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Crib Sheet: The Annihilation Score

Annihilation Score

So, while this week sees the first publication of "The Nightmare Stacks", it also sees the paperback publication (on both sides of the Atlantic!) of "The Annihilation Score". And as is my custom these days, I figure it's time to post a brief essay about the novel. Keep reading below the fold if you dare; here be spoilers!

There comes a point in every series of books when the author has to ask whether the series is about a single person (the protagonist) or the setting. The Laundry Files are no different. While the first book was very clearly about Bob Howard, hapless geek and accidental occult counterintelligence agent, an ensemble cast slowly assembled itself around him and then intermittently stole the show. And after five books in a row about Bob, narrated in the first person/present tense from his point of view, I thought it would be a good idea to step outside his skin and show the reader what the back of his head looks like, so to speak.

A point that was becoming clear by book 3 or book 4 is that Bob is an unreliable narrator. This was (spoiler!) originally an accident, but then a bonus. When I began writing "The Atrocity Archive" I had no plan to write a series; the book unpacked itself organically, and a lot of what came out was played deliberately for laughs. About four years later I was called on (ahem, paid money to) write a sequel, "The Jennifer Morgue", and I decided that it'd be fun to make Bob four years older, wiser, and a bit more senior. And of course I'd forgotten some minor details, and I'm terrible about re-reading my own work and remembering what I'd done. So inconsistencies began to creep in.

How do you deal with inconsistencies? Well, in "The Fuller Memorandum" I introduced a framing conceit, that these first-person narratives are Bob's working journals, kept by his employer so that if he dies in the line of duty you, the postulated reader, the person stepping into his still-warm boots, have access to some of his hard-won knowledge. This is also a neat way of sidestepping the essential loss of tension implicit in a first-person narrative (you know that the narrator survives to the end—unless, as in "Glasshouse" or Mira Grant's "Feed", they're murdered part-way through recording their experiences). Bob is ageing and learning his place in the institution as he is promoted, and sometimes he learns that what he was told, or inferred, as a junior employee, is flat-out wrong. But Bob is also ageing and maturing; we start the series with him as a callow twenty-something, and by the time we reach THE ANNIHILATION SCORE he's nearly forty, married, much more cynical, and thinks he's a grown-up now.

Boy is he wrong.

Like most of us, Bob has a near-infinite capacity for self-deception. (We're all the heroes of our inner narrative, after all.) He's also been getting increasingly powerful throughout the series. With great power comes great self-delusion, and all is not well in Bob's world; in particular his spouse, Dr Dominique O'Brien, aka Agent CANDID—who has been levelling up alarmingly herself—is having trouble controlling her ill-omened and murderously inclined violin, not to mention coping with Bob's increasing necromantic abilities. For the first few years they've got along by carefully ignoring the more dangerous aspects of each other's life, and by providing mutual support: but when two monsters live together, the question to ask is, how long will it be before one of them tries to eat the other?

Which brings us to the red wedding sequence at the end of "The Rhesus Chart" and the set-up for "The Annihilation Score", which is there to give us a whole different perspective on Mo, on Bob, and on what's going on in the background that Bob is oblivious to.

Now, I will note that quite a few readers seemed to absolutely hate "The Annihilation Score"; they specifically disliked Mo, accusing her of being bitchy, nasty, aggressive, self-centered ... all the epithets that get hurled at assertive, competent, strong women (and especially managers) in day to day life. Previously the series focussed on Bob, a cuddly (if somewhat lethal) turbo-geek everyman with a neat line in self-deprecating humor. Mo, in contrast, is caught in the career woman trap: required to be a pretty adornment to her husband or partner, but expected to be vastly more proficient and competent than a man in the same occupational niche just to be seen as average. She is, if anything, the Ginger Rogers to Bob's Fred Astaire: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels." The stress is grinding her into the dirt, so much so that she's riding a bobsleigh down a run towards an explosion or a breakdown, or both. In other words, she's not written to be a nice person, or even one the reader necessarily empathizes with (if the reader is wanting a warm bath of self-congratulatory affirmation): she's written to be a professional, trapped in a deadly situation and trying to make the best of the desperately bad hand she's been dealt by fate. (And when she develops a superpower, by way of dramatic irony it turns out to be a paranormally enhanced version of one that women over 40 usually find themselves suffering from whether they want it or not.)

Lest you think this is a rather brutal treatment of her, let me remind you that Agent CANDID was the James Bond figure of "The Jennifer Morgue", and Bond was not a spy—he was a state-sanctioned executioner. This is the position Mo effectively starts from in the series (after I realized with a big "oops" that I'd written her as a girl in the tower cliche, but had also given her a plausible motivation for making something more of herself). Anyway, throughout the entire series Bob's wife is not a helpmeet: she's a professional killer and arguably even deadlier than he is. She props Bob up and provides a shoulder for crying on from time to time, as he does for her in return, but the domestic tranquility Bob thinks he's found at home with her is a comforting illusion they both connive at and when the disguise is ripped away the reality turns out to be somewhat darker. Think "Mr and Mrs Smith" with vampires, zombies, and ... superheroes ...

So, to "The Annihilation Score" itself.

I've long had a fondness for superhero fic, but my background lore in the field was warped by growing up in 1970s Britain. Marvel and DC Comics were not widely distributed and din't show up in the sort of newsagent I had access to. Instead, my reading was skewed towards 2000AD, and biased by British TV—including interminable re-runs of the Adam West "Batman" series. Oh, and a dose of Greek and Roman mythology, which taps into the same deep wellsprings as the modern superhero mythos—asking questions about the limits of human agency and the archetypes of human existence and the effects of granting limitless power to limited, flawed personalities. Given the Laundry Universe has it's own post-Lovecraftian eschatological imperative—as the stars come into alignment magic becomes easier and there are random outbreaks of power—it's easy enough to see how someone who wakes up invisible one morning might think herself possessed by a demon, or cursed by an evil magician ... or become a superhero.

The current cycle of Laundry Files novels is exploring and pastiching different contemporary fantasy subgenres, from unicorns ("Equoid") to vampires ("The Rhesus Chart") and elves ("The Nightmare Stacks"). "The Annihilation Score" is the superhero novel. With increasing numbers of people waking up with superpowers, a subset turn to crime while others—presumably educated on superhero comics and contemporary culture—turn to vigilantism: lycra body suits, punching out alleged criminals, damaging the evidence and crime scenes, intimidating witnesses, resulting in mistrials. The Home Office—the British interior ministry in charge of policing and prisons—hates that sort of thing. And so Mo, still reeling from her first encounter with a supervillain in public and the loss of her cover identity, is detached from the Laundry, reassigned to the Home Office under cover, and set to establishing the Transhuman Police Coordination Force—an under-budgeted over-worked public-relations-oriented excuse for a superhero police team, established to take the more tractable vigs in hand and find a lawful and acceptable outlet for their enthusiasm. Mo is given three months and a fraction of the necessary resources to set up an agency that will field the official government superhero team as special constables (normal duration of training: two years) ... and meanwhile she comes under enormous pressure to hunt down and apprehend the ominously super-competent criminal mastermind whose calling card, left at the scene of their crimes, is tagged "Professor Freudstein".

So you probably won't be surprised to learn that the original elevator pitch for the book was "a pessimistic downbeat literary exploration of one woman's simultaneous mid-life, career, marital, and nervous breakdown (with superheroes)". Although it's leavened a bit by the comedy element that runs through the Laundry files: Mo herself doesn't have the same sense of humour as Bob (although over almost a decade together lots of Bob-isms have rubbed off on her), so she isn't consciously aware of it, but she's fallen into a classic Ragtag Bunch of Misfits plot with an entirely different elevator pitch: "Bob's exes form a superhero team and Fight Crime".

Finally, there's a serious (ish) memo embedded in the background conceit: that the age of the Mad Scientist is over. In the 20th, and even more the 21st century, Mad Science is a team effort, not something that can be left to one guy (or gal) and their minion in a leaky castle; rather than look for a Mad Scientist, you should always look for a Mad Science Multinational ... or a shadowy quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization with special powers to do something unspeakable in the name of the Defense of the Realm. Because by the time "The Annihilation Score" takes place the onset of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is becoming noticable to government agencies other than the Laundry, and even if they don't quite understand what's going on they know that they disapprove strongly, and want it to stop, and will stop at nothing to make it go away.

Real spoilers, now: Bob and Mo don't really feature in "The Nightmare Stacks" (which comes out this week, and is mostly about Alex the PHANG, a girl named Cassie, and something called CASE NIGHTMARE RED). You'll have to wait for "The Delirium Brief" in June 2017 to find out how their relationship counseling sessions go down and whether they manage to get over each other's problems before the end of the world.

Incidentally, you can buy "The Annihilation Score" here:

US paperback | US Kindle edition | UK paperback | UK Kindle edition

159 Comments

1:

The Delirium Brief? In paperback? Damn it, my time machine is busted again!

2:

Fixed. (The perils of working on too many novels at the same time!)

3:

Well, I'm part-way through TAS, and Mo's "voice" is growing on me. I did nearly "bounce" in the first 50 or 60 pages, but kept going and am pleased that I did.

4:

Well, this was the book that killed my interest in the Laundry series, although I reread the first four with pleasure, and check your very erudite blog every day--I have read back to 2008.
You decided the series would be about the "universe", which is of course your right. But my interest was Bob and Mo, not the cast of dozens.
And I am one of those who hated the Mo that was here, but not for the reasons you state. Actually, the opposite. Instead of the competent agent, she is portrayed as someone from a novel decades ago--she agonises over her clothes, she agonises over her husband's ex who is younger and sexier, even though she is from a decade, she agonises over an approaching middle aged spread, and so on. The killer for me was when she stressed out. Did this lethal agent relieve the tension by going to a range and killing paper targets? No. Did she go to the gym and sweat it out?. No. Did this brilliant mathematician and musician lose herself in abstract multidimensional math or some non-killer violin composition? No. She had a good cry.

5:

I don't agree 100% with your reasoning:-

she agonises over her clothes
Well yes, but she's working in/with the UK Government / Civil Service where the sorts of work dress standards that she discusses areexpected and she certainly would not be taken seriously if she turned up for those meetings wearing jeans and an "Avenged Sevenfold" tee-shirt.
Did this lethal agent relieve the tension by going to a range and killing paper targets?
You know of a "violin range"? ;-) I'm reading Lecter as trying to "eat someone" pretty much every time he's played. Charlie; is that correct?

6:

In other words, she's not written to be a nice person, or even one the reader necessarily empathizes with (if the reader is wanting a warm bath of self-congratulatory affirmation): she's written to be a professional, trapped in a deadly situation and trying to make the best of the desperately bad hand she's been dealt by fate.

Being at an age where many of my friends of any gender are fortyish professionals and good at what they do, with lots of pressure from both work and free-time, I found Mo to be quite well-written. If Laundry was a wish-fulfillment series, then it'd probably be better to show her as strong all the time, but as I don't read it as such, I found the break-down and her reaction to it a good one (from the literature point of view, probably not from hers).

Also I think it's good to show that even strong female protagonists are not always perfect. Sometimes people do cry, even professional killers. Also, Mo is (in the diegesis) product of her environment - from what I understand (being a cis-het white male, so outsider in this) the pressure for women is pretty heavy to conform to the social norms, and to think about looks and age, and very hard to overcome for most people.

Anyway, thank you Charlie, I did like the book, and I'm waiting for the next one to arrive at my doorstep.

7:

I'm reading Lecter as trying to "eat someone" pretty much every time he's played. Charlie; is that correct?

Yep. Hence the stuff about Mo having an anechoic room set up in the basement car park at the TPCF offices and worrying about accidentally zombifying the security guard on the front desk if they walk in while she's practicing. There's actually a lot of Mo practicing her skills in this book, and several instances of serious mayhem. (Continuous running gag: the TPCF's management team are vastly more powerful and competent superheroes than the superhero team they're officially in charge of running in the field, but for PR reasons they have to keep a low profile.)

A very large chunk of Mo's interests and responses are based on middle-aged professional women in middle to senior management roles who I know and have known. If I focussed on her as being basically a perfect assassin there wouldn't be a character there; just an implausible cardboard cut-out.

8:

It's a little while ago now, but I really enjoyed TAS and the shift to Mo's perspective. The geek-to-career-civil-service thing is totally my world too, and this got the world of half-arsed agile rather better (IM-relatively-HO) than the Rhesus Chart with its albeit hilarious scrums. Putting it another way, Bob's world got increasingly esoteric and while fun, TAS is more like the mundane fantastic version of my own. It's still an identification thing, but more in keeping with an ageing readership as well as simply ageing characters (or perhaps sometimes it's that the readers have leveled up too... gawd knows Rowling must get that).

9:

I'm about a decade older than Mo's written and I recognised all her choices. (I'm not a super-powered assassin but her professional choices about what to wear to work and so on.)

I made a very different choice to her. But as noted above, I'm not a super-powered assassin and I could retire and take up a job where I could make choices that I liked and made me happier. I'm also lucky that I don't have children, I'm not dramatically attached to lots of things, so I could afford to take the roughly £30,000/year drop in income that went with that choice. To illustrate that in a different way, in the job I left I walked into the travel agent (in the days people did such things) and bought a month's holiday in New Zealand without saving up for it. Now I have to save up for for a week off work, let alone a week away.

I didn't particularly like TAS because I'm not a fan of the superhero genre but I really identified with Mo and sympathised with her not being able to walk away from those choices.

10:

No. She had a good cry.

This was about the *most* realistic thing in the book! It’s perfectly normal for people to “work off” an unbearable build-up of stress and tension by having a good cry in a quiet corner somewhere. Does everyone do it? No, of course not - stress coping mechanisms vary enormously - do *lots* of people do this? Absolutely, and if you think that it’s a sign of weakness then you’re sorely mistaken.

Of course, if you want your protagonists to be perfect wish-fulfillment all action killing machines (looking at you, filmic Bond) then going off and having a cry does rather break the illusion. Personally I prefer my protagonists to be actual people instead of cardboard cut-out authorial Marty-Stu/Mary-Sues self-inserts these days.

11:

> In other words, she's not written to be a nice person, or even one the reader necessarily empathizes with […] she's written to be a professional, trapped in a deadly situation and trying to make the best of the desperately bad hand she's been dealt by fate.

This is my problem with the book, one I've written about here before. I have no problem with the character of Mo, I enjoyed her perspective and I really enjoyed seeing the Laundryverse from a very different viewpoint.

The problem is, despite the shift in viewpoint from improving-but-bumbling Bob to fearsomely-nonempathetic Mo, the plot relies on the same bumbling error that Bob's previous entries have always relied on - a noose gradually tightens and the principal character doesn't realise until far too late. I just cannot reconcile the character whose mind we inhabit, with all the paranoia and suspicion we *know* she processes the world around her, who is in the throes of a breakdown (which heightens paranoia and suspicion) and her actions in cluelessly becoming entrapped in the weave of plot against her and the Laundry.

12:

I will note that dealing with stress and tension by having a good cry in a quiet corner using a stop-watch to ensure it doesn't over-run is a really bad sign.

(Life note: if you ever find yourself doing that? Either get rid of the source of stress in your life or seek professional help immediately -- you're probably only weeks to single-digit months away from a nervous breakdown.)

13:

I really liked Mo as a character, more than anything it introduced the idea of the invisible middle-aged woman which I had never considered before.

Having said that TAS still didn't sit well with me. I was a bit put off by the fact that, despite being told from Mo's perspective, it was very common for people to use Bob-type nerd-speak (e.g. the police officer talking about firmware updates of the human brain). Also the public and professional reaction to superheros seemed a bit farcical. The public characters seemed to just take it in their stride with a sardonic grin and there were so many references to out-of-date pop culture. Like the idea that if Jo-Random-Public woke up with superpowers they'd grab some lycra and give themselves a silly name (as opposed to go wild ala Misfits).

It took some head canon of Mo having picked up Bob's speech habits and being out-of-date enough to describe things weirdly to get through.

14:

Er, middle-aged people are generally out-of-date on their pop culture references!

15:

Sure but it's not just the references so much as the public seemed to base their response to the super-power situation on an old-fashioned idea of superheros (get lycra, get silly name, get out there and fight crime). I got the impression that the public characters were acting quite silly, almost in a satirical way, compared to a more natural response to a super-power outbreak.

16:

When you use the term "unreliable narrator" I'm never quite sure whether you mean "this person explained things as best they can but may have incomplete or wrong information/beliefs" vs "this person is often lying through their teeth or deliberately misleading the reader"

I actually quite liked Mo but some of the criticisms Terry levels I think are somewhat right. I get you didn't want her to be a black-widow assassin cutout but she sort of felt like another kind of generic cutout. In the earlier books I found the scene where she recounts murdering the guard at the (iranian?) execution site who wanted to keep hanging people even though it was causing a rupture in reality to be one of her best moments. She wasn't a heartless assassin who didn't care afterwards but she also wasn't sobbing over expense accounts and spending paragraphs worrying about the color of her dress.

The relationship problems with Bob and Mo seem a bit odd to me, they're having trouble with the monsters (though with one gone you'd think that would improve) and they do seem to actually like/love/trust/care-about each other which still seems better than many couples even if they're both stressed out of their minds.

I miss pinkie and the brain. We've not seen them for a long time. The series has got more serious but it seems to have lost the people geeking out learning about the worlds magic system.

17:

[T]here were so many references to out-of-date pop culture. Like the idea that if Jo-Random-Public woke up with superpowers they'd grab some lycra and give themselves a silly name

Well, yeah, that *was* the common dream when the superhero comics (well, Marvel and DC superhero comics) were the most used medium. Movies and tv series have changed the imagery of super heroes quite a bit, and as I understand it, OGH does not watch those.

For me, having read quite a bit of Marvel super hero comics during the Eighties and Nineties, the lycra and silly names are just perfect. It is what I used to dream about then. ;)

18:

I miss pinkie and the brain. We've not seen them for a long time.

They get a lot of face time in "The Nightmare Stacks".

19:

Real life would like to point out we have existence proofs of viligantes doing the "get lycra, silly name, fight crime" routine without any superpowers whatever.

20:

Yeah: I don't do movies or TV drama -- a combination of attention span and wonky retinas. (I think the most recent superhero film I saw was the Christopher Reeve superman trilogy back in the 80s.) Unless you count "The Matrix" (although I haven't seen any of the sequels).

21:

Sold it. Preordered.

If you don't mind the crudeness Deadpool might be worth a watch/listen.

Some people do dream of dressing up and fighting crime but I'll admit that I'd be more likely to try to become a trickster-god with such powers and I don't think I'm alone. I'm pretty sure a not trivial fraction of people would follow in the footsteps of Bugs Bunny, Anansi, Loki, Deadpool or Coyote rather than those of batman or superman.

22:

Deadpool was the more R-rated (juvenile) jokes, which have been in comics for a longer time, in a movie. The cinematography and mostly the whole movie was just the same, the same. Also, the violence was a bit of a turn-off for me: I can see only so many headshots until they become annoying instead of cool.

Now, if somebody was to do an Astro City or a Nemesis the Warlock movie, I'd watch those (Nemesis is admittely probably not superhero genre).

23:

I'm pretty sure a not trivial fraction of people would follow in the footsteps of Bugs Bunny, Anansi, Loki, Deadpool or Coyote rather than those of batman or superman.

This is explicitly alluded to several times in the book; it's part of a running sub-plot as the Laundry tries to figure out where things are going. However, Mo is sent to deal with the Home Office's problem, which is explicitly vigilantism: they're cops and they're all about law enforcement.

24:

The problem I had with ...Score was that I spent a lot of it feeling sorry for Bob.

I guess Mo deserves sympathy too, but I don't know her as well.

As for Mo's character, I don't really see what was unlikeable about her. Perhaps I've been desensitised by all the women I know being mid 40s professionals.

25:
Did this lethal agent relieve the tension by going to a range and killing paper targets? No. Did she go to the gym and sweat it out?. No. Did this brilliant mathematician and musician lose herself in abstract multidimensional math or some non-killer violin composition? No. She had a good cry.

Whereas that was, for me, the point in the book that really nailed the verisimilitude of Mo's story. Since behaviours like that are classic coping mechanisms for severe stress — for women and men (seen many times in the dim and distant past when I did volunteer counselling work).

It was my point of realisation that Mo was already deeply, deeply fucked — before the new shit being thrown at her in TAS had even really started arriving.

(Actually — I'd be interested in how much research OGH did on the mental health side of the story, since it rang really true to my ears throughout.)

26:

Whilst TAS didn't entertain me in the same way as some of the earlier books (turbo-nerd padawan under the guidance of the demon-headmaster sorcerer) the story did stick in my mind for a lot longer. It isn't as nice, because the setting (both fictional and the reality basis it sits on) aren't very nice environments. I'm aware of half-arsed agile implementations, seriously under-resourced projects, and difficult (shouty) ministers. It doesn't create a nice environment, and that's without the world trying to end.

I think that's what made me uncomfortable. A quite accurate presentation of how things are at the moment, but they don't all get better (like I hope they might), they stay difficult.

27:

On research: I had a [mild] nervous breakdown in 1989, and have had a couple of brushes since then. All work-induced, and after the first I knew the warning signs and took preventative action before it reached crisis point. (The second one brought you "Lobsters".) So there's a chunk of explaining it from the inside out. I also did a bit of background reading, and have friends who've been there, too.

28:
The problem is, despite the shift in viewpoint from improving-but-bumbling Bob to fearsomely-nonempathetic Mo, the plot relies on the same bumbling error that Bob's previous entries have always relied on - a noose gradually tightens and the principal character doesn't realise until far too late. I just cannot reconcile the character whose mind we inhabit, with all the paranoia and suspicion we *know* she processes the world around her, who is in the throes of a breakdown (which heightens paranoia and suspicion) and her actions in cluelessly becoming entrapped in the weave of plot against her and the Laundry.

Interesting — since I have the opposite feeling from the same causes.

Elements of Bumbling Bob seriously annoyed me in the last few books. Because, by this point in his levelling up, it felt unbelievable to me that he'd still be making the same kind of mistakes. In my internal headcannon I can kinda-sorta hand wave it away by Bob not wanting to acknowledge his inner monster. But it didn't feel like that was really deliberate in the story.

Whereas, while Mo did miss some big things, the character had a real solid reason for this. She wasn't at the end of tether — her tether was a long distant memory. Her oversights seemed explicable — she was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Her eventual triumph, which was all down to leadership and team building, felt much more meaningful to me because of that.

29:

Mo herself doesn't have the same sense of humour as Bob (although over almost a decade together lots of Bob-isms have rubbed off on her)

Yep, at the beginning of the book I thought it was a little odd that she sounded an awful lot like Bob, but came to that conclusion, after all Mo's presumably not used to writing out her after-action reports. And her voice changes as the story advances.

As for people (ahem, Men) who didn't like her for the reasons stated by Charlie, or by an early commenter. I have two thoughts; It must be nice in your special male bubble, and Do you know any women other than your mother?

30:

I felt that TAS abandoned much of the original central conceit of the series which had to do with Bob's experience of a dispiriting British civil service workplace being satirically juxtaposed with Lovecraftian horror. Mo's experience is very different from Bob's (and most people's?) in that her professional problems arise from being rapidly promoted, and where Bob is humorously cynical about office practices/politics, Mo is obsessed with her own professional persona, even when it's clearly very personally destructive. That's why I found her unattractive as a protagonist but more generally I felt the underlying theme had shifted from "isn't office management a bit ridiculous" to "don't female office managers do an excellent job in difficult circumstances", which might be a legitimate thesis, but didn't strike me as an obviously fun "hook" somehow.

31:

Heh. Note that one of the elevator pitches for "The Delirium Brief" (which I'm still working on the final draft of) is, "Bob grows up -- and really wishes he didn't have to".

32:

Likewise Mikko, so that obviously does "map across" different occupations, geographic areas and nationalities.

33:

Thanks Charlie; since I'm still in mid-book I'm sort of risking spoilers as it is, but against that I feel I can give "bleeding edge comment" on it.

34:

Astro City movie - I'm the guy standing right behind you in the queue, particularly if it concentrates on the lesser powers rather than the likes of Cleopatra, Winged Victory and Samaritan.

35:
Astro City movie - I'm the guy standing right behind you in the queue, particularly if it concentrates on the lesser powers rather than the likes of Cleopatra, Winged Victory and Samaritan.

A Steeljack Netflix TV series would be something I would binge watch ;-)

36:

There's actually only one thing that really lead me to dislike Mo: Her infidelity.

Her other flaws seemed to be pretty normal to me, but either I strongly misread the series, but my understanding of Mo and Bob going into the book was, that they were married, but had hit a rough patch in their marriage.

Mo throwing herself at another man was really really off-putting to me.

37:

Mo throwing herself at another man was really really off-putting to me.

I found that very plausible. Characters get to do things we find unsympathetic for their own reasons, and in Mo's case she was suffering a lot of self-doubt which could do with a spot of external reinforcement, and she jumped through a lot of mental hoops to convince herself she wasn't planning to be unfaithful - but if something happens, it could be plausibly waved away as an accident, a one-off, a drunken step too far.

38:

Y'know. The replies here (and on the old thread when TAS first came out) really fascinate me. The fact that the same text can produce such radically different interpretations of character and plot.

For example:

I felt that TAS abandoned much of the original central conceit of the series which had to do with Bob's experience of a dispiriting British civil service workplace being satirically juxtaposed with Lovecraftian horror.

Whereas I saw the same kind of dispiriting civil service / horror combo. Terrible meetings. New departments set up with unachievable goals for political expediency. Terrible process. etc.

Mo's experience is very different from Bob's (and most people's?) in that her professional problems arise from being rapidly promoted,

Whereas Bob is the one I always saw as the one with the rapid promotion problems. Circumstances have always thrown him forward into situations he can't cope with. From his initial student days of almost wiping out Some Northern City, through to Angleton picking on him, Eater of Soul possession, etc. To me Bob's defining characteristic is that he never realises the level that he's playing at. He's always playing and thinking at level N, where everybody around him is at N+1. Which as I said previously has got a litte bit dull from my personal POV in the last few books. Not so much that I hated them or anything, but I got a little frustrated when Bob missed something again.

Whereas Mo — apart from in the first novel — was taken in by the Laundry, her natural aptitudes found, and trained and exploited. From my reading of the books she's been on far more active missions that Bob has. And survived. Her problem is not that she's been promoted beyond her level of competence. It's that her level of competence has placed her repeatedly in massively stressful situations — and the laundry doesn't have enough people to ease off.

From my POV in TAS Mo wasn't put into a role she wasn't suited for. She was pushed into a role with unachievable goals, at a point in her life when she was in the middle of marriage problems and major stress. She was (deliberately?) set up to fail. But managed to succeed anyway despite of that.

and where Bob is humorously cynical about office practices/politics, Mo is obsessed with her own professional persona, even when it's clearly very personally destructive.

Whereas I read Mo as being equally cynical about office practices & politics — but smart enough to be aware of their impact and exploit them where possible.

Unlike Bob.

So, so unlike Bob.

That's why I found her unattractive as a protagonist but more generally I felt the underlying theme had shifted from "isn't office management a bit ridiculous" to "don't female office managers do an excellent job in difficult circumstances", which might be a legitimate thesis, but didn't strike me as an obviously fun "hook" somehow.

Whereas I read TAS as playing into some of the same kind of themes that Charlie explored in Halting State / Rule 34. The need to play a team-game rather than an individual-game to succeed. Something that Bob has been reliably terrible at.

If I were to classify TAS as Urban Fantasy then the "urban" side of Mo's role is the head of a small MI5 department. The "fantasy" side of Mo's role is as the leader of a freaking superhero team.

Describing either role as "office manager" seems… odd to me ;-)

39:

read and enjoyed it. I may have to go back and read "The Rhesus Chart", which I dropped mid-read because it pressed some serious personal buttons(the writing was good and I was enjoying it up to that point).

One thing I have to note is how real Mo felt - she read like her own person, and her coping mechanisms were very obviously stressed to the limit even when she started presenting the story after the fact.

To people who complain about her being oblivious and missing things - I think you may want to consider these two factoids:

1) Charlie said(several times) Mo is essentially state-sanctioned executioner, not intelligence operative. This means her training is probably not in untangling the mess and understanding who is trying to kill her, it tacitly assumes that that has been done by the people calling her in. Her training is probably more along the lines of how and when to kill, and how to make decisions about necessary changes to mission based on easily available information. Think of it as the difference between SWAT and detective.

2) Mo is written as being in the early stages of stress induced nervous breakdown. This means a lot of her brainpower is currently dedicated to various parts of her brain being stuck in a loop of primal fear. Add to this the necessity of managing a unit and building it from the ground up and I'm surprised she had brainpower left over to decide what she was eating for breakfast.

40:

I really enjoyed the book Charlie, and Mo rang very true to me as a character (I'm male but I've worked with a lot of women whose situations were to a greater or lesser degree analogous to Mo's). Initially I didn't find her voice to be convincingly distinct from Bob's, not just in vocabulary but also in the way she phrases things and the analogies she chooses, but as someone else pointed out, her voice changes the further she gets from Bob. Which was very nicely handled, I think.

41:

One thing I wondered about in the book is the way it seemed to be almost no big deal to the public that there are suddenly real superheroes and villains flying around. I suppose a lot of that is because we're viewing the story from inside, and Mo, and we, already have an idea of what's going on.

42:

I have to confess a growing disenchantment with the Laundry series, and it has nothing to do with the writing, plotting, or characterization.

I keep thinking of an organization of Deeply Scary Sorcerors who are geas-bound to do David Cameron's bidding, and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN begins to look like an attractive alternative.

43:

I was also put off by the self-pitying rationalizations for marital infidelity. They are probably realistic but don't make her, or Officer Friendly look good.

44:

That angle gets explored in "The Delirium Brief". Note that it doesn't end well for I-can't-believe-it's-not-David-Cameron.

45:

Out of interest, how did you feel about Bob's hand-wringing and elisions about bringing Mhari home in The Rhesus Chart?

46:

I've been waiting to see how CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN shakes out since the first Laundry Files story I read (I think it was the Christmas one over at Tor.com). Now that it's here, I really wish I had the old Files back. I could at least pretend the early stories were about heroes and happy endings.

Now I'm approaching GRRM levels of despair and OGH hasn't even killed of any of my favorites. Yet.

One of the major unreliable narrator moments I noticed from TAS is how Mo viewed the Senior Auditors. To Bob, they're on the same level of weird and scary as Angleton; to Mo, they're "just" people.

47:

They are completely preposterous. The Laundry may not have plush funding, but to believe they lack safe houses to the point that is his only option stretches the bounds of credulity well past breaking point. He is clearly hoping Mhari will take the initiative and seduce him, therefore absolving him of guilt (oh, look at me, I am a poor and helpless man, powerless in the face of feminine wiles).

BTW - as an attractive redhead, if less glamourized than Mhari, Mo automatically gets a +5 saving throw against middle aged female invisibility syndrome.

48:

Because intelligence services, British or otherwise, are known for their unstinting obedience and loyalty to their civilian overseers.

49:

One of the major unreliable narrator moments I noticed from TAS is how Mo viewed the Senior Auditors. To Bob, they're on the same level of weird and scary as Angleton; to Mo, they're "just" people.

This is maybe not a spoiler because it'll be over a year before you get to see it, but by "The Delirium Brief" (book 8), Bob is the very overworked/under-trained Eater of Souls, and Mo ... is an Auditor.

Only the threats they face have also levelled up proportionately.

50:

That made me dislike the person but it made a more complete and realistic character.

I've seen friends go through remarkably similar chains of self justification though it was something I sort of associated with teenagers.

Depending on how unreliable a narrator Bob is and my memory of the scene I thought he still genuinely viscerally detested Mhari rather than having a thing for her.

51:

Rhesus Chart and Annihilation Score both have two very smart, very scary sorcerers completely ignoring the cat with opposable thumbs in their home. That and the Doris Goodman/Greene name switcheroo really drove home just how unreliable our narrators have been so far.

I generally consume new Laundry Files via audiobook, which I know is not OGH's preferred or familiar method, but it does occasionally present other examples of unreliable narration. For instance, Ramona Random is definitely American in Gideon Emery's narration of Jennifer Morgue and definitely Home Counties in Elle Newlands's narration of Annihilation Score.

52:

As I have zero input into the audio books, I disclaim all responsibility.

53:

Could easily be both.

54:

Is it a better deal for you the author for me to buy it via audiobook, amazon ebook, amazon dead tree or powell's?

55:
Note that it doesn't end well for I-can't-believe-it's-not-David-Cameron.

Well… at least there is something to look forward to!

56:

I get a higher royalty rate on ebooks than on paper or audio, but it's a percentage of the net price received. Ebook geared against paperback price pays less than a hardcover which pays a little less than an ebook geared against hardcover launch price. (Ebooks usually sell for 85% of price of paper edition.)

57:

If you want a look at an even earlier "superheroic" narrative style, "When They Severed Earth from Sky," by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul Barber, starts out with a fairly convincing discussion of shamanic legends as stories about superhuman beings.

58:

Having done rather a lot of what might be seen as "ongoing emergency response" for loved ones and often getting to be the one to be blunt about the nature of a conflict, Mo's crying to a timer was perfectly observed from my POV - including what Charlie's said about that being a sign that you've got another timer running and there isn't long on it.

As for not spotting the noose, one of the problems with traps in spaces with many people and organisations in play is that being highly paranoid just means you see lots of possible traps, you still have to figure out which one is closing on you. And a good constructor of traps can layer bluff and mix-up upon bluff and mix-up, as anyone (un)lucky enough to've played One Night Werewolf with me is well aware!

All things considered, it's a good thing I've never played office politics from inside the office. Judging by the brushes I have had, most organisations - being semi-sensible - would find a way to get me to leave and be happy doing so as quickly as possible because nobody likes a new player who totally changes the game. It's too much like having to think really really hard, really really fast for rather high stakes.

Just don't ask about the time someone accidentally sabotaged me setting a trap for NHS England's misbehaviour, 'k?

59:

You can probably learn everything you need to know about the last two years of my life by considering this: I was on my third reading of the book before I realized that the thing with the stopwatch was either satire, or a record of deeply unhealthy behavior. And I didn't just blip by it either. I read Mo's description of the technique and thought, "that's a really great idea" because at the time it was a much better way of dealing with stress than my then-current technique of coming badly unglued for hours on end.

Fortunately, most of the issues in my life are heading to some kind of resolution and things are much better... nonetheless - ah damn - you got me good!

60:

Hmm...

Interesting responses. I think one thing that hasn't been said is that the fun and escapism are disappearing from the series. And I don't think that's a good thing.

Obviously it matters, because if the book is an imagining of an apocalypse, it's hard to make it fun for anyone.* If there's no release anymore, it's going to become a real slog reading about more bad news after more bad news. I can get that any time I want by turning on the news, and I'm not clear why I need that in my fantasy.

The increasing grimdark also makes the basic conceptual issues that underlie the series more grating. If a story is sufficiently fun but doesn't make a lot of sense, well, that's just the Rule Of Cool operating, and who cares? For moviegoers, The Rule of Cool is the difference between Star Wars the original, Star Wars episode 1, and Star Wars episode 7. They're all ridiculous, but why did you hate the Phantom Menace so much?

Finally, I don't think a lot of people want to read a book where everyone dies pointlessly and horribly, with their souls destroyed, because there are too many people on Earth, and that's where the series says it's heading. That's even worse than reality, and I'm not sure there's much entertainment value in it.

*including the author, speaking from experience.

61:

I found Mo to be a very sympathetic character; at a emotional level, I 'got' her actions and how she reacted to things. I think that the breakdown of people who liked Mo versus those who hated her in "The Annihilation Score" might not come down to how they react to "assertive, competent, strong women", so much as whether they have dealt with depression and anxiety up close and personal. If (like me) you've had that unfortunate experience, Mo makes perfect sense.

I'm not optimistic about Bob and Mo's relationship long-term. While Mo was able to put down the bone violin, being the Eater of Souls is something likely not possible to lock away. The power differential in their relationship just ratcheted up significantly.

As for Bob's survival, I thought you dealt with that by killing him off at the end of "The Fuller Memorandum", and replacing him with an horrifying extra-dimensional entity that's happy to pretend (even to itself) to be Bob.

62:

As for Bob's survival, I thought you dealt with that by killing him off at the end of "The Fuller Memorandum", and replacing him with an horrifying extra-dimensional entity that's happy to pretend (even to itself) to be Bob.

I don't think that's the case although it would make for a very interesting and horrible psychological study. The Laundry has probably had to handle cases like that, too. The Eater of Souls doesn't seem to be shaped by its vessel so much as to fool even casual acquaintances; people remarked on how much the first Teapot changed his ways after the original occupant was replaced.

Having said that, I'd love to get more stories about how the ancient and unspeakable Eater of Souls evolved into James Angleton, DSS, Nibbler Upon Souls at Teatime.

63:

Mo became my favorite when she walked in and revealed that we'd all been fooled, Bob was the Good Girl, Ramona the Bad Girl, and Mo was Bond.

It was nice to see her side of it, and something which stood out to me as a worrying sign: Mo is really human, has human reactions to things, human problems, yes, even human breakdowns... Bob kinda stopped having those, and then got to the point where now it's less a matter of "well, he's a full on trauma case or psychopath" and more "we're still not sure whether to classify him as a human asset or a heavy weapon system, possible WMD" type of problems.

Stopping by other characters is indeed nice, if Bob is running around a plot atm, there are basically two kinds of problems: "oh good, he solved it", and "oh god we're all on fire but still not dead, why is this happening" types.

Back to TAS specifically, I liked seeing the relationship with Lecter, and in a weird way will miss him. Not like I miss Angleton, creepy old monster that he was, but some sort of way for sure.

64:

The increasing grimdark also makes the basic conceptual issues that underlie the series more grating.

Dude! (Note I'm speaking high Californian as I address my fellow Cali-dweller. For the uninitiated, this utterance should really be spelled "Duu-uude!")

Duu-uude! Did you not notice the part of Atrocity Archives where they went to the Holocaust Archive, then spent hours on a planet where Hitler's face had been carved on the full moon and The Fuhrer's pet demon had eaten the sun? I don't think it gets grim-darker than that! Compared to Atrocity Archives, Fuller Memorandum or Rhesus Chart were walks in the park!

65:

Lest we also forget the pyramid with the ring of bound tortured souls observing it forever, the tongue monsters, and so forth.

66:

Those too, but Planet Hitler was one of the scariest images ever. My sincere hope is to forget that particular piece of prose before I die. It was one of most deeply frightening things I ever read, nightmarish and horrible beyond words.

67:

Well, maybe not "beyond words," OGH clearly found the words, but damn - haunting stuff.

68:

Another example of whistling in the grimdark is Mo feeling sick at the thought of dolphins and porpoises being sacrificed and bound in a necromantic ritual to power Ramona's transport, while she continues to keep the no-less grisly killing machine Lecter close at hand at all times.

69:

A good cry is far more helpful and less lethal than lots of other coping methods I have seen (driving too fast, alcohol, driving too fast *with* alcohol, gunplay, setting off fireworks without paying attention to how dry the grass is around you, drunken tweeting, shrieking, that sort of thing). Mind you, the stopwatch bit is um...indicative of Deeper Troubles. However, the ordinary person practicing this might set up a proper decoy--a copy of "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", DUMBO playing the "Baby of Mine" sequence, the first ten minutes of UP, the last bits of "Old Yeller" and "Marley and Me" (especially if you're a known dog person) and various other camouflaging behaviors could thwart some awkward conversations if interrupted by someone you didn't want to see you crying.

70:
"As for Bob's survival, I thought you dealt with that by killing him off at the end of "The Fuller Memorandum", and replacing him with an horrifying extra-dimensional entity that's happy to pretend (even to itself) to be Bob."

Bob's not dead. Yes, he died, but he then used necromantic magic to tie his own soul back to the corpse it had just vacated. Which is to say, he's undead; specifically, a Lich. This comes with a whole bunch of side-effects, some of which probably haven't occurred to him yet (notably, my interpretation is that his body is now largely irrelevant to his magical abilities - which means his brain is not actually required, and he's therefore functionally immune to K-syndrome). He's also some variant of destiny-entangled with the Eater of Souls, which also comes with a bunch of mystical side-effects. But he's not the EoS himself, just a very convincing understudy.

71:

Apart from Stocker's Dracula, I don't like vampire stories, expecially XXI century vampire stories.
And i _HATE_ superheroes comics and films (even when I was a kid I did not like superheros comics).

But I have enjoied a lot both "Rhesus" and "Annihilation".

Many readers want "comfort reading", that is the same thing told over and over and over and over and over again. I don't.

I like changes and evolution, I like the way you portrayed Mo in "Annihilation" because it's REAL.

Thank you Charlie!

72:

The thing about the Atrocity Archive is that it had a cool ending, the bad guys were vanquished or some such, and you don't think about it too much.

I'd advise not thinking about the infovore, or how long a face carved on the moon would last (not long, due to gravity), or why, if something's so big that it can carve a face on the moon on command, and eat the sun, it needs a tiny little nuke to get to our world? Why, because it can't eat all the souls on its host world and dig a channel sideways, or use the energy from the sun to make the gate bigger? That whole monster didn't make much sense to me, but that's okay--the story was cool.

Oddly enough, I think about these things. Real Third Reich paraphernalia and pictures get me well and truly pissed off, but reading about story Nazis bagging an ice giant and telling it to carve the moon for them is too cartoonish to get to me, any more than Captain America slugging Hitler makes me cheer. Your mileage obviously differs.

That's what I mean about the Rule of Cool--it can be fun, even if parts of it were supposed to be horrifying. If everyone starts dying pointlessly, what's the point of reading about that? I can do more good visiting a nursing home and talking about the weather, being there for real people who are dying pointlessly because that's what most people do with their lives. That's what we need stories for.

73:

Meanwhile in the Antipodes...

A case of The Nightmare Stacks arrived in at least one Melbourne bookstore early this morning. The Annihilation Score paperbacks are currently scheduled to appear from the Australian distributor on August 9th. Why they can ship one title fast enough to release it near enough to the same day as the rest of the world and not the other is a mystery best not examined too closely. I have made inquiries about similar irregularities in the past and I value what little sanity I still have too much to do so again in a hurry.

74:

As the series progresses, the books are getting to be heavy work to read. This is not a bad thing for me personally, but to those focusing on the happy fun escapist vibe that is often associated with early Laundry (completely ignoring the constant eldritch horror, studies of awful organisational dynamics, and inexorable slides into horrific local optima, let alone looming End of Times), a book about building a resilient team to overcome middle management midlife miasmas is perhaps jarring. This applies to both Rhesus Chart as well as Annihilation Score.

However, my reading stamina has been boosted by the vast tract of superhero grimness that is Worm (see also the associated fanfics if 1.6m words isn't enough). This overload also meant that instead of superhero Lovecraftiana, I read TAS as a literary novel with fantastic elements, and it stands up quite well in that light.

I really liked Mo's POV and would be keen for more if her work as executioner wasn't so unremittingly grim. Her upcoming exploits as an Auditor therefore sound rather appealing.

75:

Well said and a good point. Since I have not reread it, I forgot about all the office set up dreck.

76:

Not sure if I am one of the early commenters you referred to, but, yes, I know and have worked for/with a number of women, including my wife who is a government civil servant of a type, since she is a career political cone officer in the State Department.

77:

So did you model The Candidate after Donald Trump or is this another case of reality stealing one of your story ideas?

78:

I like Mo and I'm the fact that we see and hear more about her is one of the reasons that the series continues to appeal to me. Of course I'm married to someone who everyone else calls "Doctor", and that title comes with its own set of supernatural powers and related burdens. Mo makes a good foil for Bob's immaturity, and I like her more because she likes him.

79:

Don't forget how long the production line is - The Annihilation Score was published in July 2015. Trump announced his candidacy only the previous month, long after Charlie would have finished the last major redraft.

80:

Donald Trump? You must be kidding!

No, he's modelled after a Tory party scion -- a minister's son and grass-roots party activist -- I had the misfortune to meet some years ago. Quite possibly the same sub-species as the model(s) for Rik Mayall's "Alan B'Stard" character.

81:

Actually, the book was handed in and sent for production in mid-2014. And written in 2013 (the year in which it's set).

82:

Argh, there's more than one of that type?

83:

Not sure if I am one of the early commenters you referred to, but, yes, I know and have worked for/with a number of women, including my wife who is a government civil servant of a type, since she is a career political cone officer* in the State Department.

Yes, not aimed at you personally, but the attitude expressed in your comment. That part of my comment was meant as snark--mostly. And I assume you've read the other replies to yours.
The things you criticize Mo for are some of what make her a more realistic character, and what some of us readers like about her. You seem to want her to remain what she was in earlier books and not be more fleshed out.
You say "she agonises over her clothes", well, have you ever talked to your wife about what she wears for work?** Or does she stick with standard office uniform because it takes the worry out of it. After all, look at all the shit Hillary Clinton has had to put up with over her attire.
Then you say "she agonises over her husband's ex". And? She's older than Bob, and worries that he might wander, especially with all the time they spend apart. Just because they've been married a decade doesn't mean they can't have problems. I've known a few couples who've split after as much, or more, time, and not necessarily due to adultery, just growing apart.
and so on...

Jane Bond has to grow up eventually.


Sorry for getting kinda preachy there.
*political cone officer - had to look that up.
**I'd be curious if she has read the books and agrees with you.

84:

...and here's a reminder not to mess with Unicorns:
Delicacy

85:

Given how much I found myself thinking of Tony Blair? Many, many more.

86:

Charlie, an administrative request not especially concerning TAS, but all your books: in the sidebar there are shortcuts to some of your posts, for instance to an index page for all your CMAP entries. Could you do the same for all crib sheets? This would be very helpful for re-reading the posts about previous books. Thank you!

87:

Look under each book listed in the FAQ. If a crib sheet exists, it's listed with the title.

Fiction by Charles Stross: FAQ
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/faq.html

88:

The part with the lizard-man Tony Blair guy was good, but otherwise ....

89:

Ah, thank you.

Needs updating for TRC and now TAS, though.

90:

The part with the lizard-man Tony Blair guy was good...

It occurs to me that pretty much any Laundry employee below Mahogany Row could run into a raving nutter ranting about lizard people running the government, as one does. While most people dismiss such imaginings pretty easily, people within the Laundry might well know about Blue Hades and others; the existence of lizard people wouldn't be an outside context problem.

"Yes, that guy's insane, but do we actually know $POLITICAN isn't a lizard in a human suit?"
"C'mon. If he were pretending to be human he'd be doing a better job, right?"
"You have a point."

91:

Mo and Bobs marriage as presented by Mo rang true for me - at least, speaking as a 60-something who's within hailing distance of his 40th wedding anniversary. It rang truer than Bobs presentation, too.

In re Bob as unreliable narrator: unreliable is such a strong term. I prefer oblivious, which is pretty much how my wife describes me.

In re timed cry - been there, done that. Scheduling a twelve-minute breakdown in hopes of being reassembled by the time the next meeting starts doesn't work for shit.

92:
As the series progresses, the books are getting to be heavy work to read . . .

This bugged me too. Then I happened to re-read the first couple of books, and now I blame Bob. He thought he understood how bad the situation was, but (a) he 'way underestimated it and (b) it got worse.

I like Bob and Mo. So yes, the ever-increasing levels of impending doom are a downer. Then again, I read a lot of Stephen King and George R. R. Martin, so impending doom only sets my expectations. Still looking forward to how the rest of it comes out.

93:

I found it quite believable too, when I read it I was being a product owner for a digital service in the Home Office building where some of it was set, and working for two 40-ish women. Thankfully the feeling of impending doom was only at normal Home Office levels and not CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN!

94:

I have been enjoying the series more as it gets more into the saga-humour angle of things.

CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN isn't much functionally different from a fully nuclear exchange or the climate-change induced collapse of agriculture; it's just that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is happening more completely in the (fictional) present. So I'm not finding undue grimness in the text.

What I particularly took away from The Annihilation Score was that Mo hasn't noticed that they don't particularly like Bob(Actual) as distinct from Bob(Prior or Perceived). And that Bob is NOT ASKING THAT QUESTION so hard because Bob knows they're not keen on Bob(Actual). So there's a pile of catastrophic stress, self-delusions of decency, and mutual need masquerading as a relationship.

Mo (much like Bob) is someone I find sympathetic, but not much likable, if that follows; they're the sort of people it is wise to be very cautious of in real life.

95:

It's possibly a little late to be noticing this, but... Wouldn't SCORPION STARE be rejected as a codeword? Classification standards might have slipped recently (They certainly have in the States - OIF could hardly have been more blatant!) but they're generally randomly determined and rejected if, by happenstance, they're too close to what's being described - and "Dangerous looking" is pretty close to the money.

96:

What I was referring to concerning clothes--from my memory as I have only read it once--was the part at the beginning where she is jealous of Ramona's clothes. I think it was at some party. Given comments that my complaints were "realistic" or "common", I guess I was not clear on my overall point. They seem to be cliches that could be drawn from books 50-60 years ago portraying women, instead of something more modern,and that irritated me. Of course, clichés generate from an element of truth.
Not to TJ, but since I was the one who brought up my wife, I will respond. My wife wears the classic "office professional" clothing seen all over the USG, and has done so for a couple of decades, and I have never known her to agonise over what to wear either personally or professionally, or comment about what other women are wearing. She does not read sci-fi at all; mostly history (PHD in archaeology) or historical fiction, and books about international relations--especially places we have been/are going to-- such as Haiti, Nigeria, Cambodia, AFG. We do both love DLS's Wimsey books.

97:

MMLaFleur, a women's professional clothing business with an unusual business model (not being fashionable; helping you build an office uniform that suits you) aimed at successful professional women who don't like to shop experienced 600% growth last year.

I think there's good empirical evidence that clothing is an issue for professional women as a group, even if it's not an issue for every single such woman. Especially, I would have thought, when there's the horrible cross-cultural signalling issue going on.

98:

You do know that the lizard people are in the broader Lovecraftian cannon as the Serpant Men

99:

Well they are "crown servants" the loyalty is the the state ie Liz II not just the employe who happened to win the election

100:

I admit to being a bit dense, but in what way? That they keep dumping crap on Bob? Or they're not dead keen on his sudden powers and abilities?

I quite enjoyed TAS, although it involves settings and viewpoints I'm unfamiliar with (I've never been a early middle aged career woman in the civil service, and am unlikely to become one!).

Having done my, by now traditional, mad screaming dash to the bookshop for my copy of The Nightmare Stacks, I can confirm it is excellent. More of a return to the early books in a lot of ways, in that the impending doom still manages to be quite fun :D Yeah, off topic, but there's no thread up yet and I'm too impatient.

101:

I'm in Chapter 3 now.

The much-discussed business of Mo's little cry didn't faze me. I must be either too wise or too stupid.

But what most caught my attention was the throwaway reference to Mo's sister's thinking that Facebook IS the Internet. That is so real that it's not funny.

When I was a translator, a friend in the same business received a job by Arsebook link. Like me, he won't have anything to do with the evil empire, and so called to ask the customer to send the file for translating as an e-mail attachment. She had no idea how to do this, or even that it was a viable mode of communication. Just as OGH suggested, for her Arsebook IS the Internet.

Re the automatic upload of pix to Arsebook (or other sites), as in the Trafalgar Square sequence, this may be another reason for having me put down by a government vetinarian.

Prediction: in five years' time computing devices will no longer have keyboards, only big fat icons to press for Play, Share, Like and Buy. There will maybe be a pull-down menu for preset messages, all the messages some billionaire nerd thinks the fashionable young illiterate will ever need.

102:

There will maybe be a pull-down menu for preset messages, all the messages some billionaire nerd thinks the fashionable young illiterate will ever need.

One word: emoji. 😫

103:

We've had graphic-novel versions of classic literature, we've had rewrites of Austen with zombies and sea-monsters. Next has to be a rewrite of "Das Kapital", "The Origin of Species" or "Guns, Germs and Steel" entirely in emoji.

Stanislav Lem being dead, you'll have to do it yourself.

104:

Well I finally bought the Kindle edition of The Nightmare Stacks this afternoon. Still haven't had time to start reading, but will do that in about 5 minutes when I go to bed.

Some of the discussion here prompts things I'm not sure I remember from TAS so I think I'll be rereading that shortly, but afterward I guess. I have, oddly enough, Utopia for Realists: etc at the top of my reading list otherwise at the moment (probably before reread TAS but now after TNS).

105:

I recall talking to Female Engineers saying that when they went to trade shows they always caried a briefcase as well as a hand bag - so they did not get mistaken for a secretary.

106:

Okay, maybe "Das Kapital of the Vampyr", "The Origin of Lycanthropic Species" or "Guns, Germs and Steel Unicorns"?

107:

An engineer friend of mine tells me it's not uncommon for her to go to meetings*, be ignored for a bit and then be asked when "the engineer" is going to turn up.

*I assume with people she doesn't know.

108:

I once knew, through volunteering to fix old trams, a wonderful ex railway engineer/designer, who enjoyed telling this tale every time someone claimed women couldn't do engineering.

He had in his staff a female bearing and tribology expert. On one occasion, a bearing company rep was bought in to explain why they were getting failures. Said rep walked in, handed the expert his coat and briefcase and asked for coffee. Which she made, after a subtle glance to the Boss.

"So, where's your bearing man?" says the rep to the Boss.

"She's just made you a coffee" said the Boss. "Bearing expert, please explain the problem to the rep"

Hours later, said rep crawled out the office a broken man

109:

That's a known cognitive bias called "Unconscious Demotion" that causes huge problems women and PoC. (And lest anyone think I'm throwing stones from on high, I do it myself and am consciously working to overcome it with only partial success). The linked article has a terrific example:

In 2003, a journalist named Katherine Rosman was at a party where she felt awkward and out of place. So she struck up a conversation with someone else who seemed to feel out of place. He was one of the few African-Americans there, and turned out to be a state senator. Later that evening, Rosman learned that one of the other guests had assumed that the senator was a waiter, and had asked him to get a drink from the bar.

This anecdote, which might not seem especially newsworthy, was reported in the Wall Street Journal in November 2008, because that state senator had become president-elect of the United States.

110:

Gah, the tag-closing on linebreaks gets me every time. The last para of that should be inside the blockquote.

111:

Or when a woman in a meeting makes a suggestion which is ignored, and a little later one of the men makes the same suggestion (whether intentional or subconciously, idk) and gets approval. Particularly rankles if the man is lower rank.

Sad irony that women's voices get ignored, while artificial women's voices are used for all sorts of things because they are paid attention to?

112:

By the way, on the subject of TAS not being as humorous as earlier Laundry Files novels; I thought the humour was still there, but it's taken on a different tone now. Bob-focused novels have been about his cynical take on the world, so a lot of the humour is in his sarcastic internal monologue, making him the clown in the face of bureaucracy. This Mo-focused novel pushes a lot of the humour out into the world in the form of situational irony and juxtaposition, making her the sane person in a world of madness. It wasn't the belly laughs of the earlier novels, but as Christopher Morris said, "If you're looking for a belly laugh you may miss the fact that you have a smiling forehead."

113:

What I was referring to concerning clothes--from my memory as I have only read it once--was the part at the beginning where she is jealous of Ramona's clothes.

I've also only read it once, nearly a year ago, so don't particularly remember the scene. I'd guess that since Ramona tends to go around in public with her Glamour dialed up that would make her look Human, but also hard not to notice. Someone unacquainted with her might notice her attractiveness, while some one who knows her would be diverted by her clothing? But again, just guessing.

Apologies if I came off as argumentative, not my intention.

114:

a senior nurse I know is constantly frustrated with her peers.

There can be a meeting including a bunch of senior nurses having a meeting that may include less senior people. A little junior nurse who happens to be male enters the room and suddenly she finds all her peers addressing their comments to him as if he's more senior.

The poor little thing can be sitting there baffled and terrified that suddenly all these Deeply Scary Senior people seem to be expecting answers from him and he may entirely not want it to be happening at the time but on average it means that the few males in nursing are far more likely to get promoted even if they do nothing unpleasant or pushy to make it happen, they just find people looking to them for opinions in meetings for no good reason.

she's constantly frustrated with fellow senior female nurses following the pattern.

It's not always the fault of the lower rank male, sometimes the senior people, even senior females can give too much weight to males opinions. (ie, it's not always the individual being an ass)

115:

There's an attendant problem that one of the mantras of good management is "share the praise, absorb the blame." Which often leaves female staff members shut out when they try it because some loud, peripherally-engaged man will step up to claim it. The trick is to make sure there are high levels of visibility throughout the process, so that when he does, everyone involved knows what a jebend he's being, but that has a habit of running smack into the problem that for a lot of women in the professional environment, shedding light on their process is interpreted as a mix of inviting (male, unhelpful) critique or seeming to be in need of help.

I do a lot of professional development work with women in my industry and I know what an Indiana Jones temple of boobytraps it is for them. Mo actually gets a lot more support in TAS than most, even if in the end [HUGE ENORMOUS SPOILERS]

116:

I feel your pain; I know people who wonder why I didn't know $thing after they "posted it on friendzone" despite having been told multiple times that "I will not use friendzone."

117:

It's not always the fault of the lower rank male

I once worked in a team of three, all of us early middle age, the other two being women, and one of them being the boss.

That people who walked through the door cold thought I had to be the boss goes without saying.

Now, I have a light voice and like many people I go further up in pitch when being deferential to customers. Consequently, lots of callers thought I was female, and when they visited in the flesh and asked for "the English lady I spoke to on the phone", were told, "That would be 'Ludvig'". We rather enjoyed messing with their heads.

Once I got an obnoxious MBA student who went to town on my quote, sexy contralto unquote, and when he finally found I was male, kept repeating, "Are you SURE you're not a trans?"

118:

Recte to self:

Stanislav Lem being dead, you'll have to do it yourself.

Brainfart: I was thinking of Lem as the one to do the project description, that is, academics arguing about how to do "Das Kapital" etc. in emoji. No idea who could actually do it best.

Another candidate for said meta-job would be Borges. In fact, I wonder whether the emjoi are leaking from a fictitious world. Case Nightmare Tlön, anybody?

120:

At a year's remove, my memory of the story is not perfect. I remember my base impression was that Mo's voice was not distinctive enough from Bob's. Her actions and the situations she found herself in were different and accurately reflected a shift in gender/occupation, but her internal monologue sounded more or less like Bob to me. And I found that off-putting, not comforting.

121:

Female Engineers
Yeah, the current head of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch/Bureau is female .....

122:

I believe the 'they' in the post originating this thread whose first couple of use confused me because I couldn't initially detect its antecedent was being used as a gender neutral, third-person, singular, pronoun referring to Mo. (...and then to Bob, then to Mo.)


123:

There will maybe be a pull-down menu for preset messages, all the messages some billionaire nerd thinks the fashionable young illiterate will ever need.

The hospital check-in system in Idiocracy has already been compared with Windows 8 (and with AOL circa 1996). I'm sure users aren't going to get smarter, but they may get more clueless about their limits.

124:

That's a known cognitive bias called "Unconscious Demotion" that causes huge problems women and PoC.

I got to use that for an advantage at the last Worldcon. I was at a table helping to organize volunteers and more than one person looked at the two people present, a big burly 40-something male and a small cute 20-something female, and jumped to conclusions about which one of us was the senior coordinator. This paid off when a disgruntled dealer showed up wanting to rant about a problem; we couldn't fix it, having no control over anything in the dealers' area, but I was able to get him to rant at me so he wouldn't disrupt the volunteer assignments. Eventually he wandered off and as far as I know never figured out that I'd just stopped by there to lend a hand and wasn't in charge of anything at that convention.

125:

first couple of use —>first couple of uses

126:

cf Stephenson Anathem.

127:

I felt the (not necessarily human) Woman Power aspect a bit over-heavily done—Mo, Mhari, and raMona just seemed to be getting-on too well—but then again I find the 'guys who fight but then become a well-bound team' trope kind of unbearable, too. (...and my own, aspie, self is often bad at teaming, and always bad at forgiving.)

I think I miss the tension created by the possibility that the Laundry might be coëxisting with our world, the irreparable divergence changed the whole feel of the book for me...there was pleasure in seeing how theyvll keep it under wraps _this_ time.

And, finally, as much as I enjoy O.G.H. his writing, noöne is perfect (except perhaps for some perfectly awful writers), and I think he has not written Mo as well and as fluently as he has come to write Bob, Bob being somewhat more like him and C.S.'s having had sporadic but intense practice writing Bob over more than a decade. I think reduced fluency results in his making a set of 'perfectly' reasonable, well-thought-out, and socially telling choices for Mo without their seeming to gel well together into being hers, as opposed to (e.g.) Bob's headlessly moving Mhari into their home without telling Mo's seeming like Bob all over. Some of that is from bootstrapping Mo from the less detailed version of her Bob's reported over the years...for one thing, he's in over his head so often that he needs to believe that she's more capable and clear-headed and on top of things than she is. (I watch for this in myself: my wife is a little older, much calmer, generally much healthier, and not mentally ill, so it's likely too easy to overestimate what she can handle.)

128:

I enjoyed the book. But there were a couple of things that annoyed me.

As others have mentioned, the whole 'Nobody in the previous book noticed any Superpowers cropping up because they were busy', is extremely implausible.
Fine, that's more just Charlie changing the focus of the books from riffing on classic spy series to 'Monster of the Week' but still.

What really got me however was the ridiculous ease with witch Mo avoided the attentions of the Media. Someone caught on video performing magic/displaying superpowers (Not to mention saving the Mayor of London) would kick off a media frenzy not seen since Diana died. The idea that Mo could avoid the Tabloid press by checking into a hotel and just laying low for a few days is ludicrous. She ought to have been on the front page of every paper. Friends, family,everyone who ever met being relentlessly hounded for interviews and information until she was tracked down by the Tabloid equivalent of the Wild Hunt.

The other thing that bugged me was 'K syndrome'. You make a big deal of use of superpowers causing this. Including presumably our shiny newsuperteam, who are all going to have magic Alzheimers in six months, but nothing comes of it and it just stops being talked about.

129:

I'm not going to dig up my copy and go through doing a detailed tone analysis, but how Mo says things about Bob is independent of what Mo says about Bob and how Mo says things about Bob is irritated or goal-directed, no third option.

Something not often acknowledged is that women who wind up in professional careers are, in general, raised in a pattern of merciless expectation more severe than the male norm; so far as I can tell, the great majority of the male population falls for the nakhra and doesn't recognize this or that the default judgement of them is that they're useless.

Bob has never noticed that Mo's judgement of him is that his utility is narrow. And this entirely shows in how Mo talks about Bob, if not in what Mo says.

130:

I've only read the book once, so I may have missed something, but what got to me was that Mo despised Bob-- she just didn't see that he's actually competent at his job. As the book went on, she came to realize that she wanted Bob for comfort, but she still wasn't seeing that he deserved at least some respect.

Is this Mo breaking down? Were things always that bad? Is Bob such an unreliable narrator that Mo is right?

131:

Totally off subject:

And so the sun finally sets on the British Empire, and on Britain itself.

Mr. Stross I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on the Brexit vote.

Will Scotland, Ulster and Gibraltar leave the UK to stay in the EU?

Has the "White Power" ethno-racist party won?

Is this a genrational thing, with younger voters wanting to stay vs. older geezers pining for a White Britain of their youth?

Willthe pound collapse and eith it the English economy?

132:

Well, at least one advantage of the falling pound: OGH's books will be cheaper for us abroad. Until Scotland re-joins the EU, of course.

133:
I've only read the book once, so I may have missed something, but what got to me was that Mo despised Bob-- she just didn't see that he's actually competent at his job. As the book went on, she came to realize that she wanted Bob for comfort, but she still wasn't seeing that he deserved at least some respect.

Have to admit that I didn't get that vibe from Mo. Exasperated and annoyed at his obliviousness certainly. But despised… no.

134:

Can we say, "objectification"? She goes back to the house and gets her bells well rung, there is a line in which she comes close to saying that sex is all he is good for. The other way round, he would be accused of "despising" her, wouldn't he now?

135:

I don't know, I think a lot of the white, male, anger in the U.S. (and maybe in England---how did the British Exit vote divide along gender lines?) comes from an understanding that their assessed value is extremely low.

I think one reason that the resulting anger and authoritarian following is particularly a white male phenomenon is that if you are female, or black or brown or (if not overassimilated) Jewish or Arab or Chinese in origin, you know in your _bones_ that this is what many people will think of you unless you can force them not to do by dint of achievement...but being a white man was supposed to _mean_ something.

136:

but being a white man was supposed to _mean_ something.

My progressive sensibilities were shocked when I lived a while in Africa and caught my housekeeper praising my moral qualities to another local by calling me a white man. It was PRECISELY the same usage as in old-school imperial literature. "I say, Smithers old boy, that was very white of you."

It was an embarrassing moment.

137:
Can we say, "objectification"? She goes back to the house and gets her bells well rung, there is a line in which she comes close to saying that sex is all he is good for. The other way round, he would be accused of "despising" her, wouldn't he now?

Been a while since I read it, so I went back and read that section. I guess I can just about see that reading of story in lines like:

"I have a double armful of husband. World’s best teddy bear/ security blanket, combining intimacy and sex."

But, for me, it's a bit of a stretch. The whole section reads, to me, like Mo misses — and needs — intimacy. But is being driven away from that by the thread of Bob obliviousness to the effects of his post-eater-of-souls phase change in power levels + the fact that Lector / Eater are trying to kill each other. Lines like:

"Bob thinks, with some justification, that my violin is a danger to his life. Well, I’m sure we can find a way to work around that. But what if Bob is a danger to me?"
"“Are you undead?” I ask anxiously between sobs. “I don’t think so,” he says after a while. “I don’t feel as if I died. At least, not recently.” “But your eyes did the glowing thing. If Spooky hadn’t woken you up —” “Do you really think I’d willingly harm a hair on your head?” “Not you.” I’m shaking. “It. The thing you carry around with you all the time now. Your new passenger.” The irony of what I’m saying isn’t lost on me. “I don’t know what it wants, but it frightens me.” Another little white lie: I’m afraid that it is aware of Lecter and sees the violin and its bearer as a threat."

It's not "despising" it is fear. And not of Bob — but the Eater/Lector interactions.

138:

I hear you. Based on that passage you have a very strong case.

But what I had in mind was the evening before the night terrors.

"What we just did in the living room was unprecedented in recent years. It's why I married him in the first place...."

Now, I approve immensely of horny women who can say, "I just want you to fuck my brains out" and "Do me". When I was young they didn't have any. But if Bob had said he had married Mo for the sex, he would get called names.

BTW, she calls him her great big teddy bear, and it is stated that Mo is pretty tall. I always thought of Bob as a scrawny nerd, not a big bear. Continuity error, or just me?

139:
BTW, she calls him her great big teddy bear, and it is stated that Mo is pretty tall. I always thought of Bob as a scrawny nerd, not a big bear. Continuity error, or just me?

I thought of Bob as a scrawny nerd in his 20s at the time of Atrocity Archives. Now he's in his late forties… not so much ;-)

140:

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Adrian, but middle-aged spread doesn't go upwards. 8-(

(I'm a centimetre shorter than I was at Uni.)

And, excuse niggle, he must be early 40s, since IIRC Mo is stated to be 45 and he is younger.

141:

As your average teddy bear is maybe a foot high, anyone who is the better part of six foot tall is "great big", by teddy bear standards.

Had she said "great big bear" without the "teddy", then yes it'd be a different matter.

142:

Also the line was "World’s best teddy bear". No "great" anywhere.

143:

Ahem. "My great big teddy bear doesn't do subtle", page 147 in mass-market.

144:

Apologies. Heh. Different in UK Kindle ebook. Who would have thunk.

145:

You mean that the TEXT is different? Good grief. Future exegetes of the Laundry Scriptures are going to be busy.

146:

You have noticed that Bob's presentation and what Bob actually does don't match?

All the way back in The Atrocity Archives, Bob is mobile and nearly agile in a pressure suit in vacuum; Bob keeps up with and has the respect of special forces troops several times over the course of the series. (and by this point in time is treated as heavy weapons, rather than the defensive objective...) We've also got much evidence that Bob's extremely goal-directed in lethal situations and has a reliable tendency to prioritize the objective above his own survival. (Whines about it, yes; expresses distress, yes; does it, also yes. In situations more extreme than regular old house-to-house combat.)

It's quite possible from the text that Bob is a substantial and reasonably fit man; note how Johnny reacts to him.

147:

Bob is a substantial and reasonably fit man

You make a good case. I wonder how he would get and stay fit on his lifestyle, but the same can be said for all fictional action heroes and heroines.

148:

I wonder how he would get and stay fit on his lifestyle

Bob simply doesn't tell us about anything that doesn't fit their chosen persona. So we get the computery bits of "computational demonologist" but we don't get the running-assault-courses and daily-gym-visits parts of Bob's various field service qualifications; those are boring and mess with Bob's image, or at least the image Bob wants to present. (Which is different, or at least I think there's a defensible reading where it's different from, the image Bob is shown as having; Bob doesn't come across as a harried technologist, Bob comes across as twitchy and lethal and a little nuts. Which makes Bob sad, so they lie in their work journals.)

If that's accurate, Bob's self-delusion is, if not conscious, willed.

149:

He does mention in passing (in The Rhesus Chart, I think? Or possibly in The Apocalypse Codex already? Possibly even in The Fuller Memorandum?) that he is going to a dojo. Although I remember that seemingly being a fairly new thing in his life - something that had been suggested to him by his superiors in reaction to some close scrape or other. If that was in The Fuller Memorandum and he kept it up since then, though, that would still make for a fair bit of practice by now!

I also seem to remember him making remarks, at points, about not being great in a physical fight, though. My impression is that he's not a super-effective fighter (and not naturally inclined to it) but has had some training, and some amount of regular practice because of what he does for a living, and so is certainly physically fitter than your average nerd. It's not his strongest suit, though.

As for his actual physical build... I didn't ever get any particular impression on that from the text at all, I think - neither any suggestions that he's particularly short, nor particularly tall; and not particularly thin or fat either. So I always imagined him as a fairly average man, physically.

150:

What sticks out the most in my memory about The Annihilation Score is the problem of the violin's depiction, specifically, its voice. It felt far too human to me, too much like just a creepy guy, not a terrifying, incomprehensible, soul-destroying force from another plane. I can kinda see that being just the way that Mo's mind represents it to her, but it nevertheless diluted the cosmic horror for me a bit - and cosmic horror is an essential ingredient in a Laundry book, for me (and, I'd argue, is necessary for the whole apocalypse scenario to work).

I also felt a slight sense of confusion about the Mo-Bob situation (BTW: suggested 'ship name: Mob), because it felt like some important puzzle pieces for making sense of it were missing, partly because we *only* meet Mo at a time of nervous breakdown, and so never experience her in a more "normal" (bad word, can't think of a better one right now) frame of mind. It feels like we have considerably less than a full picture of the relationship, even though we've now seen snapshots of it from both POVs.

And the whole "suddenly, superheroes!" thing taxed my suspension of disbelief a leeeeeetle bit, especially the idea of the Laundry not noticing.

That said, I'm still quite enjoying the series (hopefully my copy of The Nightmare Stacks will arrive on Monday...), and I'm guessing that some of the missing puzzle pieces will turn up eventually. (And dare I hope that the Mob ship might not sink permanently? That would be nice. A relationship not breaking down is so much rarer in fiction - and in real life too, I guess - so I actually find the idea of a couple staying together less clichéd and more interesting than yet another break-up.)

And I guess the cosmic horror will ramp up again in upcoming installments... though maybe not in the current one.

151:

the violin's depiction, specifically, its voice. It felt far too human to me, too much like just a creepy guy ...

In the dream waltz sequences, I found myself flashing on the early scene in "Eyes Wide Shut", with the Hungarian lounge lizard hitting on Nicole Kidman.

152:

Bought TNS today , finished about an hour ago .
Fab.

That is all, will probably have a couple of questions when the spoiler thread opens.

Worked better for me than TAS, only due to subject matter , more familiar with the fae than superhero tropes.

153:

So just finished TNS too, liked it a lot. Looking forward to any spoiler thread that might be lurking beyond the horizon.

154:

I get it about the invisibility of the middle-aged woman.

But you know, a pint-sized man over 60 has a non-trivial invisibility problem as well, unless of course he is stinking rich -- and that particular invocation for the restoration of visibility works for the ladies as well.

I'm not saying it's as bad, but given residual chivalry, I wonder how many women are regularly elbowed into the traffic because young men think they don't really exist.

155:

The spoiler thread of TNS won't open until this time next year.

156:

I also seem to remember him making remarks, at points, about not being great in a physical fight, though.

It occurs to me - no idea whether this is deliberate writing or no, but it works - that a man who is on going-for-a-drink terms with at least one formed unit of Special Forces soldiers might have an unreasonable comparison standard vis a vis how handy he, personally, might actually be.

157:

A sort of inverse Dunning-Kruger? Possibly, but most of the time most of the people around him aren't Artists Rifles

158:

The people who're around him when he's training, and I may be reading-in, here, very much are. And, indeed, the converse of the Dunning-Krueger effect is that people who are competent at something tend to underestimate their skill level.

159:

Fair enough; I was thinking of being a white, straight, Christian, man's meaning that unless you sank to the lowest levels of (say) drugs addiction there would always be someone you were birthright-guarantied to be above in the general hierarchy, and the strong suggestion that violence in defence of that position were not only permissible, but laudable or in fact necessary to manhood.

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