Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The thing about the end of the world is that worlds end every day. And not just in the teenage-drama sense, either: every death is the end of the world for at least one person. Usually more than that.

So Charles Stross's "Laundry Files" series continues in The Labyrinth Index, the ninth novel, even though its world -- at least as much as the series started out as a secret history -- has definitely ended. The Lovecraftian Singularity is continuing, with an avatar of Nyarlathotep as the Prime Minister of the UK and other players assembling around the world.

But humans are still around and mostly unchanged -- the PM in particular has a soft spot for them, though perhaps primarily because he wants masses to worship him -- and so human stories go on, after the end of what used to be their world.

Mhari Murphy is arguably not a human anymore, but she looks like one, so let's give her the benefit of the doubt. She's a vampire, which is to say the carrier of a nasty but beneficial supernatural parasite: as long as she keeps it fed through a blood-link with other minds it can eat, it won't eat her mind. She's also, because of that fairly recent state and a history with the Laundry, now the Baroness Karnstein, a member of the House of Lords, and head of that house's Select Committee on Sanguinary Affairs -- which is to say she's responsible for ensuring the rest of Britain's useful vampires continue to be fed from the blood of unfortunate others so that they can continue to do the work the PM and Laundry need them to do.

(If you're lost -- and you easily could well be with the ninth book in even a loose, mostly new-reader-friendly series like this one -- you could see what I wrote about the previous book, The Delirium Brief, and from there follow links further back for as much more depth as you feel inclined to chase.)

But Mhari is about to get a more difficult job, from that creepy, vastly-less-human PM. You see, the UK's traditional closest ally has been acting strange and distant recently -- even more so than usual. The PM thinks that country has been captured by its own Laundry-style agency, which has thrown in its lot with a much nastier and more dangerous Elder God than himself.

(Those comparatives of "dangerous" and "nasty" here are being used in a way pretty far beyond human norms, I admit.)

And so Mhari has to assemble a team quickly, entirely from a list that PM gives her, infiltrate a foreign country as secretly as possible, so she can find and extract the missing President of the USA. Although, when her team arrives in the States, they find that no American can even remember that they ever had a President....

The Laundry series has always had a whistling-past-the-graveyard appeal, but that's been sharpening with the last couple of books, as the real world has itself gone traipsing through some more boring graveyards. Stross's twisted mirror of our own world has become even more shattered as we've all seen just how horrible, stupid and dysfunctional our governments really can be. And it's culminated here: where the Deep State is not only a real thing, but actually in the thrall of the dread lord Cthulhu.

Labryinth Index will be a slightly odd read for most Americans, since it's inherently about the USA from an outside viewpoint. That viewpoint is generally admiring -- well, as much as you can admire your friend who has become captured by a Cthulhu death-cult -- but it is definitely distanced, and the America in Labyrinth Index is a foreign land not just for Mhari and her band of oddball agents, but for the few beleaguered Americans who remember what a President was.

I wouldn't start the series with this book: they generally stand alone, but too much has gone before, and we're deep into the apocalypse at this point. But it's a great series, full of compelling voices, written straight down the middle of that dark no-man's-land among SF, fantasy, and horror. If any of the above sounds intriguing, find yourself a copy of The Atrocity Archives and start there.

No comments:

Post a Comment