The Laundry Files
While Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London’ Series is perhaps the most well known ‘Magic in Modern London’ creation with its specialist section of the Metropolitan Police handling the city’s ‘hidden’ population of gods, mythical entities and rogue magicians Stross had already created a series of books that moulded Lovecraftian horror, the espionage thriller, science fiction and fantasy into a sly new sub-genre that also featured a heavy dose of Dilbert-like workplace humour.
Perhaps a slight obstacle to the initial popularity of the series was the lack of a stylistic continuity. The first book was a pastiche of Len Deighton’s ‘Harry Palmer’ espionage books, the second a pastiche of Ian Fleming, the third was a homage to Anthony Price’s spy books of the 1970’s (no, me neither) and the fourth a pastiche of Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise books. This series of rather wilful literary flourishes did, in my opinion, slightly undermine the series a little bit. It’s as though Stross lacked any conviction that the world he had created lacked substance and so had to be supplemented by frills and sly knowing nods to other authors. This is by no means a fatal flaw – the series is now up to none books – and Stross himself abandoned the affectation with the fifth book. But it is useful to bear in mind the thematic variability of the early books when beginning the series.
The Atrocity Archives – 2004.
Note – this can often include the novella ‘Concrete Jungle’ winner of the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Trust me…this is a good thing!
The protagonist – think Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer – is IT expert Bob Howard. Bob accidentally discovers that certain computational mathematical equations can have rather more impact than resolving equations quite quickly.
“I thought I was just generating weird new fractals; they knew I was dangerously close to landscaping Wolverhampton with alien nightmares.”
Because of his discoveries Bob is ‘offered’ a position in ‘The Laundry’, a secret British occult intelligence organisation which dates to WW2 SOE. Since the SOE dealt rather harshly with Alan Turing over his breaching of the multiverse it seems that Bob was wise to take the job.
The ‘secret’ of this world, is that allied to massive population growth exponential computer usage is breaching the paper thin ‘walls’ that lie between universes. This might seem like a ‘good thing’ and a chance for exploration until it becomes clear that some creatures in these dimensions regard humanity as ‘nice with ketchup’ while other, Lovecraftian Elder Gods, who regard humanity as we regard termites, are waiting to return.
Despite the nature of these threats ‘The Laundry’ is presented as a typically dull, IT based job involving all the modern horrors of Annual Appraisals, printers that never work and a worrying number of pointless meetings.
Desperate to get out from behind his desk Bob has started doing ad-hoc work for the ‘Field Office’ who finally make him a field agent and give him the task of ‘bringing in’ Professor Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, whose work has tripped a wire in The Laundry’s early warning network.
This does not go well. We are introduced to ‘The Black Chamber’ the US version of The Laundry, a group of Syrian Occult Terrorists, the Ahnenerbe (the occult branch of the SS ) and the history of Occult warfare in WW2. The Atrocity Archive, a classified record of German efforts in World War II held in Amsterdam details the full history of the Third Reich’s grim record in the Occult and gives Bob and Mo the information they need to understand the threat they face.
Oh, there’s a kidnapping, a frost giant, nuclear weapons, a specialised Occult SAS team (The Artists Rifles) and an alternate Universe or two. Lots of reports, application and requisition forms, budget meetings and Post-Implementation meetings too.
A quick note on the ‘Concrete Jungle’ …The Laundry notice that there are suddenly far too many Concrete Cows in Milton Keynes and …
The Jennifer Morgue – 2006.
As stated above this is a pastiche of the Bond novels. Poor Bob is cast as our super spy and because this is a Laundry book, he’s not an exact fit to the role.
In reality in 1974, the CIA used Howard Hughes’s Glomar Explorer in a bungled attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine it failed or at least partially failed due to technical issues. In the world of The Laundry this operation was a Black Chamber sponsored project done to access the occult artefact the ‘Jennifer Morgue’ held on the sub. This fictional effort also failed but this time due to the actions of ‘Great Old Ones’ or Lovecraftian Sea Gods who felt that the enterprise was encroaching on their realm.
Now a new version of Hughes – ruthless billionaire, Billington, intends to retrieve the Jennifer Morgue. Even if by doing so he awakens the Great Old Ones who might just use the Atlantic to flood Europe and the US in retaliation.
Bob’s task is to go aboard Billington’s yacht and stop him, while also trying to handle American agent Ramona Random, who clearly has her own agenda as well as a succubus bound to her soul – think Vesper Lynn with added demon – which makes Bob’s new girlfriend Professor Dominique “Mo” O’Brien is less than happy at his mission.
The Fuller Memorandum – 2010.
Bob Howard is back as is the growing character of Mo.
The title is derived from General J. F. C. Fuller the renowned military theorist of armoured warfare – General Guderian, of the Wehrmacht was a huge fan. Fuller somehow morphed into an extreme right-wing intellectual who admired the Nazis to a degree that made it a mystery as to why he wasn’t interned with Mosely at the start of the war. He was also a devoted occultist, and a close associate of the legendary black magician Aleister Crowley. To call Fuller idiosyncratic would be an understatement. T
he Fuller Memorandum is a McGuffin of a document which describes the supernatural entity, The Eater of Souls. The document – does it exist or not? – and Howard’s boss the legendary James Angleton go missing. Bob must locate both of them.
Cults, double agents loyal to the Elder God Nyarlathotep, Sacrifices, demonic possession and overdue Overtime Forms that need filing ensue.
This might be the time to mention the Laundry Code ‘CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN – basically THE END OF THE WORLD. This is just one of several scenarios filed under CASE NIGHTMARE RAINBOW and it’s not a question of IF it’s a question of WHEN
The Apocalypse Codex – 2012
Bob Howard is given the job of tasked with investigating American Televangelist Raymond Schiller, who seeks to gain influence in Britain. Bob finds out that Schiller, who preaches a ‘quiver full prosperity gospel’ – it’s a real thing look it up – is serving an extremely dangerous entity and trying to bring about CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
There are freelancing secret agent/witches (think an Occult Blackwater), plucky vicars who are expert in biblical apocrypha, politics, espionage, cults and the odd Elder God or two.
A lot of groundwork is laid down in this book and for me it denotes the point where Stross really starts to take The Laundry Universe into darker, more contemporary places.
The Rhesus Chart – 2014.
The plot of the Rhesus Chart outlines a Laundry investigation into what apparently looks like the activities of vampires. Weirdly, given the nature of the Laundry most people seem to be very sceptical of the idea of Vampires and the operation is a difficult one.
This isn’t a traditional Vampire book and the world of the Laundry is starting to take a much darker turn. You start to suspect that there might not be a traditional happy ending here.
The Annihilation Score – 2015.
Bob takes a back seat on this one. Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, Bob’s wife takes the role of the protagonist.
The book picks up at the explosive ending of ‘The Rhesus Chart’ as the apocalyptic forces of the multiverse are making CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN a real probability and the awakening of Lovecraftian horrors looks inevitable.
As the ‘walls’ between the universes become porous normal people humans have started developing superpowers. Mo is suddenly pushed up the promotion ladder and into management. She is tasked with setting up a multi-agency liaison task force tasked to coordinate between The Laundry, the government, the public and the police. This places her in jeopardy when a conspiracy cooked up by some in intelligence and the look to control the public by occult means in order to maintain ‘Law & Order’.
This is where the Laundry series gets very dark indeed.
The Nightmare Stacks – 2016.
Alex Schwartz is a Laundry employee and a vampire (or PHANG). We first met Alex in The Rhesus Chart.
The Nightmare Stacks introduces us to Elves. One’s with a basis in our folklore, the ones who are a good less friendly than some myths would have us believe
In the multi-verse evolution has diverged so that worlds exist where ancient human subspecies have developed and basically done to Homo-Sapiens what we did to Neanderthals. Genetically Elves are closer to Neanderthals and Denisovans than to Homo sapiens and these Elves or Alfar have evolved to be expert magic users. They’re also sociopaths and live in a magically-prescribed hierarchy.
A world war of Occult Magic has made the Elves’ home uninhabitable as it also summoned up Lovecraftian ancient horrors. So the remaining Elves, taking advantage of that the curtains of reality are fading between the universes, use their magic to invade the Laundry version of earth.
The Elf Army invades… Leeds.
War breaks out and The Laundry utilises the highly lethal AI weapon ‘SCORPION STARE’. This doesn’t go well for Leeds which takes some serious damage – not to mention a festival of Cosplayers that ‘SCORPION STARE’ decides it doesn’t like the look of.
Reaper Drones, Occult Weapons, treachery, parricide, espionage, vampires and Elves and a cunning use of the ‘Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act of 2006’ is all here.
CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is here too.
The Delirium Brief -2017.
The Delirium Brief is set about a month after The Nightmare Stacks and Bob is back as the lead character.
The invasion of the Elves which flattened Leeds and left thousands dead, has meant that the Laundry has become public knowledge. The future for the organisation does not look good. The Prime Minister uses the Laundry as a scapegoat and dissolves it, to be replaced with a public–private partnership that will allow commercial exploitation of magic – if you though Facebook was bad now…
However, the driving force behind all this turns out to be Raymond Schiller from The Apocalypse Codex, who is still faithfully still trying to bring about the end of the world in a ‘No Deal’ form of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
The book doesn’t end well for any one: the malevolent Elder God Nyarlathotep appears as a dark version of a ‘Soft Brexit’.
The Labyrinth Index 2018.
Mhari Murphy, Bob’s old ‘girlfriend from hell’ before Mo appeared in his life is the protagonist.
The UK is under the new other-worldly administration whose takeover was described in the previous The Delirium Brief. Mhari is tasked with carrying out a covert operation in the US. The Prime Minister itself gives her the mission.
In the United States, a mysterious amnesia (Gore Vidal often called his homeland The United States of Amnesia) has descended and the “president” is now a non-figure just as if the photographs Stalin had altered to remove his enemies/victims from history have been made real. There is a resistance movement led by the Presidents Secret Service protection detail who keep him safe despite the danger that falling asleep will render them unable to recall who the man is. This means they must sleep in shifts and relearn their job upon waking.
The Resistance and Mhari’s team come together to gain at least a partial victory but the world has changed out of all recognition and of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN has come to pass. Perhaps not so much the End Of The World but more like The End Of The World As We Knew It.
It can only get better from here…can’t it?