

102:

Exploring different POVs via different characters sounds interesting ... would also like to learn more about how Angleton was recruited and rose through the ranks (his early cases).

103:

I have seen several different accounts of being tank crew in WW2, and reading that every tank in the Regiment had the engine governor disconnected, trusting the drivers not to over-rev the engine unless they needed to.

Having driven a Land Rover cross-country, I wouldn't rule out a bit of exaggeration of the speeds attained. Fifty tonnes on tracks isn't going to notice a lot of the bumps, but a Land Rover will.

104:

Hm, nasty. If you'd done that to Persephone you'd have got your own entry in tvtropes under "Fridging the Mary Sue".

I kid, I kid, though I half expected her to be revealed as not quite human in the Angleton mould, given her competence and early exploits.

Are the Mi-go or anything along those lines extant in the Laundryverse, I wonder? We did talk about the Drake equation & the mythos recently, but I don't think they were mentioned.

re: Cymotheans, I expect they're not viable in a human mouth, otherwise someone from BMEzine would have one installed already.

105:

In my experience, most of the American military's problems come from scale; it's a freak occurrence when somebody who knows what needs to be done meets somebody who knows how to do it, and unlikely beyond all known statistical measures that they will then attract the attention of somebody who has the authority to commit resources. The British services are at least an order of magnitude smaller, which would (by this rough analysis) increase the natural incidence of competent action by at least a thousandfold.

Hmmm. I might have just derived the inverse ninja rule.

106:

Hm, that might be tricky; the CPT theorem involves mirroring in the room, which might be tricky with some rulesets...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CPT_symmetry

So defining the behaviour of antimatter might be difficult for vampires.

As for the radiation safety officer, from my time with the local biology incarnation, they have stories to tell; e.g. the nice one where every laboratory with an TEM got some uranyl acetate for staining. For values of some that would have been enough for a few hundred years.

Later on, when TEMs went out of fashion, the stuff was switched to people some operating them. Luckily, most of those got rid of it before reaching WMD proportions...

107:

Well, not a novel, but maybe a novelette?

You already hinted at the Laundry not being that much better than the Black Chamber; we know high information channel capacity is a vulnerability, so I guess there is a place in some suborg for the kind of grunt that is going to write a certain kind of battlewank. But than, it could always get worse...

108:

The Tom Clancy error that sticks in my mind is from a book where the US was playing dominance games with India. (It might have made sense in-context.) An American carrier group was spending millions of dollars a day in fuel to fly many fighters around the Indian Ocean on extended routes that, in theory, would not point directly back to the home carrier. I kept waiting for the Indian admiral to get a fax from home showing the satellite images of the US carrier as of 20 minutes before....

Maybe Clancy just forgot that India has satellites?[1] On the other hand, the Americans were devoting a lot of effort to being dramatic and mysterious; it would have been terribly anticlimactic to point out how easily something the size of a carrier group can be found.

There are several points in The Bear and the Dragon where dumb things are done via computer, but Tom Clancy's not a computer guy.

[1] I am mildly amused to discover that there is a satellite called SROSS C.

109:

So what does PVRF stand for? I might like to steal it for my Laundry Files campaign. . . .

110:

#93, 101 and 103.

Ok you got me; I actually work in T&E. So I get to see both some of the development and the in-service systems. I actually know what the actual (rather than catalogue) performance of some of these systems is (based on what they have done; they may not have reached full capability and I wouldn't know that). So yes "de-governed" tanks are much faster than catalogue, but this can do nasty things to track and suspension lives.

111:

Para 3 - It's called "research"; any author who needs one should be able to find a friendly computer geek in 30 minutes or so these days.

112:

would also like to learn more about how Angleton was recruited

See "The Fuller Memorandum". It's all there.

113:

I wonder if Clancy read this article about hiding a carrier task force? (The site has a lot of stuff about naval tech. I'd be surprised if he doesn't know about it.)

I don't disbelieve the article, but I think it assumes a Clancy-like perfection on the part of the carrier force.

Does India have the right sort of satellite to to watch for a naval force? RISAT-2, launched April '09, would do the job. The Cartosat series wouldn't be much use against moving targets, but I'd expect them to regularly check Pakistan's military bases.

114:

Charlie
You are aware that “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been made into a (truly deeply, very) scary Opera, are you not?

There is the usual problem with fighting dragons, of course – you may turn into one.
See also bombing of Dresden etc …..

& @ 27 … ah a penal; version of “Down on the Farm” / St Hilda’s, then?

Vivtek @ 25
Erm - “godless European” … there’s a reason for that … we remember our bloody history of persecutions. One of the give-aways for communism being a religion is that it persecutes all the competing religions, check! IF we forget that history we will be in danger of repeating it.
Fortunately, it appears that the tide against religion is slowly (ever so slowly) turning against same, even in the USA.
Now, about “the muslim” world … ( Yes, I know, which sect, which variety … )

Manmountain @ 26
In terms of actual external physical damage, the ones 622 years behind the christians. In terms of mental aberrations, not a lot to choose – the christians are very sneaky & very good @ bait-&-switch & deliberate, public lies …..
See also Charlie @ 49 – thanks, yes the misogyny of almost all religions is very notable (communism seems to be the exception, here?)

@ 35
But Obama is a lawyer – he obviously believes that “the law” will win out – not necessarily a good idea.

Hairyears @ 60
There was the year some local Goths were having a convention at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) AT THE SAME TIME, as that year’s Battersea Beer Festival … in the same building ……

TRX @ 66
Lat time I was on “Holy Island” [ NU 130 420 approx ] there were both RC & ultra-prod nutters dragging crosses around, euw.

JayGee @ 172
No – Millom.

The other rob @ 79
The FSB?
- see also vanzetti @86 BUT:
Charlie @ 87
NO so “tenuous” – the circle has returned to the origin.
Putin is “protecting” (for his values of protecting) Holy Mother Russia.
Deeply scary, given the earlier spat over christians & muslims. Very unpleasant.

115:

Thanks; it's sufficiently credible that I've bookmarked the site for future reading/references.

As to "Clancyesque perfection by the USN", I'd suggest that the USSR disregarding a little SIGINT or ELINT "because we know that the Nimitz isn't there so the Merkins must be trying to spoof us" could also apply.

116:

I really enjoyed the Fuller memorandum, Not least because of the background to the eater of souls. I happened to be reading about the WOW signal at the time and apparently it originated from the teapot constellation which must mean something!! Did you have a murderer in mind for the eater of souls' Laundry incarnation?

Bought the recent audiobooks . But do you really pronounce geas like that?

117:

Bought the recent audiobooks . But do you really pronounce geas like that?

No idea -- I refuse to listen to audiobooks of my own work (too high a risk of fingernails-on-blackboard syndrome).

118:

I thought for a moment I had identified the book with the US Carrier being tricky in the Indian Ocean. There's one of those allegedly factual books about the US Military which deals with aircraft carriers. It includes an account of an Indo-Pakistani war with nuclear weapons and the aftermath; fiction to demonstrate what the book is describing.

I've written better crap than that, and chosen to dump into the bottom of the underwear drawer. But it reads mostly like one of my sketches of a story, no better than a cliche-ridden outline.

(I don't know if it is significant, but Clancy's recent books are being published with an acknowledged co-writer. Last sole-author looks to be 2003, then a break until 2010. Have the brain-eaters struck?)

It doesn't match what you describe, but I can't find any references to US carriers in the Indian Ocean, sabre-rattling, in Wikipedia entries.

(I came across something a few days ago, mentioning a British patent for a submarine snorkel, late in WW1. The Naval Syndicate Submarine Sedna is currently in the hands of the virtual shipyard as a consequence. Fiction can be so much easier than reality, but the Naval Syndicate does figure that the most expensive weapon is the one which doesn't work.)

119:

Don't know how the audiobook rendered it, but 'geas' is pronounced roughly 'gaysh' (and was sometimes spelt that way by 19th-century writers).

120:

To paraphrase someone or other, "fuck every ideology that puts doctrinal purity ahead of human suffering".

I believe you are paraphrasing the great Iain Banks in "Against a Dark Background".

121:

fair enough. Mr Hawkins pronounces it as "gesh" or as you say "gaysh". It's not a word greatly in use in my life so it's nice to know. -

122:

Here, Charlie. . . what sort of research did you have to do into the occult aspects of the Laundryverse?

I mean, did you have to read up on this "geas" thing, for example?

123:

Who?

(You know, it's just barely possible that Charlie was aware of who he was half-quoting)

124:

Here, Charlie. . . what sort of research did you have to do into the occult aspects of the Laundryverse?

I don't. Next silly question?

(Let me unpack that: it's fictional. Fantasy, at that. Made-up. Bears no relationship to reality as we know it, and that's a very good thing, because if what I was describing in these works was real, I'd be on the phone to the Dignitas clinic immediately.)

125:

Off-topic, but hey, JPR, someone who's lived in C Springs for longer than me (1989-2009). If you're so inclined, please go to Phantom Canyon and have an IPA for me.

I am definitely going to have to catch up on this part of Charlie's back catalog - it sounds like a hoot!

126:

Bob Howard's corollary to Haldane's observation: "The universe is not just more horrible than we imagine, it's more horrible than we can imagine."

127:
(Let me unpack that: it's fictional. Fantasy, at that. Made-up. Bears no relationship to reality as we know it, and that's a very good thing, because if what I was describing in these works was real, I'd be on the phone to the Dignitas clinic immediately.)

Which probably wouldn't help at all. Some things are real though e.g. the injustices perpetrated by the cult hunters during the "Satanic Panic" of the 80s.

#126: Brilliant, really tickles my twisted bone...

128:

It's actually pretty easy to hide in the ocean. The USN is not the only navy to do so; in the late 1970s, HMS Ark Royal steamed to within 20 miles of the US coast in wargame exercises and proceeded to "nuke" every airbase they could find in South Carolina and Georgia. They hid for days with hundreds of aircraft looking for them before someone finally identified her. Their raids started penetrating as far as Atlanta before USS Saragota's air wing located and "sank" her.

Satellites have predictable orbits and are monitored by pretty much anyone: navies can and do plot around them. The NATO navies, at least, had plenty of practice dodging Soviet RORSATs in the Cold War.

(As poor of an author as he is, in some cases Clancy actually underestimates what certain modern weapon systems can do. We've come a long way since the unreliable vacuum-tube electronics of the Vietnam War)

129:

Thanks Charlie -- figures, the one that I don't have yet.

The local branch of the mega bookstore chain likes to challenge its shoppers by not stocking the full series by any author unless it's a Xmas pre/re-packaged promo.

130:

Is that true? Where do I find further info on that? Sounds like a hoot.

131:

If you're so inclined, please go to Phantom Canyon and have an IPA for me.

That sounds like a good idea.
I don't go there often though. The last time was a year and a half ago (I hesitate to mention this--sounds too much like bragging to me), with Charlie and Feòrag when they were here for the local Con, and the person who gave them a ride. I'd have offered, but drive a Mini. Would have been cramped.

Which reminds me, I had asked Charlie if he was planning to visit New Life Church. He said they were, but I'm not sure they had the time, being on opposite ends of town.

132:

New vampire idea: There are stories in which vampirism is caused by a virus (I think Richard Matheson's I Am Legend was the first.)

What if it was the other way around? Once, all humans were vampires. Then came a virus which changed most into mere animals who didn't need to drink blood.

133:

Stross namechecking Gorey? Squee!

134:

I thought for a moment I had identified the book with the US Carrier being tricky in the Indian Ocean...

After a little googling, I'm pretty sure it was Debt of Honor - I haven't read any Clancy in a while. (And despite the title, nobody from the People's Republic of Haven appears. *grin*) As pointed out, oceans are really huge and even large ships are very small, but if anyone remarked "we'll only get away with this for a few days before they find us" I don't recall it.

135:

Matheson went to the trouble of having vampirism caused by a bacteria so that his protagonist could look down a microscope at it.

Also interesting: Peter Watts' vampires, which were a human subspecies made extinct by architecture - their aversion to crosses is due a brain glitch which causes seizures when exposed to straight lines crossing (a rare construction in nature). But their genes are present in various members of homo sapiens sapiens' genomes, and some bastard thought stitching up a chunk of vampire DNA and implanting it in an egg might be a profitable idea...

136:

Hey, Charlie. No questions, no analysis, just a straight up thank you for entertaining me over the last 10 years. I'm perfectly happy with whatever you write, in all of your series (ok, even "The Merchant Princes") and I appreciate your research and imagination and effort.

Now, get that suspicious look off your face and get back to work. I want to have my new Laundry book. Thanks ever so, ta.

137:

Watts was cute, but when I went for a walk in a shrubby area, I got bored counting the number of natural 90 degree crosses I saw. Watts forgot that the stems of two different plants can cross at 90 degrees quite naturally. Kind of an oops moment for someone trained as a biologist, I'm thinking.

Personally, my favorite "vampires" are the kanaima of Guyana (BigRiver link), a) because they were (and probably are) real, and b) because they survived (and probably still survive) in part because they were so uniquely obnoxious. Apparently, having unique monsters of one's own is an effective part of cultural survival, which might explain why the Irish and others have held on so well.

It's a neat anthropological study, but as others have found, if you buy that book from BigMuddy, you get spammed with twee neoshamanist/new agey stuff until you buy a few Tom Clancy books (or similar) and confuse their AI about your likes and dislikes.

138:

On my initial read of the Apocalypse Codex I was somewhat disappointed. I felt that it lacked some of the more interesting detail of the Fuller Memorandum and the adrenalin of the Jennifer Morgue. In the Fuller Memorandum I loved the history behind Ungern-Sternberg - what a name - and the depth and wide-spread belief in the Occult in the late 19th century is a fascinating. The Jennifer Morgue was a hoot, particularly when "Bob" becomes the Bond Girl.

In the Apocalypse Codex I felt the brain-eaters and evangelical setting was rather lazy. Evangelicals are an easy target as they are self-parodying. I occasionally meet evangelicals and I have to bite my tongue - a sense of history seems to be missing from the belief system. The book also seemed to miss the bureaucratic machinations of the Laundry which I rather enjoyed in the previous books. I was also unsure about the new characters - they seemed rather superficial.

However, I recently listened to the audio book. By the end, I had completely changed my mind about the book. One change was the realization of well-developed belief system for the evangelicals - not as crude as I first thought and a little more believable. I also liked the idea that nothing was as it seemed, certainly the Laundry is not - the book achieves a depth of paranoia matching that of John Le Carré. The new characters gelled better, I think the detail of Johnny sleeping in his bivvy bag was the first time I really connected with the pair. I also, by then, had caught the Modesty Blaise reference which I missed the first time through.

I think I missed this because much of the intellectual payload doesn't develop until the later part of the book and by then I was knee deep in the action wanting to know what happened next. I had a similar experience with Rule34 so this is clearly an issue with my reading habits rather than the writing.

A totally nonsensical, utterly trivial, issue is that the cover art is also off-putting. It rather too reminiscent of the Atrocity Archive scenario (Übermensch looking through portal). Again, my problem - why should I care about the cover art!

I have enjoyed reading the authors discussed as sources for the various books. BTW, many of the Quiller books are now available in ebook form. I don't think the Quiller Memorandum is Adam Hall's best, I can't remember the name of it but the book I really enjoyed featured Quiller dumping his local control and blackmailing London to send a replacement of Quiller's choice.

Looking forward to the next one. And, by the way, the cat's medicine is safe - I purchased Neptune's Brood.

139:

Laundry tales have a long delay between packet arrivals. But if you're jonesing for a neo-Lovecraftian story I'll point you at Children of an Elder God, which won't be to everyone's tastes but will entertain at least some of the readers who liked the Laundry stories and A Colder War.

"Sometimes, children go into their parent's closet and dress up, pretending to be their parents, acting as if they were in charge, as if they ruled the house, as if they were the kings and queens of the Earth. But then their parents come home, and the game is revealed as a lie. For millenia, humanity has played at being kings and queens, at ruling the world they call home. Now, the car is pulling into the drive... "

140:

williamlivesly @ 138
Evangelicals are an easy target as they are self-parodying.
REALLY?
So are the Taliban ... & the evangelicals are actually here, & they really believe all that shit you know?
And, they don't actually READ their holy book(s) [ Something I've noticed about xtians generally, especially in on-line discussions, where I get called commonist/leftie atheist who ought to study some serious theology, before I argue with them ... ]

No, not funny at all - they would be as bad as the Taliban, were they to actually achieve power.
Like Charlie didn't say, ask Savita Halappanavar?

141:
It's actually pretty easy to hide in the ocean. The USN is not the only navy to do so; in the late 1970s, HMS Ark Royal steamed to within 20 miles of the US coast in wargame exercises and proceeded to "nuke" every airbase they could find in South Carolina and Georgia.

I'd be really interested in hearing more up-to-date details on this, specifically from this century.

We've been recently talking with commercial partners and the Irish Naval Service and Coastguard about the task of tracking everything >10m long in the North Atlantic. And the latest set of commercial services (not military) recently demonstrated the ability to track ribs (semi-inflatable boats). This isn't real-time yet: depending on track there was a lag of ~3hr or so between updates; worst case 1-2 days in parts. But real-time is the plan by 2014-2015.

The impact of this is being tested in fisheries protection where smaller vessels are deliberately avoiding naval and coastguard surveillance. Missing a complete carrier fleet sounds increasingly implausible.

142:

I'm a bit late to this party, but re: the whole "The Laundry is a lot scarier than we've seen it be so far" conversation that was happening a day or so ago...

The Laundry has been explicitly very frightening to me from the get-go. It gets glossed over a lot because he's the protagonist, but... well, Bob is a slave.

So are most of the Laundry employees. The Laundry hunts down people who demonstrate they possess certain capabilities and/or knowledge, and enslaves them, offering them the choice of either service or imprisonment. And if they chose service they're wrapped in thought-policing geases and spells that violate their autonomy in very deep ways.

The fact that they're polite about this fact and that they offer a generous benefits package and a pension can only do so much to obscure that fact. Bob, had he decided he didn't want to be a computational demonologist, would currently be imprisoned without due process. The Laundry violates human rights in terrifying ways on a daily basis and isn't really accountable to anyone in any meaningful way.

I have, in fact, been hoping that Charlie would explore this aspect of the Laundry in-depth at some point. Our host, both as a person blogging here and as an author in his work, usually portrays authoritarian institutions as pretty damn evil; the whole Merchant Princes cycle is about just that, in fact.

143:

Bob, had he decided he didn't want to be a computational demonologist, would currently be imprisoned without due process. The Laundry violates human rights in terrifying ways on a daily basis and isn't really accountable to anyone in any meaningful way.

This is due to get explored in books 5-7.

Some aspects aren't as bad as you believe -- there's an "inactive list" and a mechanism for keeping an eye on ex-staff who are no longer useful to the organization, or willing to be of use. (Just why Bob and Mo continue to willingly serve is one of those questions best left unasked, though: they have ways of making you want to do things ...)

... And other aspects are infinitely worse, because of the existential threat posed by CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. (I have plans for book 7: let's just say that when the Deep Ones are anxiously offering you their assistance in dealing with your problem, you know you've got a Problem.)

144:

Bob isn't a slave, he's a conscript.

145:

Serious question: what's the difference between a slave and a conscript?

Conscription is for a limited term of service to the state -- but there have been many times and places where slavery was for a set period (Judaic law, for example) and where the state held slaves (Rome).

146:

This is why the Royal Navy's new carriers are expensive, big, and carry so few planes. What the Government hasn't told you is that they're submarines, and most of the visible hull is camouflage, meant to stay at anchor as the submarine part leaves port while submerged.

Well, it makes as much sense as anything else in current British politics.

147:

Bob, had he decided he didn't want to be a computational demonologist, would currently be imprisoned without due process.

Well, he was drafted; had he declined, imprisonment was an option on the menu. But he could also have spent his Laundry career as a tech monkey - large organizations always need someone to keep data backed up and show L-users how to find the Any key. For that matter, he in theory could have sat in a generic cubicle somewhere (next to Wally and Alice) playing Minesweeper until his brain rotted. But that doesn't produce interesting stories or hold off CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

148:

Jack Ryan vs Honor Harrington....

That's not a fanfic that I'd care to write, but the general idea of contemporary humanity being uplifted to fight a future enemy from the stars seems to be one Baen Books published a few of.

Commies from Spaaaace!!!!

I'm not sure how well any long-running series escapes the cliche monster, though the way OGH was taking tropes from spy thriller series was a help. You cannot really have James Bond acting like Modesty Blaise, even if they are, in some elements, mirror images. Modesty doesn't discard lovers the way that Bond does.

149:

The difference may be academic at best. But even conscripts (in most armies) have some rights: a slave, by definition, has none.

150:

"I don't. Next silly question?"

Sheesh, I was just asking, like.

I bow before your superior world-building skills. Given that the IT angle in the Laundryverse is based on fact, I merely assumed that the occult stuff was not invented off the top of your head, but was also "inspired by real events".

151:

DKPo'K
Well, Fuller really existed & was heavily into the occult, & so did the truly insane Russian psychotic mentioned earlier ...
Younghusband was also interested in such things - I don't know about Arthur Ransome, though he really did know some very interesting people, like Lenin & Trotsky.

152:

It's not so straightforward, depending on the system in question a slave may have rights, such as ownership of property up to and including his or her own slaves.

153:

They may also have fixed term "slavery contracts", the right to be paid and eventually buy themself from their master...

154:

This is due to get explored in books 5-7.

That makes me super happy. I was figuring you'd get around to it eventually (in the same way that Merchant Princes masquerades as one thing for the first book and then BAM! social consequences! in the second one) and had been eagerly awaiting it.

The Laundry is going to draw a lot of it's "recruits" from young, tech-oriented, whip-smart people, and I imagine that more than one of them has said "No, fuck YOU. I'm a British citizen and I have rights, you assholes. I'll be contacting my lawyers and the press, in that order." And then things went... badly for them.

Just why Bob and Mo continue to willingly serve is one of those questions best left unasked, though

I had actually been operating on the assumption that Bob and Mo are both genuinely good people who are willing to give their lives that the world doesn't end.

I mean... I know that's super hokey. But I kind of figured that NIGHTMARE GREEN is just so awful they can't help but feel they need to do something.

155:

Paras 4..6 - Or as I put it, they're very good people who are prepared (and able in the Laundryverse) to do very bad things so that everyone else doesn't have to.

156:

The thing that interests me is that a lot of people believe in this stuff and sometimes act on their beliefs, to the determent of individuals and society. If you really believe in the evil cult then you may act against them and end up acting against the first battalion Innocent bystanders. It happens, ask Caroline Marchant. Oh you can't she's dead.

As an aside I wonder what Blue Hades made of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable.

157:

The bit I forgot, and which he explicitly says in the video I linked to, is that the cross has to cover more than a certain arc of the vampire's vision. Good enough to work as a get-out clause on that charge, I'd suggest.

My favourite vampires are [REDACTED BY MODERATOR -- sorry, but you second-guessed a significant plot thread in "The Rhesus Chart" and I don't want to spoil the fun for everyone else. Please shut up about it and feel free to have a smug, on me -- cs.]

I'm not entirely sure the Irish have unique monsters any more; our fairy lore has been pretty thoroughly strip-mined and twisted to suit the Seelie/Unseelie thing (aside: associating the "Celtic" fairies with the residents of Álfheim is downright slander on elf-kind), and our modern monsters are hardly unique - the Irish now fear and hate those who reside in merchant banks, not fairy mounds.

158:

Bob's in a Lovecraftian universe as the stars come right. The entire concept of human rights, like all other human conventions, is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

159:

I'm not sure Charlie wants it like that, though. But there's a problem with Lovecraftian Universes - they are defined by invincible antagonists. If it's lovecraftian, you can't win. And as soon as you can win, it's not lovecraftian any more.

160:

"It's not so straightforward, depending on the system in question a slave may have rights, such as ownership of property up to and including his or her own slaves."

I just looked this up, and it seems to have been the case in ancient Rome at least that while slaves could (in theory) rise in the world, they lacked legal personhood and therefore did not enjoy civil rights.

And if the few cases we know of in which slaves did accumulate enough wealth to purchase manumission were typical, the institution as a whole would have collapsed.

And that's leaving aside chattel slavery of the American type.

161:

As for the idea of slavery in the Laundry, I'd come away with a slightly different take.

People routinely give up a lot of rights when they're doing dangerous work. This can be anything from working with radioactive material, to most biotech (most chemicals that make research DNA fluoresce pretty colors is toxic to your own DNA), to even the intelligence industry. In this last regard, it's worth reading real accounts from the CIA and others, about what they have to put up with as part of their job. The basic point is that, in many situations, you have to follow strict procedures to keep everyone safe.

Now, I agree that all of these situation are ripe for abuse, but that doesn't make them slavery necessarily.

Still, it's interesting to look at it that way. Of course, if you want to see real forced labor, look at what happens on the inside of the pentagram...

162:

Charles Stross wrote:
"the inner/outer layered doctrinal split thing is common to many new model religions "

It's common to many ancient religions, too, the so-called "mystery religions". Christianity may well have begun as a Jewish mystery religion. The "outer truth" being that Jesus came down to Earth and died, but the "inner truth" being that he never existed on Earth but descended from the "upper heavens" into one of the "lower heavens", died there and returned.

163:

Greg Tingley @140

I don't believe that I suggested that evangelicals did not exist nor that they did not sincerely hold to their beliefs. I have experienced that sense of dissonance on realizing that the person to whom I was listening wasn't taking the piss and actually believed. Whether this is a more, or less, destructive belief than the belief that everyone should be armed is open to debate but, Jesus on a Dinosaur, so long as they don't try to constrain my belief they are welcome to theirs.

I was suggesting that, at first glance, the choice of setting seemed lazy and smacked of European condescension to things American. However, after some reflection I have concluded that any organization which could conceivably have an inner cabal (financial institutions, universities, government departments, political parties, ...) has already been subject of speculative fiction and so any choice was likely to have baggage. Religion, in other words, is as good as any other framework on which to hang the story and better than most in that it already presupposes the belief in the superior supernatural beings.

Actually, thinking about it, one of the amusing points is that, in this case, the belief has a real base and deliverance is coming real soon now. Hmm - the rapture by isopod - it could spawn a whole new set of movies.

As to the Taliban, no idea, never met a member. I merely know what I have read in the press. For all I know they are a bunch of gentleman farmers who are kind to their mothers and daughters and have an over-enthusiastic belief in the sayings of the prophet and a dislike of large statuary.

164:

As an aside I wonder what Blue Hades made of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable.

I had not thought of that! They may have made several pieces of it. The 1857 cable laying attempt didn't work, and the second 1858 cable lasted all of three weeks; there were plenty of failures for a while. Reliable telegraphy didn't happen until 1866 (over the 1865 cable laid by the Great Eastern). Maybe someone finally showed up in Dunwich and Innsmouth with suitcases full of money?

165:

Maybe someone finally showed up in Dunwich and Innsmouth with suitcases full of money?

I wonder what they consider to be "negotiable currency"?

166:
The impact of this is being tested in fisheries protection where smaller vessels are deliberately avoiding naval and coastguard surveillance. Missing a complete carrier fleet sounds increasingly implausible.

Part of what Ark Royal did was hide in plain sight: apparently she was spotted many times but her radar emissions were more or less pretending to be a freighter and she was acting as such. There's more to identifying warships than just locating a contact, and they're not dumb enough to sail in the "bullseye" formation we see in press release shots.

I know USN ships often carry civilian radar systems aboard, specifically to mask their identity.

167:

Of course, if you want to see real forced labor, look at what happens on the inside of the pentagram...

We got a taste of that in the Jennifer Morgue.

As an American, one of my favorite moments in it was when they reference a Supreme Court decision in which they ruled that non-human life isn't entitled to any Constitutional protections at all and anyone can mistreat them any way they want to.

Because of course. Of COURSE that would be how that case went. Scalia (and you know it was Scalia) probably got an erection while writing the opinion.

168:

scott-sanford @139

Thanks - I'll take a look.

169:

It's small and petty I suppose, but as an owner of a Ford Flex mom-wagon, I thought your biggest error in The Apocalypse Codex was having your protagonists order the retrofit of a V8 into the vehicle. You see, when you choose the Flex's Ecoboost turbo V6 option, you get a V6 engine with as much power as the pickup truck's V8.

Can one fault a novelist for lack of technical knowledge in family-hauling vehicles?

170:

Just why Bob and Mo continue to willingly serve is one of those questions best left unasked, though

I'd like to think that they're the kind of people who would even without geases, once they knew of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. Bob may not have been completely ready when he accidentally nearly did whatever it really was that he nearly did to get conscripted, but he grew into it while he was managing the Laundry IT. Meanwhile Mo, after she got kidnapped by !Al Qaeda, could not have done anything else; that there are things that feed on fear and pain and death is a thing that should not be, and if they are, then she's going to do her best to make sure they are not in this small corner of the universe, at least.

"Between these dark portals a person must go who is not themself dark..."

171:

It's going to be hard to turn up the threat from Apocalypse Codex while still being plausibly clandestine. The events in TAC affected an area of at least Denver to Colorado Springs, which is about 3 million people, with tens of thousands directly affected by the occult and apparently complete subversion of about 1500 Denver cops. Covering that up stretches plausibility pretty badly.

172:
Part of what Ark Royal did was hide in plain sight: apparently she was spotted many times but her radar emissions were more or less pretending to be a freighter and she was acting as such.

I get that, as yes, you can't hide the radar reflections of a Carrier. My point is we're moving to a world of continuous surveillance of vessels: Not just "oh, that contact looks like a freighter and is claiming to be a freighter, tag XXX", but even a small naval service like the Irish one having complete _tracking_ of all vessels: because vessels changing identity is exactly the kind of thing they are looking for (normally trawlers illegally fishing in Irish waters, but finding out about them means first tracking all potential targets from home port first, to spot suspicious activity).

173:

>>>apparently complete subversion of about 1500 Denver cops. Covering that up stretches plausibility pretty badly.

The Black Chamber will just reconvert the cops to be their puppets instead.

174:

Vanzetti wrote:
"I'm not sure Charlie wants it like that, though. But there's a problem with Lovecraftian Universes - they are defined by invincible antagonists. If it's lovecraftian, you can't win. And as soon as you can win, it's not lovecraftian any more."

Or one can consider Case Nightmare Green as the existential crisis (used more literally than is normative...) of the Human Race "leveling up"...

The least of the threats of note here was coopted or coopted itself (Angelton); the second least threat of note (Pyramid, being asleep at the top) was contained by above and a particularly badly adapted disorganized pre-Laundry emergency responder about a century ago, scheduled for regular overflight for recon purposes in the 70s with a contingency "nuke it from high altitude" plan, and Bob et al are getting a handle on "we have to be ready for this thing" due to unfortunate close encounter.

If we started into a century's worth of evolving threat level and response here, it's not a bad start. The problem is not that the Monsters are getting worse, it's that the Summoners are getting better and more plentiful...

175:

It's not necessarily all 1500 cops that are individually subverted beyond repair. Most of them will have been doing what they were told, e.g. "Go to exit N and set up a diversion" or "Ignore calls about trouble at Church X because we have an atheist prank-caller", with maybe just a little less inclination to question orders because of their relationship with the church.

Anyone without a tongue will be fair game, of course.

176:

Even that case will break down at certain points. If HMS Ark Royal leaves Portsmouth at the same time as a bunch of Merchant Marine vessels of similar size and electronic signature, steaming in roughly the same direction, then who's to know that Ark Royal and Atlantic Transporter IV have swapped identities?

177:

Amckinstry writes:
" My point is we're moving to a world of continuous surveillance of vessels: Not just "oh, that contact looks like a freighter and is claiming to be a freighter, tag XXX", but even a small naval service like the Irish one having complete _tracking_ of all vessels: because vessels changing identity is exactly the kind of thing they are looking for (normally trawlers illegally fishing in Irish waters, but finding out about them means first tracking all potential targets from home port first, to spot suspicious activity)."

This is a harder problem than is proposed here.

Being one of the originsl alt.space crowd, with some ISR analysis, a Naval Architecture degree, and having done some smallsat at-sea vessel tracking constellation analysis and system design work at times, unless the targets all have transponders (and last I heard, getting fishing vessels on board with that one had not yet succeeded) getting enough data to reliably discriminate between vessels is a Hard Problem for large fishing fleets such as the Atlantic. Particularly with active visual / IR / radar spoofing being legal.

Being able to tell where all the current positions are of fishing vessels in your waters at 90 min intervals is solvable now. Tracking individual boats reliably much harder, beyond continuous radar coverage and transponder cooperation.

178:

The point is that the God Game Rainbow events were high profile. When three million Americans and the country's largest hub airport go incommunicado for a long weekend, realistically that should be page 1 news.

179:

Possibly relevant link (I think I got it off a previous comment thread here actually)

http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/

Realtime google maps overlay of international shipping.

180:

"Matheson went to the trouble of having vampirism caused by a bacteria so that his protagonist could look down a microscope at it."

Thanks for the correction!

181:

Nestor: yes, that's AIS transponder data.

It's only required by SOLAS for passenger vessels and other ships in international trade over 300 tons, and other than countries starting to make it mandatory for entrance to their ports (the US) if you don't need it typically you don't carry it. In particular large fishing fleets have poor compliance.

182:

Indeed, when I read about that decision, Scalia was the first I thought of. But it would probably precede his appointment to the SCOTUS. I'm thinking Oliver Wendell "One generation of imbeciles is enough" Holmes could probably summon the misanthropy to write it though...

183:

Note that the Ford Flex is not advertised or sold anywhere in Europe. (It'd be laughed off the streets if it was seen here.) You should be more surprised that I've ever heard of it, much less been in one!

184:

Correct, and by Book Six a lot of this stuff will be sliding into public view, with the Laundry desperately running false-flag ops to cover what they're doing while they get the big public awareness campaigns ready for deployment. (Expect COBR briefings in that book, and rising public awareness by book seven.)

185:

It's a common problem with hidden-background stories. The Primeval TV series (a rather fun if somewhat silly reuse of the assets left over from the Walking With Dinosaurs series) had the issue that sooner or later ARC would be unable to hide the prehistoric monsters going walkabout in modern times.

(I think it was the Mammoth-caused traffic jam on the M25 that blew the lid off.)

Dr Who sort-of lamp shades it, given the number of New Who stories that have taken place here and now.

The problem is that when the secret is out and the general population knows about it, the world depicted must of necessity start diverging strongly from our own. This then makes it harder for the writer to engage us, since we have more difficulty seeing ourselves in that world.

186:

>>rising public awareness by book seven.

By the book ten I expect no less than Laundry-approved occult production sold in shops.

This, or the ruination of everything. :-)

187:

BTW, Charlie, does "Harry Potter" series exist in Laundry-verse? Because if so, they really should recruit Rowling for the public awareness campaign.

188:

Para 2 - In the 1960s a "Concorde bomber" armed with 3x Blue Steel stand-off bombs was at least briefly considered (and a painting of same was the cover illustration on a RAF Yearbook in period), so that isn't as completely far-fetched as some might think.

189:

(I think it was the Mammoth-caused traffic jam on the M25 that blew the lid off.)

That wasn't a Wooly Mammoth sir; it was an elephant that had escaped from a circus. :-|

190:

Oh, of course. Poor thing, it's got a bad case of kyphosis.

191:

IIRC Concorde prototype 002 was built with attachment points for a bomb bay, but no actual weapons were ever tested or fitted for it -- it was simply a way of keeping the RAF on board with the Air Ministry. Concorde did have its origins in a late-1950s requirement for a British strategic supersonic bomber, not unlike the XB-70 Valkyrie, but was cancelled for similar reasons when HMG decided to go for SSBNs (Polaris and then Trident) instead. Then, some years later, when the decided they wanted to build an SST airliner, they had a lot of advanced development work already completed.

As it is, Concorde flights were regularly used for RAF interceptor practice. Virtually nothing could catch it from behind, ever -- it was the best simulation of a Tu-160 Blackjack anyone except the Soviet air force had, AIUI.

192:

@27:
Iris is strong-willed, bloody-minded, and only a little incompetent; she is a good leader. She has a definite opinion on how to deal with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, and though it's not the one in favour right now, good intelligence and operations agencies keep their options open...so my bet would be that she wouldn't get the full rinse-cycle treatment, more of a really fiendish geas' (accessible given that the Laundry has real fiends) keeping her in line.

General: Given OGH's feelings about religion, which I basically share, I think he handled Ted very well.

I have to say that I enjoyed the book, but when OGH mentioned how hard it was to write in comparison to the previous Laundry works, my immediate thought was, 'It shows.' His "The Fuller Memorandum" was a slow entry into what turned into a fast-moving roller-coaster (except that I hate roller-coasters); like the film of "The Godfather", it is very hard to start it without going on 'til the end, which sounds very much just as how it was written. "The Apocalypse Codex", on the other hand, seems disjointed---maybe that's from having even more viewpoints represented, but I think there's something about the pacing in the middle. (Better than anything I'll ever write, except maybe my de Sitter dissertation.)

193:

I'm a huge fan of the Laundry books, and have read them all at least twice. So if I second-guess your narrative strategy, please take it as friendly and harmlessly well-meant, if possibly annoying.

It is necessary to explain why Bob is writing these things down. After all, he's in an urgent situation that he probably won't survive, and not reflecting in tranquility on his eventful career as a civil servant, so why is he taking the time? And it is very logical to say he's doing it for training purposes.

But that places certain restrictions. Some of them can be gotten around -- we could be reading the top-top secret version, for example, so he could speak freely, and to some extent the personal stuff might be a matter of showing trainees what things are really like. It's hard to avoid stretching this, though. For example, we'd like to see Bob and Mo at home, but there's no earthly reason why Bob would state in an official account that they were going to make up for lost time before he went off on an assignment. (Mo would kill him, and quite rightly.) To fit that in, you have to rely on a sleight of hand in which the reader forgets this is training material.

It also restricts things to Bob's viewpoint. That was something that chafed a bit when it came to Persephone Hazard.

I don't want to go off the point by talking too much about Modesty Blaise. Basically, though, there are reasons why the character is so well-loved, and a lot of them have to do with the very deep personal and professional connection between her and Willie Garvin, which, unusually for popular fiction, isn't sexual in nature. I had trouble with Persephone and Johnny because they were meant to remind one of Modesty and Willie, but felt cold in comparison.

That's an easy objection to address. Persephone isn't meant to be a fully fledged Modesty pastiche, and she has her own function in the novel, where the Modesty-Willie dynamics might not fit in. You might not have felt like doing that in any case. But it led me to wonder if there was room to do it at all in this framework.

The problem is that the most telling moments in the O'Donnell books are private by nature. They're when Modesty and Willie allow themselves to be vulnerable, which they can only do with each other. Trust aside, no one who hadn't been through the same things would be in a position to understand. Bob would never know about those moments, and if he did, he would have no business at all reporting them.

So how could this be done, if you did want to do it? Drop the all Bob, all the time, assumption, possibly. Keep just the parts he wrote first-person, and assume that some parts are being omitted. It being unlikely that Persephone herself would write anything down, just make the chapters that talk about her straight up third person. That could contrast interestingly with Bob's limited point of view.

Of course, that's a fairly obvious idea, and you've spoken of trying on different approaches anyway, so probably this isn't adding much.

194:

I think you may have wanted to say, instead of:

"the Christian Bible's Old Testament is substantially different from the Pentateuch and Haftorah"

"the Christian Bible's Old Testament is substantially different from the חומש (Chumash) ("five books") and the rest of the תנך (Tanakh)"

The Haftorah is an excerpt from the נביאים (Prophets) in the Tanakh which is read after the reading from the Torah Scroll, normally on Shabbat.

Otherwise, all power to your storytelling.

195:

Hi Charlie.

Thanks for the thread. My Hebrew is not up the with the good Vicar Pete, but the gnostic stuff was amusing. And wrong, which is why it is amusing.

On the Prosperity / Fundamentalists issue, the big error in the codex was that most reformed think the fundamentalists are heretics because they in effect treat God as an occult box that you can manipulate by certain formulae. Which gets creepily close to the Laundry, and section four.

But what will happen if the Laundry itself gets hacked? The current situation where we are moving into a panoptican state (and yes, I've read your books on this and they gave me nightmares) is a pretty good analogy for where we are right now -- what I'm writing will be stored somewhere in the NSA ad aeternum.

Given that the infovores are out there and find information nice and crunchy, (a) will the Laundry leave a big honking back door open now that one of the few competent IT geeks (Yes, I mean Bob) has been promoted and cannot do his BOFH magick and (b) are the Black Chamber accelerating the move towards Case Nightmare Green by cross funding the NSA?

And if you can make the Vampires anything but romantic and misunderstood semi erotic creatures a la everyone from Anne Rice to that stupid Twilight woman I will buy your books in the dead tree and inky version and (if the DRM is disabled) ebook as well. Hell, I have most of them in both already.

YOu are as addictive as a certain American pulp writer with the name of a Beatle, but with a better vocabulary and style.

196:

If you want utterly unromantic vampires, I suggest tracking down a copy of the movie "30 Days Of Night." Vampires as feral horror-movie beasties.

197:

Yes, but if you want feral horror-movie beasties why bother with vampires? Wouldn't rabid raccoons do just as well? Or bears?

I'm not writing vampires as "romantic and misunderstood semi erotic creatures" -- I've got my own angle on them, coming out of parasitology (a la Peter Watts, but different). And if there's one thing scarier than a vampire in the Laundryverse, it's a vampire hunter ...

198:

I didn't say unintelligent - or uncharismatic. "30 Days Of Night" came out at what seemed the peak of Twilight hysteria (of course, the Twilight movie came out a year later and showed how wrong we were), showed vampires as intelligent social predators - of us - and had them gorge themselves on a town. (The "30 Days" of the title it supposed to refer to an Arctic night. Yes, an Arctic night is six months, not one. I don't know either.)

I assumed you weren't, especially as you've mentioned the Watts connection before; I was suggesting something to tide pukeko60 over until your vampires debut. ",)

199:

(The "30 Days" of the title it supposed to refer to an Arctic night. Yes, an Arctic night is six months, not one. I don't know either.)

You might want to reconsider that - it depends on where in the Arctic you are. It's six months at the North Pole (well nearly, see refraction of sun through atmosphere which makes the sun visible when it oughtn't quite be), and much less as you go further south. For example, last year in Honningsvåg in Norway the sun rose for the first time on January 21st, having set the previous November 20th. That ain't six months, and Honningsvåg is about the most northerly town in the world at 70°58′55" N.

(Yeah, we got there about January 23rd, so I've not seen a polar night. Hmph. But I can certainly attest that the Arctic night isn't 6 months throughout the Arctic.)

Further south, at Narvik for example (68°26′18″ N), sunset was later, on December 5th, and sunrise on January 7th. So the town of the film could be somewhere a little more south than that, but not a lot.

200:

I should have known that, but didn't. Thanks!
It's set in a town in Alaska called Barrow, which can't be the Alaskan city of Barrow as it's way too small. (One of the reasons I was so quick to assume the filmmakers had the length of the month wrong.) Were it some sort of alternate-universe Barrow, it would have roughly the same length of night as Honningsvåg (the internet tells me.)

201:

The actual Barrow is too small? Or the film one?

A lot of the really northern towns are villages by my standards, and Barrow is about ten miles further north than the most northerly place I've been served a meal, at least on land.

(I've been to 5 of the 20 most northerly towns in the world according to the Wikipedia list (which I note is missing some places I've been to, such as Oxford Øksfjord), and the only one I'd usually grace with the term 'town' is Hammerfest.)

202:

While the real Barrow is small (population in and around 4,000), the movie's Barrow is smaller, and is definitely missing most of Barrow's infrastructure.

203:

Locations in New Zealand were used, so no surprise that the movie version of Barrow isn't much like the real one:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0389722/locations

204:

I've got a magazine article on the RAF test intercepts of U2s in 1962 - they caused 'MYSTERY BANGS!' in Edinburgh. When given appropriate warning and basing, they often made it to a position to get a valid missile shot off.
Actually, it's in the sample issue, so anyone can read it for the 'price' of a sign-up to Pocket Mags - The Aviation Historian Magazine.

205:

Well, it was one of the Laundry files that got me started on researching the ConcBomber (with a view to making a model), which is how I came to get a scan of the painting...

#204 - Frightnings have intercepted more or less everything in the NATO OrBat, even the SR-71. Of course, this did involve finding one that was visiting the Farnborough Air Show, and towing a life-expired F-3 out into the Western Approaches behind a Victor K-2, then releasing when the positions were right. The F-3 went up on a ballistic profile, took some pics from above and behind the SR-71, after which the pilot rode it down to 20kft on fumes, and ejected near a handy frigate.
The photo prints were duely presented to the SR-71 crew!

206:

U2s? Those big slow high altitude sailplanes?

(OK, not actually sailplanes, but they did look like oversized gliders when tooling around the local sky)

Now if you meant the SR-71, then yes, then the Lightning would have needed afterburners. But getting close to and behind a U2 is an altitude rather than a speed issue.

207:

Umm, OK, I guess the Lightning's zoom climb could have been noisy, since that was how they would bounce a U2.

Whether they had any fuel left afterwards .... well, that's where they'd have made sure there was a free runway within range.

208:

We're on much the same page (or at least the same chapter) here. My F-3 story #205 used the fastest variant, and actually removed the throttle stop (0.5" bar welded in place), at which point on full afterburner it really was "fuel for 3 minutes".

209:

> So what does PVRF stand for? I might like to steal it for my Laundry Files campaign

I might be very late with this, but ПВРФ is acronym for "Frontier Troops of Russian Federation".

Also, any ideas about Russia in Laundryverse get me very excited (after reading a certin scenario in a Black Bag Jobs I actually made a list of differences between Russian and European mathematical notations, hadn't found use for it yet), so I would be glad to hear relevant details of your campaign.

210:

This thread's a bit old but it seems an appropriate place to drop this link to Adam Curtis' recent post on the history of ineptitude of MI5, BUGGER. Read it and be stunned. It makes various HR managers' plans to take over The Laundry look like the most credible parts of the stories.

211:

@pukeko60: for non-romantic vampires, try the Ilona Andrews "Magic" (aka Kate Daniels) series. Her vampires are mindless dessicated corpses which on their own do nothing but hunt and kill. (Fair warning: the series itself is a post-apocalypse fantasy/romance mix, and while I find it fun enough to keep reading, there are times I want to pound the characters' heads against a wall. YMMV.)

212:

The link to the Adam Curtis essay is BUGGER. And it is indeed a jaw-dropper, if you weren't already aware of this shit.

Spies are far less effective than most of us think. And ELINT organizations like the NSA aren't much better, even though ELINT supplanted HUMINT from the 1960s onwards because it was clearly The Way Forward.

213:

Great to see Bugger already posted here. I just finished reading it. Lovely article!

Weiner's Legacy of Ashes does the same thing at book length for the CIA, and while I haven't read Puzzle Palace, I wouldn't be surprised if it gave the NSA similar treatment.

To me, spying and magic ("real" magic as opposed to stage magic) have a lot in common, which is why the Laundry books are so fun. In the real world, neither works nearly as well as its practitioners claim, and secrecy and misdirection are endemic to both worlds.

The one thing I'd disagree with about ELINT being "the way forward." I'd rather suspect that the US' intelligence problem is, quite simply, that we're the weirdest of the WEIRD. Because we're so different, it's hard for us to find loyal citizens who blend in well elsewhere. As with neurodiverse people everywhere, we've turned to technology to make up for the social ineptitude that makes us hard to be proper spies.

214:

That reminds me that I am way overdue to thin out my bookcases of various books written by Chapman Pincher and Nigel West that, long ago, caused me to believe that their 'sources ' in MI5 were collectively as mad as a sack full of rabid ferrets and that these sources had probably spent the entire cold war doing more spying on each other and inventing fables intended to preserve their departmental budgets than they had ever devoted to spying on The Enemy from Beyond The Iron Curtain.

In one of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise stories O'Donnell has his characters talk about how easy it was to break into one of the departments of the British security service because said departments spent so much time spying on each other they had no time left to pay attention to their own security. It stuck me way back then, as it does now, that there are probably a good many authors of fiction who are actually better researchers into intelligence than the higher echelon people of the Security Service who didn't seem to be all that good at their jobs and the journalists that they use to regurgitate their fables for public consumption.

Ah, well, I gather that MI 5 has been decentralised from its over concentration in London so maybe Lessons Have been learned, but I'm afraid that it is all too easy for members of the Intelligence Community, of whatever nation, to tap the sides of their collective nose in a Significant Manner whilst Murmuring, " WE know things that YOU don't .. "

I rather liked Anthony Prices quotation of Alexandre Dumas from 'The Three Musketeers ' in Prices 1986 novel, "For the Good of the State" thus ...
" It is by my order and for the good of the state that the bearer of this note has done what he has done.
3rd December, 1627 Richelieu "

Quite a few members of the Intelligence Communities seem to me to have been carrying a copy of that fictional Richelieu document inside their heads during the cold war. You can justify an awful of lot of really nasty stuff in the line of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours ‘if it is done “For The Good Of The State “

215:

Ah no, Charlie put "The Way Forward" with capital letters, try saying it in the same tone of voice as "We have no alternative" or "The best thing since sliced bread" or something. As in, it was utterly wrong in the same way that the comment about "electricity would be too cheap to meter".

I wouldn't say it was social ineptitude that makes the USA bad spies, rather your own cultural slef-centredness, and that you are to a large extent still the dominant culture that ensures you think you know the best about everythying.

216:

Charlie @ 212
Yet, thanks to Bletchley, ELINT effectively won "us" WWII, in Europe, at least - having to send out recce-planes to give exuses as to why things got caught/sunk/blown-up (Matapan is the classic example) ...

Re BUGGER
Wasn't the guy in Aus who was atempted to be gagged (I forget his name right now - "Spycatcher", anyway - ah - Peter Wright ) completely wierded-out over some totally unscientific shit, which was utter cods, from beginning to end?
Ah, I see Wright [ & ANGLETON! ] show up ... oh dearie dearie me ....
These people make even the "ministry of transport" (DafT) look competent & sane!

ARNOLD @ 214
Richlieu/Dumas
Even scarier is the other quote:
If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.
Fancy a trip to Guantanamo, anyone?

217:

I'd say that's part of the problem, really. Every army's touchstone for conventional war is WW2, with everything from the atomic blasts in Japan to how tank wars work. Yes, in WW2, ELINT worked against the Germans and Japanese. There's no particular evidence it worked in the Cold War (or perhaps it did, and that's why the war never hotted up), and there's little evidence that ELINT works well in quashing insurgencies. Conversely, the best Cold War intelligence (AFAIK) came through defections on both sides, and we were rather luckier that more Soviets came west than westerners went east.

The grimly ironic part of me wonders whether the next major wars will resemble those of the late Roman Empire or perhaps the Japanese Sengoku period. In the former, we have a weakening empire being pummeled by barbarians, many of which were basically people being pushed off the Eurasian steppe by worsening climate conditions and by other people taking their land. For example, what will India, Myanmar, and Nepal do when Bangladeshis in the hundreds of millions have to move or drown?

The Sengoku was the warring states period in Japanese history that preceded the rise of the Tokugawa. Factors that fed into it were a weak and divided government in Washington DC, erm, Kyoto, usury forcing people off their land in the farm belts, and the rise of fundamentalist, erm, Buddhism in a way that helped people reach across class lines to organize themselves, take their land back and attempt to govern themselves, based on ideas of a largely mythical past, with crime enforcement going medieval (Japanese, in this case. Medieval Texan is a bit harder to imagine).

On the more impersonal scale, it's yet another case where the peasants killed the moneylenders, burned their mortgages, and took their land back. Then I look at what happened in America when banks started falsifying mortgage documents wholesale and daring people to sue them, and I see a very ancient pattern playing itself out again. Smart politicians would be screaming for a jubilee at this point, but it appears that smart people are getting out of politics instead.

But the interesting thing is that we have: a) a lot of dispossessed people, increasingly on the move, b) new ways of organizing these people into effective forces (everything from social media to AK-47s), and c) a lot of nomadic, wealthy leaders who fancy themselves feudal lords already, a few of whom are charismatic enough to provide rallying points for the masses. Interesting situation, yes?

218:

That's an interesting idea, perhaps useful for a story, although I suppose charismatic new leader using bands of dispossessed to advance their cause in an international scale isn't a new story. Certainly one we haven't seen much of recently.

As for ELINT and the cold war, is the problem not more that in a hot war ELINT is actually very useful, but in a cold war much less so because oddly enough knowing which division they send where isn't quite as useful because of the constrained nature of the 'war'.

219:

heteromeles @ 217
Medieval Texan is a bit harder to imagine ... err, no, it isnt!
Supermax prison = oubliette
etc ...
I find the Szymoniak case very worrying - given that two of the nemed defendants incluse HSBC & Deautsche Bank .....
I wonder how much of that is going on over here?

220:

There was a wee bit of sarcasm thrown in there. The weird thing is trying to figure out what the mythical past of any part of the US would be. Is it antebellum or (more likely) 1950s?

I've been reading The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (BigMuddy Link) by Pierre Francois Souyri. Aside from having a nice translation by Kathe Roth, I found the parallels between pre-Sengoku (Warring States) Japan and other periods in history (like now) fascinating. I don't know whether this was by design, or whether their experience parallels our own right now in a number of rather disturbing ways. The good news is, they got through it eventually.

In any case, someone could pretty easily write a near-future SF for the US based on the Sengoku period in Japan. Just substitute in the US military for the samurai, the assault rifle crowd for the jizamurai, the Evangelical movement for the Amidist movement, and Washington for Kyoto. And no, I'm not interested in writing it. Someone else can have fun comparing long arms and katanas.

221:

Yes, in WW2, ELINT worked against the Germans and Japanese. There's no particular evidence it worked in the Cold War (or perhaps it did, and that's why the war never hotted up

Well, up to a point. ELINT [more accurately SIGINT - Y Service, and cryptanalysis - "Station X" /Bletchley Park] helped the British war effort no end - but only combination with aerial reconnaissance and good old HUMINT. Many ULTRA decrypts took so long to process their moment of utility had passed.

The Soviets had no ELINT capability to speak of, not much radar and didn't even have tank-to-tank radio communications - and they got their boots on German soil long before the UK/Commonwealth and US did. The only sniff of ULTRA the Russians got was through the Lucy spy network. Otherwise they relied on HUMINT of the Willi Lehmann, Leopold Trepper variety.

One of the great untold stories is that of Geoffrey Prime, whose information enabled the Soviets to switch to a cryptanalysis-resistant code in the early 1980s

The Russians effectively won the ELINT Cold war against NATO, NSA, whomever.

A lot of good it did them, to. ;-)

222:

India.

A billion humans. Almost as many cults.

I suspect this is already a no-go zone, with its own unique ecology of technomancy and competing factions. My gods can beat up on your gods. A billion humans, written off as unsaveable.

Australia.

Trying really hard to extend and intensify the natural shield techniques/technology of the OLD DREAMERS. Weaponising the uniquely resistant Class II entities that have evolved in this environment, so hostile to them, the Wulgarus and Bunyips.

And while we're at it.. using Krantzberg syndrome plus similarity and contagion to keep Gorgonic tumours at controllable levels (and other neoplasms too). Nothing as flashy or wasteful as a Basilisk gun, a much smaller proportion of C atoms get changed. Anything from a hot flush to fatal hyperthermia, coagulating nerve proteins.

But India's the matter that most concerns me. Here we are, putting in armour plate and concrete reinforcement in some areas, while others have all the protection of soggy tissue paper.

223:

“My Gods can beat up on your gods?” ...Well that's a universal TRUTH I fear.

A couple of decades or so ago one of my TECH Support Colleagues at a British University told me that I was DOOMED!!!! Doomed I Tell You!!! And so forth. This despite the fact that I had been kind to him and had helped in his career development and so on.

In casual conversation my colleague told me that, since I had not been born into HIS particularly exclusive branch of Christianity, MY SOUL would be dissolved upon Death!!! Evidentially Burning in The Pits of Hell was a bit outmoded...I did ask...and this ever so Humane alternative was proffered. Oh, well, that was Me Told, and all that sort of thing and I do - really and trully for he was a decent man in most respects and did try to do his best in his job which was all that I requred of him - hope that his faith was of great comfort to him when he died of a brain tumour some years later and left behind him a young family...who no doubt now share his belief that if you aren't born into a particulary wierd Christian sect that was born in the back streets of Sunderland way back in the last Great Christian Revival back in the Age of Victoria you were and are Doomed if Not actually Damned. Actually Queen Vicky, who whilst Militantly Christian was not the Right Sort of Christian, would also , by the Standards of my collegue have had her Soul Disolved after her ever so cerimonially celebrated Death at the turn of the Century ... and serve her right too, for not having been one of the Elect!!!

224:

Oh, further to my post above, and just in case this has been missed...

" HIV patients told by Pentecostal pastors 'to rely on God'"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23729684


Bit of a waste of time really since, according to my late colleague, they are DOOMED!!! Etcetera and so forth....

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 28, 2013 10:31 AM.

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