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The Nightmare Stacks: US Launch

Nightmare Stacks

"The Nightmare Stacks" (book 7 of the Laundry Files) comes out tomorrow in the United States. And in a classic example of the universe trying to obsolete my stories before publication, the UK went into total political, diplomatic, and financial meltdown last Friday. (There's a meltdown of similar proportions in the novel, but it's triggered by a much more fixable cause than a referendum-gone-wrong, namely an alien invasion.) So I guess that means "The Nightmare Stacks" is now lightweight escapism rather than a horrible threat!

Anyway, I'll be reading from and signing copies of "The Nightmare Stacks" in Powell's City of Books in Portland this Thursday evening. If you're not local, you can order copies here. (And if you don't need them signed, Amazon have the hardcover here or the Kindle ebook here.



Yep, it's really a shame how reality keeps raising the bar for weirdness all the time.


Had to post that update today because I'm spending tomorrow on an airliner and while it should have in-flight wifi, paying $30 to post a blog update suddenly seems a lot more expensive than it did last Thursday ...

I am really pissed-off at Brexit for transforming my alien invasion horror novel into happy fun escapist distraction!


Just finished reading the copy you signed for me on Thursday. Brilliant! A classic dark fairy-tale IMHO, worthy of the Grimms, but with a partially upbeat ending. However, question ... Where are the Alfâr going to live as refugees, & I presume they might come in handy as allies in a later book?

I was seriously disappointed with the internal vampire-attack one ( Rhesus Chart ) but, with the intervening Annihilation Score all is now well again, from the storytelling p.o.v. at any rate.


I finished my signed copy too but perhaps that question is a bit of a spoiler given that this is a launch announcement? Hopefully we'll get a spoiler post soon.


Those questions, and more, get answered in THE DELIRIUM BRIEF. Which you get to read next July!


I am really pissed-off at Brexit for transforming my alien invasion horror novel into happy fun escapist distraction!

In unhappy or insecure times, financially, in my own life, reading about imaginary problems and imaginary horrors have always been a good balm for me.


So, like, in the next five weeks?

(Hey, a guy can hope, right?)


Yaaay! My bookstore trip will have to wait a few days, hopefully they'll actualy have it in stock, though past history doesn't make me hopeful. And then there was a recent report I heard about B&N being in trouble.


I've just ordered it from the bookshop in the town centre — it'll be in tomorrow, so then I'll have a chance to read all about Alex and Cassie and Mac and company again.

Meanwhile I finally picked up a volume by Ian Tregillis.


The arc of the Laundry Files is of winning individual battles but knowing the war is probably lost. I did think this one had a happier ending than the grim coda that The Rhesus Chart had, which is a little odd when the death toll is some multiple higher. However, for A & C there's hope.

I think that's part of the charm - Alex is lower level, he sees a smaller picture, his fear of the future is not (yet) bone deep.


I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this book. I ordered it from the Book Depository last week. I hope it gets here (to Ontario, Canada) -before- the strike by Canada Post begins (if indeed the strike happens at all).


Debating just using my Audiable credit and having Charlie sign the back of my kindle.


Zynchronistically enough, I just this minute finished Laundry Files #6. Loved it. Jonesing for more. And tomorrow I can get #7. Rock on, Charlie, you rule. Curious to see what's next. In the last two you found ways to write Vampire and Superhero novels in fresh and funny ways. Busy Bee!


LotR quote: "Fighting the long defeat" In other words? Except Sauron was overthrown


Can has cover blurb, maybe?

(Next novel is due on $EDITOR's desk in a couple of months. And coincidentally, I have a new US publisher (who I will be announcing a decent interval after the launch of the current book -- nothing wrong with my editors at Ace, but corporate policy is making them axe a whole bunch of series, and the Laundry Files are moving house.))


Following up myself: THE DELIRIUM BRIEF will be published as is usual in the UK by Orbit. And the Audible audio book in the US is on schedule, too. It's just the US paper and ebook publisher that's changing ... to Tor, because Ace are undergoing Brexit-level chaos in the wake of the Penguin-Random House merger.

So there is no cause for alarm, the regular scheduled Laundry novel will be published next year, and the only difference is the publisher's logo (and possibly the cover design) on the US edition. Oh, and no more DRM (in the USA/Canada).


Here, on the other side of the pond, one could perhaps be allowed the slight hope that freed from the perpetual spoiling and griefing by the UK government, a better EU might be able to emerge.

We will certainly not be grieving the "outplacement" of all those UK-affiliated tax havens outside the EU and the same goes for the LLP's which are primarily used for money-laundering and fraud.

If the hater Schauble and bumbler Merkel need to take revenge with popular backing to boot, they could do much worse than to grab the moment and go right after the UK tax havens - who have now suddenly lost their voice within the EU and probably haven't got their act together yet. Like Boris.


So the question is, with current anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise due to Brexit, is this going to be affecting how your refugees will be treated in future books?


It's caused by quantum immortality on a global scale.

You see, Every time we manage to nuke each other, cook the planet, trigger a vacuum collapse or let gibbering horrors into our space-time, the universal probability of Intelligent Life on Earth goes down a notch.

However, the universe is infinite and favours consciousness to keep itself coherent, so there exists infinite many potential versions of a populated Earth embedded within the wave-function of all possible different universes. So, when one Earth dies, another one becomes probable enough to exist, but a this Earth is a little less probable - which is where the weirdness comes from. It's the quantum noise from a somewhat more unlikely universe.

This is also why we never see any aliens, It's just too unlikely that the aliens and We "reincarnate" inside the same version of space-time.

Probably the aliens already are rummaging in the ruins of Earth in the other realities and wonder "what the fuck happened here?".

The good thing about this is that, since time is infinite and there is no escape from the probability bubble, eventually I shall win the lottery!


It's caused by quantum immortality on a global scale. ... The good thing about this is that, since time is infinite and there is no escape from the probability bubble, eventually I shall win the lottery!

Only if you are James Nicoll, who is known for having an Event every time the universe reboots.


Cheers for the signature at FP last week, was good to meet you in the real world finally. Also, my thanks to you (and your moderator squad!) for running the blog, always interesting reads and intelligent commentary.

Enjoy Portland!


I enjoyed the book. It's unusual for me to personally know most of the locations and I'm strangely pleased that my old home in Oakwood appears to be safe.


Did OGH read [i]The Fifth Season[/i] and go, "hmmmm, how can I do that?"

Please note, I'm only referring to the ending. If the rest of [i]The Fifth Season[/i] has been used for inspiration, I don't want to know.


Are you referring to the Jemison book published less than a year ago? If so, you have a very optimistic idea indeed of how fast a book can be planned, written, edited and published — it's difficult for such authorial actions and reactions have a cycle time shorter than the publication turnaround, which for Charlie is about two years.

(You may have noticed him in comment #5 talking about what happens in a novel that will be published in over a year's time. That's a pretty good indication he has at least a draft written.)


Charlie, re Brexit, new books and publishing: If Brexit leads to IndyRef 2 and Scottish independence, doesn't that bork your contracts with Orbit?


Oops. I'm used to a quicker turn around because the authors I follow closely tend to be late or have other delays baked in.


"Oh, and no more DRM (in the USA/Canada)."

Does that imply we shall still be inflicted with it here in the UK?


I'm about 60% through TNS, and I'm loving it so far. I feel that events are really beginning to ratchet up in a way they haven't since "The Fuller Memorandum."

Alex feels like a better voice for the series than either Bob or Mo at this point. Mr. Stross seems more relaxed and at home writing for Alex, and his position at the tail end of the org chart is a better fit for the "Office meets Cthulhu" feel of the series.


Just back from my local Barnes & Noble. Two copies on the shelf--now one, and they're also minus a copy of the new Yoon Ha Lee novel.


Haven't gotten round to reading it yet.


Yup, Orbit still insist on DRM (being part of Little, Brown, which is part of Hachette, who have oddly French views on intellectual property and piracy -- hint: home of HADOPI, etc).

Wrt. contracts: Scottish Independence won't happen in less than a couple of years and existing contracts with Orbit will be fine; they'll just be paid in Sterling. Future contracts ... who the hell knows (or cares, at this remove)? We'll worry about that when it happens.


I notice you've added "Things I won't work with" to your sources of inspiration. Very good use, too :-)


[[ Malformed HTML fixed - mod ]]


Minor spoilers:

In the same boat. I think it's because the grizzled office managers point of view is less relatable than the baffled newbies point of view.

Loving Pinkie and the Brain along with a few of other fun and less serious characters.

The DM feels like a bit of an odd addition. He's overly good at guessing accurately and I'm unclear why he seems to start out with such visceral hate for the "pointy eared bastards" right from the beginning despite his contact with them being limited to a briefing on an ancient corpse. Also re: genetics thing with the old corpse, it's really really hard to come to such definite conclusions from 2 SNPs from a single individual re: speech.

I can see why "Things I won't work with" has been added. When I read the fluorine monster bits a couple of the turns of phrase jumped out at me.

I'm finding this story great fun to read.


I assumed that the pointy eared comment was due to his dislike of them in the game. Just like having vampires as a character class.

Suspect the unwritten novella for the DM is full of interesting explanations. I guess he might also show up in the delirium brief.

It would be fun to speculate more but I:all leave it for a later thread.


Is that why I was humming "Puff the Foofy Dragon"?

I was wondering about that.


It's a strange observation, but my favorite thing about this novel is that the higher ups in the Laundry had a handle on the situation, understood the nature of the threat, and then reacted appropriately. While obviously things didn't go great for all involved (putting it mildly), institutional incompetence is such a reflexive trope for raising the stakes for the protagonist that I was just... giddy when we got the DM chapters that showed the folks upstairs have been, you know, preparing for this sort of thing for a half dozen books.


Now expecting Bob to actually raise a dead mainframe in a future story.


I must say, I am getting a similar increasing world-building pleasure out of the Laundry series I got from a certain world with a particular geometric shape. I can only hope my enjoyment of the series will follow the same model, as I liked later iterations significantly more then the first ones (hard though that was). I wonder what a story in the Laundry-verse would look like from the point of view of the Nazgul, or their Chinese, or even better Russian (with their penchant for extremely clever overweight bearded mathematicians) equivalents.


.... it is possible that he's just a Dwarf Fortress player. That would explain everything. Though he wasn't wearing any kitten-leather.

Adored the ending.

We need spoiler tags so we can discuss the book ending on here.


@elfey1 - I bring an autograph book to signings because the back of my ipad wouldn't hold signatures and it's a lot easier than lugging a stack of books around conventions.

Also, wow. Just wow.


.... it is possible that he's just a Dwarf Fortress player. That would explain everything. Though he wasn't wearing any kitten-leather.


Derek the DM was a White Book D&D guy, with the original four supplements (Castle Greyhawk onwards) and various custom bolt-ons from the era when White Dwarf was basically a quarterly B&W fanzine ... custom bolt-ons that caught the Laundry's attention during the Satanic D&D Panic of the late 70s/early 80s.

(And I've got to write his backstory novella in my copious spare time.)


You have to feel sorry for the Deep Ones, given that the upjumped apes are now two for three on the number of planets they've destroyed. Presumably there were none in elfland since the People would have crapped their pants on realizing that those superior aliens are living in the oceans, but the trend is still worrying. You'd think they'd have nipped this overpopulation/overcomputation problem in the bud a couple centuries ago.

Then again, maybe there's a reason Alfheim has the apes with poor social skills and a knack for sorcery, and Urukheim has the apes who cuddle with baby predators and think fishmen are nice neighbors once you get to know them.


It would have been interesting if he had been a 3lbb (3 liitle black books) Traveller player and a proper wargamer not one of those hippy roleplayers :-)

Given the way you can manipulate the physical universe in the landryvers I am surprised that RAE etc hasn't come up with enhancements to weapons systems I could see a back pack mini gun being a practicable weapon or being able to lay off g effects in fighters.

Why yes my paladin did want to have a hobitkomando unit who specliased in growing and using stage trees :-)

And I think News from Bree was the fanzine that morphed into white dwarf


I was wondering about that too, but you raise a good point. The Deep Ones would probably wipe out the elves if they were on that Earth.


I finally got enough time to read this (real world issues tend to eat up your time).

Very good specimen of a boy meets a girl theme. I am old enough that Alex could be my son (I have a daughter also, but my son is the younger one and much older than Alex).

I enjoyed the book very much. Really good and entertaining stuff.

Keep up the good work! I am really looking forward for your Merchant Princess -series extension (in addition to the possible space opera and the final Laundry books).


Just skimmed the reviews of "Nightmare Stacks" on Amazon. Charlie, you really like chlorine trifluoride, don't you?


Listened via audible, enjoyed it immensely. Gives me a happy distraction from the mess in the UK given Brexit. Now wondering about the fallout and whether we see the laundry verse prime minister resigning , the opposition and government going into meltdown while say CASE NIGHTMARE BLACK kicks off , or would this simply not be believable ( I wish)

Where are the Alfâr going to live as refugees, & I presume they might come in handy as allies in a later book?

Interesting thing that came to mind there; the Alfar have a non-trivial (One hundred? Two hundred? More?) magi with them.

Magi need to kill one person a week in order to continue living themselves. Combine that with this quote from our host last November:

The Laundry has a working arrangement with a hospice; plenty of patients with 1 week to live means they can keep PHANGs alive without anything much worse than speeding the patients' demise by a few hours. But for reasons emerging from the plot of THE NIGHTMARE STACKS this arrangement is going to go bad by THE DELIRIUM BRIEF

Well. Doesn't that lead to some interesting thoughts on what the Laundry will do with at least some of their new load of elves?

The alfar are going to pose all sorts of problems. Do you try and reshape their culture? It's a pretty vile culture, but it is theirs. If so, how? You could demand Cassie implode the Imperial geas as a condition of granting them asylum... but she might point out, rightly, that said geas is keeping a lot of vampire-magi and a number of other people who are at least competent to do some ritual magic in line. But if she keeps the imperial geas around, and the Laundry geas-enslaves her as well (which it seems likely to do, because the Laundry's priority whenever it hauls in a new asset is to enslave them if at all possible; indeed, the book makes clear that some Laundry higher-ups have misgivings about the PHANG's precisely because they can't be enslaved) then you're basically operating a slave army on a massive scale.

And that's not even getting into the political fallout. The Laundry has started needing to be accountable to a political, rather than technocratic, regime. That's new for them. The UK is going to freak the fuck out over this, because an invading army dropped down in the middle of Yorkshire and kicked the crap out of Leeds. A non-trivial percentage of the populace and a non-trivial number of MPs are going to want the alfar lined up and shot. I anticipate explicit arguments from a lot of folks that since the alfar are not human, they cannot have human rights, and thus it is legal to do... anything you want to them. The argument that the people actually responsible for the invasion are dead and the soldiers could not have disobeyed them in any case isn't going to hold a lot of water for a lot of people.

Fun times ahead.


Hello there Mr Stross,

"My hovercraft is full of eels"

I must ask where you came across that sentence? Do you know Dr Robert Pensalfini, linguistics professor at the University of Queensland? The reason I ask is that as far as I know, he was the crazed individual who came up with that phrase as it was a line in a song for a rock opera that he wrote about an extra terrestrial crab like creature named Father Angg who's space-hovercraft crashed on earth because it became full of eels.

As you could imagine I was in hysterics when I read that and also amazed as I'd never thought to see that phrase appear in print.

Anyhow, I loved the latest book, thanks :)


Thoroughly enjoyed The Nightmare Stacks (kindle). Way too much demented laughing at the plentiful sick jokes and various frenetic scenes. (I suppose some people might characterize some of it as cartoonish but F-em - high amusement value for the win.) This novel felt contemporary, and with some apparent possible minor borrowings from the comment sections here, which is especially delicious, true or not. Liked all the major characters, even the (very) evil villains. When do we get a spoiler thread? (Paperback release?). Also, it has movie potential IMO. Is there a significantly >0 probability of a Laundry movie in our future?


Common phrase. Google search of "my hovercraft is full of eels" gives "About 54,100 results" I first saw it maybe 2000 or so but it appears to date back to at least 1970: or When did Dr Robert Pensalfini use it?


Holy shit. Not quite finished it yet but chapter 15: that escalated... i hasten to say quickly seeing as it's taken until book 7 for a major incursion into whatever reality the laundry reside in but it successfully, albeit momentarily, diverted my attentions away from the brexit/tory/labour clusterfuck. The cat is out of the bag now, isn't it? It was clawing at the seems in the previous book but case nightmare red is gonna require a lot of 'splaining as charlie has hinted at for the next book. Case nightmare green was starting to feel like it would never come to pass but now it feels like the gibbering horrors are barrelling towards us (them). Great stuff.


I believe he used it in the early 1990's. We were at the University of Western Australia together and being silly undergrads used to muck about a lot. He is a very talented individual both academically and musically and he wrote this [ahem] rock opera as I mentioned in my first post. I've sent him a message asking if he's ever met Charles at all.

The chorus of the song goes something like this -

"When the sun is in the sky and joy is all you feel, all the while I won't be smiling because my hovercraft is full of eels"


I really enjoyed the Nightmare Stacks. I think it may be my favorite book in the whole series, and I hope we see more of Alex and Cassi. I'm wondering what effect that massively powerful network of Geases will have on Cassi (and Alex, if they get married and he becomes her second in command), especially if it gets linked to the Laundry network of Geases. Laundry personnel have to do what they think is best for the preservation of the UK; so what if it becomes increasingly clear to people in the Laundry that her magically advanced geases network make Cassie far better qualified to preserve the UK than any other potential leader, starting with the PM? The Queen of Air and Darkness, (if Cassie starts using that title,) might yet end up running the UK, or at least the Laundry, if the series goes on long enough. I don't think the Deep Ones would support any plan to destroy the elves, (allowing the Humans to get always with genocide sets a bad precedent) but I'll be interested to see what they think of the Elves, and visa versa.


(On "my hovercraft is full of eels".)

I believe he used it in the early 1990's.

The first occurrence of the phrase I have heard of is the 'Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook' sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus, episode 25, first aired on 1970, so I think that's a bit earlier than the 1990's.

The sketch is on Youtube too, on their official channel: Hungarian Phrasebook.

I did laugh out loud when I read that.

As for the whole book, I liked it, and Alex's point of view feels different from both Bob's and Mo's, which I did like. I did enjoy it enough to read it in two days.


TNS made for a welcome distraction from the Brexit apefest. On the downside, the increased amount of geeking out about military hardware wasn't my cup of tea. I may have the smell of Humbrol paints and books about WWII ordnance forever etched into my memory but I find the minutiae of destruction less fun nowadays than proving theorems, K syndrome be damned. However, the storytelling technique has been polished to a lustrous sheen in compensation. In particular, instead of the action intensifying to a crescendo three-quarters of the way through, only to be wrapped up swiftly via "and then I'm told a few things happened (sorry, I need to deliver this mummy now to the pharaoh)", this one's arc felt fully satisfying. I preferred the "difficult" POV of Mo, but this is probably my second favourite Laundry book. I'm now rather looking forward to the attack novel that is hopefully due once the Scottish political singularity is resolved.

My UK-bought (via ebook contains 19 instances of "color" and 12 of "maneuver" and has thus presumably been USified. Does the UK paper edition use British spelling, and is there a way to buy an ebook with British spelling?


Or see Wikipedia:

As I grow older it amuses me that these cases happen, that someone reuses something older and other people think it's original to them.

(For ages I was irritated by someone's .sig which quoted words of wisdom from Mercedes Lackey. My irritation was because it was basically a reworking of Kipling.)

I suspect that Pensalfini (whom I note to be a theoretical linguist, and this is a particularly linguist joke) used the hovercraft phrase in the full expectation that the phrase would resonate with his listeners, even if they weren't entirely sure of its origin. But not everyone can know everything about culture, particularly popular culture of earlier decades on the other side of the world.


The Rhesus Chart introduced an element which seems overpowered for solving a lot of their problems and was re-used in this book which sort of established that it could be used routinely.

Remember those time-stop grids? The ones the vampire used to keep his victims alive and fresh for ~10 years rather than 6 months? and what the pointy eared bastards used to keep their fodder fresh?

There seems to be the option of sticking the excess vampires in some of these grids if there's a food shortage. Hell, these grids seem like they could solve a lot of the worlds problems. Reliable long term food storage is extremely valuable. You could make warehouses like the pointy eared bastards used to store huge quantities of perishable goods. It would be a bigger deal than the advent of refrigeration.

Case nightmare green couldn't be solved through war because lots of death would rip open reality so these time stop grids seem the perfect solution. Lots of people would probably volunteer for time-suspended storage, sick people even more so and honestly I'm half surprised that the deep ones don't just wrap the major landmasses in these grids and suspend the problem of the randy apes causing case nightmare green until the walls of reality have recovered a little.


there is some suggestion that the effort involved doesn't scale. cf the pointy ones didn't use a stasis field but rather some kind of metabolism lowering hibernation variant.

Recursion problem - we can enter a continent into stasis if only we could sacrifice a continent full of people to power it....

Probably the aliens already are rummaging in the ruins of Earth in the other realities and wonder "what the fuck happened here?".

Fun bit if you play Stellaris (space 4X game by swedish studio Paradox) and you find the Solar System while playing as another species. You find Sol III as an irradiated planet populated by mutant cockroaches (that are the only species in game that is immune to radiations, and thus can colonize that category of planets without massive tech to terraform).


For those interested in more Alex and Cassie, I did notice the line early on: "Cassie, if you ever read this, I'm very, very sorry". And Alex is clearly writing this in past tense. Currently he doesn't have much to be sorry about, considering he's single-handedly saved her and her entire race. (Because no other Alfar would consider surrender, or have the context in which to phrase that surrender.)

Which is dropping a very big, very loud hint that book-future events are not happy-ever-after. Especially since the book reads like the first half of a two-parter.



I think you kind of nailed the existential problem with the bad guys, whether you meant to or not. To put it bluntly, they're consuming waaay too high on the food chain to sustain themselves for very long. It did make for a Cool set of bad guys, and therefore the Rule of Cool lets OGH get away with it.

Want some examples? You've got: --spider silk instead of silkworm silk (spider silk has been used in textiles, but, well, read the article to see what the shortcomings are) --carnivorous equoids instead of hay-burning horses --carnivorous mages instead of vegetarian civil servants --and don't get me started on the dragons

About the only things that didn't run on meat or blood were the basilisks. Personally, I think they'd be fairly useless in a big city, especially one where the buildings had mirrored windows. While there are other problems with them, they are Cool (as are the equoids and the foofy dragons), so therefore the story is Cool.*

Anyway, as an army, the pointy-eared ones here have an army that compares unfavorably, fuel-wise, with US armored cavalry. Indeed, the comparable example of what they tried to do would be stashing a tank company, with fuel, munitions, supplies, and light air support for a week, in the event of nuclear war/end of civilization, so that afterwards, they can go out, capture someone else's successor civilization within a week and install themselves as leaders while having little/no fire power or reload capability. It's a rather less optimal plan than, say, what Cortes did to the Aztecs, because he at least recruited allies and lived off the land (up to making his own black powder, IIRC).

And now they're refugees? I'm sure this will end well.

*Cool is as Cool does, but I'm still bothered by the words "gracile" and "mace" appearing so close together so often.


That and - not to follow you into the realm of spoilerdom, but... - their, ah, magical technique seemed to be a bit profligate with regards to energy usage, as it were.

Maybe they had to turn their magical gear up to eleven to survive the preceding events, but if not, if they've been operating on that level all along, it's really no surprise that they were found to be tasty and good with ketchup by the things that ate their world.


I think some of that was a necessary framing device for Alex to be a protagonist of the novel. Otherwise to even hold his own he'd have to be closer to EoS/teapot level or closer to Basil if we restrict to Phangs.

Whilst I don't think the estimates on the enemy Phangs were as high as the post above there were probably 20-30 of varying power, Assuming a hierarchy of capabilities with Alex somewhere near the middle. Ie more versatile than a Soldier magi supporting the Calvary but distinctly less powerful than the senior Magi.

Some interesting questions for me :
1)is it a cautionary tale for the laundry and black chamber on their over reliance on Geases? Also a cautionary tale on the risks of blind obedience. 2) How come the pointy's magi are bound by the Morning star Geas and explicitly Alex seems not to be? What makes an Uruk Phang resistant to geases - is it the retaining of a certain something?

And to address Heteromeles It's fairly clear that they were never meant to be a successor tribe to the Morning star empire but alive mostly through luck hence the invasion being a last throw of the dice. Also mirrored windows? I thought it was quite clear that they would be as much protection against a basilisk gaze as they would a military laser,

Also one last question for me - what happened at the bunker late in the novel? I assume it was scouts taking ground before the ley line thrust?


The morning star empire geas structure is not very well put together. They still suffer agent problems, which is shocking, given their tools - My guess at the reason for this is simply that it is very ancient indeed - it was the first, or at least, one of the first, web of compulsion to scale, and once it had won, the people in charge were not inclined to innovate in this field.


I thought that might be a reference to the original cassie does alex know she was sacrificed ?


That was actually one of the more interesting, slash horrible things that happened. I'm fairly sure both original Cassie and Agent Second died when Second went way overboard with the mind eating. The combo personality is a third person.


Or perhaps he's still decent, very introverted and nerdy, and doesn't know how to tell her how he feels about the loss of her world? From our point of view, it's kind of good riddance because they're evil and stuff, but Alex seems to be in love, for better or worse.


Had similar thoughts as others about the Deep Ones and the Chtonic Powers. Did they exist in Alfheim? Did the elves not sense them during their reconnaissance missions earlier? Are they any better at evading the Great Filter?

Probably coincidence, but lots of vocabulary I associate with Gene Wolfe in the book.

Cassie fit the plot a little too well and without any white feline bearing chaps to explain it away.

Still thought it was pretty good, particularly as the book progressed to the main action.

It's probably too late, but I would be interested to see if third person or multi viewpoint worked better for the series from now on. Perhaps with a bit of bridging material indicating that one person actually constructed the particular narrative one is reading.

"It was then that I walked into the room." For all you Lupinologists out there.


Well, it's also worth considering that explorers may not return from worlds that failed to go through the Great Filter.

After all, if you find heaven on Earth, especially if you know how your masters in a place like the Laundry likes its Geasa (let alone the American Black Chamber, where even death doesn't free you from service)...would you come back?

This would bias agencies like the Laundry into considering the universe to be a great deal more dangerous than it actually is.

Of course this is a horror series, so such fantastic explanations are out of place.

The Cththonians and Deep Ones are insulated miles of ocean and rock, and depend on internal heat (deep sea vents and lava) rather than the presence of a heavenly body. It may also be that they simply have so many more habitats that they've got many places to move.


I don't believe the number of PHANGs will be the proximate cause of the change coming in the killing-hospice-patients-to-survive status quo. Politics will be. The Laundry is out in the open, at least to some extent. How exactly do you propose the Prime Minister explain to the public that, yes, it's true that vampires are murdering people but those people were dying anyway and we really could use the vampires against other threats, so it's a price we'll just have to pay? For that matter, how do you propose to convince the rest of the government that regularly killing citizens to feed monsters is in the nation's best interest?


That's easy

A) Dont tell them. B) cover it up.

Its a horror story the existence of vampires is going to be the least of their problems compared to say the mass fatalities in Leeds.


Greatly enjoyed the book and am very much looking forward to seeing where things go next. In particular, how does the Laundry deal with going public?

The cover stories were stretched with the mass casualty event at the last Prom in the Annihilation Score (roughly two thirds of 9/11). I don't see any way of hiding a major attack with several thousand dead. Especially when the video of the attacker's surrender is broadcast.

In addition, how does magi-tech impact the world? Does this bring on NIghtmare Green even faster? It will be a long wait till next July to find out.

Minor Amazon quibble.

I read my copy on a kindle and I noticed that Amazon can't handle footnotes. Instead of being linked to the marker asterisk, they are just stuck at the back of the book with no context. Would it be possible to number them so it can be easier to match them to the point of the story they are intended to illustrate? Alternatively, just listing the numerical location help. Ideally, each asterisk would include a link to the page where the footnote resides at the back of the book.


Ideally, each asterisk would include a link to the page where the footnote resides at the back of the book.

That's how it works for me. I'm using the Kindle App on Android.


Ah, my first 'they' was meant to reference the Alfär and their 'high-energy personal weapons' and similar, rather than their mages.

As for Gordycoale's point 2, I thought along similar wince-inducing lines, as well.


On the subject of Anguilliform-filled air cushion vehicles, I used to be on a forum where one user's username/profile combination formed one of the finest reflexive jokes I've ever seen.

HP Hovercraft Is full of eels.



Either way, the pile of dry sticks is handling them as end notes; foot notes appear (or at least start and then continue on the next page) on the page that they expand.


Am I the only one who would prefer footnotes? I find flicking around the book loses some of the impact of some of the comedy gems in the end notes.


You're not, but ebooks (unless they're PDFs) reflow text to fit differing numbers of words per page depending on your device and font face/size requirements, thus changing the number of pages an ebook reports itself as having (unless you're Amazon, with 'real page numbers', I think), in turn doing away with the very concept of 'page numbers'.


One of my favourite authors quotes one of my favourite bands. Hot stuff! One of my favourite authors getting said quote wrong? Not so hot :P

Assuming you did indeed try quoting Headhunter by Front 242, I think you'll find that the lyrics go:

"[Lock the target,] bait the line, spread the net, catch the man."


"bait the line, set the trap, catch the man"

Other than that? Awesome book.


What does PHANG stand for?


After conversion to ePub, my Amazon-bought copy acts as the Moon+ Reader Android app is designed too: single-tap takes you to the endnotes, with a link back, while long-tap brings the note up in a pop-up window.


Look on the bright side. You'll be able to revisit the Halting State future when the second Scottish Independence Referendum succeeds


"Sorry about this disappointing revelation of how uncool I actually am", maybe?


Get that - but not sure how that impacts the choice of footnotes or end notes.

@errolwi84 - thats how the kindle app works on my iPad with the UK ebook in amazon vanilla format.


Yes I just realized the problem with the basilisk is they seem to be LOS level point defence only an ac130 circling above the clouds would be hard to engage. Unless theAfar have combat metrologists who can make clouds go away.

They also might have tracking problems for fast moving targets no brontosaurs is going to be moving its head very fast when compared to modern PD.

It always struck me that (presumably for the rule of cool) the laudryverse has not changed radically the way the armed forces are structured and equipped - I would suspect that SF in particular would be beter resorced and that the cuts to the defence budget wouldn't have happened


Charlie -- have a good time in Portland, did you? Guess the cool weather was probably within Scottish parameters of pleasant.


On my (old) Kindle, when I get to a footnote I hit the down button on the fourway controller, then down/right until the footnote marker is highlighted. Click the middle button, which takes me to the footnote. Then click the back button (far left button) to go back to the text.

I've only just finished TNS as I've got in the habit of reading the whole story arc from the beginning as each new episode comes out. I can't remember enough of whats going on otherwise.

It was a great read. I'd have to say that my nipples exploded with delight. I just wish I could read the rest now. Strossian fiction is the only one where I break my normally iron rule to never start a series unless I can buy the complete set.

Many thanks to OGH for a couple of very very enjoyable days.


Are you kidding? It says in TNS that they evolved in a challenging environment where they had to survive air attack. So they would be able to move their heads. And the beam they use is some kind of magical radiation that adds protons (somehow with only a little bit of fusion energy being released into our dimension), so it might be able to penetrate cloud cover. Basilisks are for real, man!


I would suspect that SF in particular would be better resourced and that the cuts to the defence budget wouldn't have happened

Don't bet on it.

Out of universe : First rule of fiction - how do my characters react if the worst does happen?

In universe : The MOD are not fully aware of the Laundry at a budget level - hence would not know to ring fence SF funding for the Artists Rifles and others. In universe 2 : nth Iron law of bureaucracy - budgets are not shared with competitor teams.


thinking of countermeasures... magic seeking missiles.. you already have a thaum-meter. that could easily be a seeker. magician casts- invisibility... about 2 seconds later--- boom

very nice book btw


Anything that produces a large cloud of carbon-rich smoke is going to be dangerous to a basilisk, especially if it's coming in faster than they can focus on it. The basilisks will get the contrail, but if all that does is create a more dangerous, hotter cloud of radioactive silicon gas and exploding chemicals behind the incoming warhead that they can't stop, they're ineffective, because all that crap is falling on the army that the basilisks are allegedly protecting.

Personally, I'd hate to be in the same room where someone's triggered a CO2 fire extinguisher and a basilisk simultaneously.


wonder how much gamma you'd get.? and is it just carbon that's effected?


I'm not done with the novel yet, but one thing that's bothering me is the lack of mention of deep ones, cthonians, and elder things in the elf universe. if I'm remembering correctly, they are each vastly older species than hominids, so should have been around before the timelines diverged, and were much more powerful to boot.


Maybe the elves don't survive contact with the Deep Ones as often as humans do - which is to say, sometimes. The bloke on the street doesn't exactly trip over BLUE HADES at the pub as it is.

As for the cthoninans...have we ever gotten unambiguous verification that they've even noticed that Homo sapiens exists?


"My hovercraft is full of eels" -- I must ask where you came across that sentence?

Monty Python. Where else?


My books is edited for the American market first -- indeed, I'm largely sold in the UK as a foreign import! (If you wonder why the usage of Scots vernacular in "Halting State" was somewhat tame, it's because my American agent and editor made me tone it down for their domestic market.)

This is changing with "The Delirium Brief" (Orbit UK are handling production/editing because Tor came on board for the US edition a little late in the day) but it's still going to be copy-edited by Marty Halpern, who copy edited the previous books in the series, to the same style sheet.


Hell, these grids seem like they could solve a lot of the worlds problems.

Oh, I think I can work around that without too much difficulty!

(One of the things I like about this job is how easy it is to retcon second-order consequences onto things. Like, oh, a species of eater that tends to sniff around time-stop grids that are too big or too long-lasting. Which is why the Host used suspended animation instead.)


Spoiler: they're not operating at that high a burn rate all the time.

This is the equivalent of a combined-arms mechanised assault brigade: horrifyingly profligate and energy-intensive but very, very good at Breaking Shit And Killing People. I seem to recall a figure that a US mechanised brigade, such as the ten or so deployed during the Iraq invasion, burns on the order of a thousand tons of fuel and ammunition per hour ... but in 24 hours it can make a fighting advance 200 miles into enemy territory defended by the equivalent of a 1970s Soviet army or all of Hitler's panzer divisions circa 1944.

But when it's not being the world's biggest meat-grinder, that brigade won't burn anything like that much fuel or ammunition. The soldiers will be driving around in trucks and hummers and maybe hauling tankers and tank transporters, not driving cross-country in M1s that consume three gallons of gas per mile.

And that's the model I used for the Host. Large semi-independent combined-arms unit in a fortress on the western frontier of a continental empire suddenly finds itself with no empire to defend (and no hostiles): what do they do? They can't rebuild civilization on their own, they can't conduct independent offensive operations indefinitely, their equipment is gradually going to deteriorate ...


The "endnotes" were written as footnotes and apparently show up as such on the iBooks (epub) version of the novel. I'll have a word with my editor about what's possible when we do a fix for the errata prior to paperback release.


The mangled quote gets me around needing to shell out cash for a license to use the exact words. Sorry!


Note that the acronym changes at least once in every book. (It's a running gag.)


The mangled quote gets me around needing to shell out cash for a license to use the exact words. Sorry!

I had that thought belatedly about the Bauhaus lyrics in the last book. Safer to mangle them somewhat than to pay for them.


Gordycole, I may be misremembering, but I'm not sure the enemy magi were exactly PHANGs. They had some of the same characteristics (e.g. the counting trap), but I thought they derived their power from different sources. Alex and the rest of the Laundry's PHANGs get their power from doing maths-based ritual magic in their heads, which normally would be a fast track to K-syndrome, but the V-symbiotes block that. The Alfar seem to be using straight blood magic though. Since they're a geas-based organisation, this suggested to me that they're ritual practitioners in the manner of the Nazis from Atrocity Archives.

So (spoiler alert) Alex could iterate through a huge number of incantations to summon a wave attack, which a ritual practitioner wouldn't be able to do without their head blowing up. That kind of validates the Laundry's decision to keep them around, since they've got different capabilities from other magic users - in this case, a demon-powered trench-broom-slash-claymore-mine.


A very satisfying effort. Really enjoyed it. And I like that you're moving beyond the masquerade.

There's also the status quo in techno-thrillers where we get real close to the Unthinkable happening and it gets saved just in time. It's very rare that we see it get pushed up to the limit and then rotary distribution of excrement happens.

It's safer to keep the apocalypse from happening, keep the world comfy and intact. The elves are in a situation akin to the US at the end of a Colder War. I don't know if the Earth will fare much better. Haring off into the unknown, exciting and terrifying.

I assume you never heard of this one but Dystopic Return of Magic is a web original with an invasion of evil elves from another world. Really similar starting point but quite different execution.


THE DELIRIUM BRIEF(s?) spoiler alert

Graham writes:

For those interested in more Alex and Cassie, I did notice the line early on: "Cassie, if you ever read this, I'm very, very sorry". And Alex is clearly writing this in past tense. Currently he doesn't have much to be sorry about, considering he's single-handedly saved her and her entire race. (Because no other Alfar would consider surrender, or have the context in which to phrase that surrender.)

But Alex uses Cassie's name (out loud) to phone her in front of the GS. Is it a real name, though?

Near there is a possible plot hole: how come Highest Liege enters the tent in combat dress "with embedded wards" and yet is vulnerable to eaters?


I enjoyed that.


She isn't Cassie. Now.

More eaters by orders of magnitude than expected.


There is also a line about the wards cooking off, suggesting enough focused eaters can overload them. It's also possible that there are many kinds of eaters.


Think you are half right. IMO Alex's (our worlds) theory of mathematics and programming are several orders of magnitude better than the Elves hence Alex has the ability to write complex macros in his head and is capable of more bang for his buck (he's quite literally a "buck magi" too hence possibly some of Cassies reaction to him).

Additionally we don't know whether the Magi are just specialist combat mages via an Army boot camp vs Alex who at the very least is near the top of his class and peer group in mathematics/magic. It's also worth noting that what Alex did was not really combat magic either but just an iterated summoning. There are a number of mentions of the Elves magic being crude and wasteful - whether that is because they are not representatives of the intellectual peak of their race (ie they're squaddies who can just blow shit up) or its indicative of the state of the whole MorningStar empire we don't know. They may not have had any reason to develop theories and applications of programming we have.

I do think both Phangs and Magi are V Parasite ridden though as noted by Alex's mention of their presence in the tent.

Interesting question for Charlie apart from Phangs does healing magic actually exist in the Laundryverse or does it exist but it just too expensive to the practitioners?

Other minor question is this the first time it's stated that Jez Wilson is a woman?


The lower levels of the hierarchy seemed more puppet like. A level of autonomy in the aristocracy may be a survival advantage... the All-Highest seemed to making deliberate use of this, and in the end it did ensure the survival of the civilization and species.


IIRC, the use of healing magic was implied at the end of The Apocalypse Codex.


Healing magic may be impractical or expensive - it's certainly not point and shoot like a basilisk gun or weaponized HoG - but the evidence suggests it's around for cases when an agent really needs it and nothing else will do.


Indeed, Charlie, you're pretty much gonna have to incorporate some reaction to what's gone down in the next book. People paranoid about Syrian refugees and ISIS are not going to be calm about the Alfar, who up till they were reformed by the love of a good vampire, were a lot worse than ISIS. What would Donald Trump and Nigel Farage think?

And then we have Corbyn and the Labour Party crisis. Don't think they could be left out of book either. You've had lots of great stuff satirizing the Tories. Isn't it the turn of Labour?



Don't forget it's still 2014 in the Laundry Verse, so Corbyn's counterpart wouldn't yet be Leader of the Opposition. And while I agree with you about the extremely adverse public reaction to the Elves, I'm sure OGH already has plans prepared for that. He hinted years ago that Book 8 would be about mercenaries led by cultists. So unless Bob is far more overpowered than I expect, I think the Laundry is going to find it suddenly needs Cassie's army in a hurry to defend itself.


Well that was fun. I found the ending to be particularly witty.


... indeed. I think that there has to be another armoured boot ready to drop .

The thing about the pointy eared refugees is that by our standards they are pyschopaths who murdered thousands of civilians, albeit acting under compulsion. By their standards, prosecution for war crimes would be incomprehensible. By realpolitik standards, they might be indispensible assets for the existential conflicts to come.


toy soldier thoughts ...

You can get a 28mm scale Kettenkrad kit from Bolt Action, and Perry do hard plastic 28mm "Wars of the Roses" figures, which seem like they could be used to produce a Pete&Pinky combo.


Kindle firmware (post 5.4.x, I think, so all Kindles currently on sale: all the touch-sensitive Kindles must be running this firmware if they can still connect to Amazon) can also display footnotes in a pop-up footnote window -- except in this book. It probably has to do with the way the link in the footnote proper is structured: it's all very heuristic, rather than having a proper standardized way to do it like ePub does. See e.g. here.


They are large and there are physical limits to how fast they can move there heads without snapping something.

Large animals arn't as fast as small ones and with modern PD they can switch targets very fast look at any footage of PD systems.

Imagine a fast jet moving at right angles at low level how quickly could they track and that's assuming they arn't using standoff munitions.


Or have a special purpose head for a JADAM designed to home on high thaum readings.


But it is a known Existential threat that would feed into what roles the armed forces where built for. And that's not considering what limits the Blue Hades might have enforced - would they really want a bunch of monkeys sailing around with boomers


I anticipate explicit arguments from a lot of folks that since the alfar are not human, they cannot have human rights, and thus it is legal to do... anything you want to them.

Well, you could try that, but a. murder is defined independent of species in English law due to a quirk of flowery 17th-century legalese ("a reasonable [ie having the power of reason]... under the queen's peace [ie not in time of war]", b. most of the offences of assault and wounding are defined against a person, not a human, and while that definitely excludes animals - for whom separate provision is made - you'd have to construe it in light of the Race Relations Act which prohibits discrimination and since they're clearly part of genus homo the distinction between uruk and alfar is, I would respectfully suggest to the court, a racial difference for the purposes of that act. Furthermore...

I could go on. I could, indeed, imitate the style often adopted by HMG's various legal offices and make you all bleed at the eyes. Just... trust me on this one, trying to get out of crimes against alfar on the basis of species difference would get you a serious case of the Hard Stares From The Bench. And government counsel at all levels would advise accordingly.


On the subject of footnotes, I've noticed a couple times that the asterisks in the books are hard to see, and I frequently have to look at a page for a couple minutes before I can find them. It would be nice if the asterisks were bolded, or used a bigger font than the rest of the text, or if something else was done to make the asterisks more visible.


I've now read the book twice, and there's something I just don't understand: If Cassie needed to learn about the British military and their weapons systems, or the British government, why didn't she just go to the library at her university, or use the Internet? Surely the original Cassie would at least know how to use Wikipedia!

(The funny side of using the Internet would have been when her complete lack of any critical capacity regarding human affairs combined with the Alfär idea of how politics is done, leading to a very serious report to the All-Highest on the subject of "How Lizard People Rule The Earth.")


That wasn't so much of a problem for me: I know plenty of people with no critical thinking skills and less aptitude for research and infinitesimal idea of any learning resource they're not led to by the hand and spoon-fed from. They tend to believe the last thing they were told, think Facebook is the entire internet, and if it doesn't have a bearing on what they're interested in right now, they all but can't see it.

Perfectly lovely, nice people in many cases, but the flame of the spirit of inquiry? They don't even have the pilot light lit. That a drama undergraduate should be such a person isn't even close to taxing my suspension of disbelief.

Yes, there were probably better candidates for infiltration than Cassie, but it's made clear that the choice was, if not forced, then at least strongly influenced.


I have a similar peeve. Agent First was confused that there were apparently no magic users on Earth except Alex. However, even if Cassie was an airhead and only interested in celebrity news, she must have known about the very recent and very public outbreak of superheroes all over the place, and Agent First should be able to draw some conclusions from that, namely that there is a bunch of people whose powers can best be explained via magic, and who she should therefore do some serious research about.

However, Cassie seems to be completely untouched by the events described in The Annihilation Score, even though they were taking place very publicly only a few weeks earlier. I find that hard to believe.


Equally, if this somehow pre-dates the last book, then the superheroes would have known about the partial destruction of Leeds.

Obviously this story takes place in yet another parallel universe, where the superhero outbreak has not yet begun.

Um, yeah.


I liked this one most of the times. I wonder about the Doctrine "to be seen is to be dead" - extrapolation from existing warfare or made up to make the alfär style of battle more distinct? The sequel hook at the ending worked especially well for me ... really looking forward to how the whole asylum angle will play out.

Minor quibbles: I assume the battle mages went through many slaves during the battle, this could have been mentioned once or twice (the blood running from ther chambers as they 'refresh' themselves between missions ...) It seemd odd to me that the alfär have a continuosly updated map and screen type things. I would expect the commander to have an accurate vision of the batttlefield that he imposes on his minions by sheer will or something similar. Important information is known by the right people because they make sure to learn this stuff and have good memories, it is not lookedup. I'd expect the alfär warriors to work far more like an illiterate society.


I wonder about the Doctrine "to be seen is to be dead" - extrapolation from existing warfare or made up to make the alfär style of battle more distinct?

"If you can be seen, you can be hit. If you can be hit, you can be killed." ISTR first reading that in the early 80s or thereabouts, and it's sufficient of a commonplace that it turned up in rap lyrics in 1991.


Yes. And when you consider the added pressure with gaze weapons where the very seeing is the hitting, the Alfar's maxim will be even more so.


One thing OGH might consider elaborating on in the next book (if there is still time) was the sentence on page 239 which had some members of Mahogany Row "charging up the M1 motorway in a convey of police cars with flashing lights." This happens not long after Alex sends in his initial warning. Yet on page 374, maybe 9 or 10 hours later, Alex is the only ritual sorcerer in Leeds this weekend. Perhaps Forecasting Ops sends out a message telling the sorcerers on the M1 not to enter Leeds until the afternoon?



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