Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: The Annihilation Score

Finished The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross, the latest of the Laundry Files.

Unlike previous books in the series, the title character of this one is Mo, Bob's wife and bearer of a certain violin made by a certain Erich Zann for less then wholesome purposes. Bob appears occasionally in the novel, but is mostly off-screen. As the book opens, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is starting to accelerate, as the combined mental activity of billions of humans and zillions of computers strains the fabric of spacetime, causing all sorts of unfortunate incidents. The latest is an appearance of people with superpowers: about one in a million humans is spontaneously developing occult powers, which - thanks to Marvel and DC - most of them are interpreting as superpowers, at least in the West. Mo is tasked with setting up an official "superpower police" to act as a stalking horse for the Laundry, to try to get a handle on the situation. In this task she is assisted by Ramona Random, a Deep One and ex-Laundry operative currently transitioning between species; Mhari Murphy, a vampire with an MBA and recent Laundry re-recruit; and Officer Friendly, a British police superintendent who has recently acquired FISS-package superpowers (flight, invulnerability, superstrength).

Now, I'm going to say right out that I'm still giving this book 4/5 stars, because it's fun and well-written, but this is definitely the weakest installment of the Laundry to date. The problem isn't Mo, who works quite well as a character. The problem is that, well, realistic superheroes and Lovecraftian horror are two great tastes that don't really taste great together. It just doesn't work, especially since, main characters aside, most of the superpowers are not particularly Lovecraftian; the only horrific part of them is that they gradually eat your brain from K syndrome, giving you early-onset senility over a few months or years. And, I'm sorry, but who the villain turns out to be is just dumb.

That said, it is well-written and fun, and the climax is a complete exception to the above: a real virtuoso performance (no pun intended), brilliantly written and drippingly atmospheric. So Annihilation Score still gets 4/5, if nothing else because - complaints aside - it's still better then most Mythos fiction out there today. But I think this series really peaked around the time of The Apocalypse Codex, and has been trending downward since then.

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