Thursday, July 28, 2022

Escape from Yokai Land by Charles Stross

This one is a "Laundry Files" book. Not all of the books with that logo on the cover are, in the purest case, but Charles Stross's publishers have decided to keep using the logo for anything set in the same world for simplicity's sake. (See my post on the novel Dead Lies Dreaming for more details, and to begin a link-trail back earlier in the series.)

Escape from Yokai Land is a flashback, or a previously-untold story; it covers what happened to "Bob Howard" on his trip to Japan just before the events of The Delirium Brief. It's also a novella, which is not always clear to a purchaser, so understand that: this is a shorter story, only eighty pages long. But, if you want more of Bob, this might be the only dose for a while.

As readers of the series know, this is a Lovecraftian universe: horrible many-angled ones lurk just outside our world and are trying to get in to eat the brains of humans and do even worse things. More seriously, such incursions are easier the more people and computing devices are in the world, as well as the traditional "when the stars are right" - and all three metrics are trending hugely up as this series hurtles towards what will be at least a minor apocalypse.

Bob is the current host of an entity called The Eater of Souls for good and sufficient reasons. Luckily, he's in as full control of that entity as is possible. Slightly less luckily, he's a fairly new host; his predecessor was killed in the line of duty the year before. (The undertone being: even a powerful, skilled, old sorcerer with a scary thing called the Eater of Souls in him can get snuffed out in this world.)

Bob has been requested by the Miyamoto Group, which seems to be the Japanese equivalent of the Laundry - the fully or quasi governmental body that manages supernatural stuff secretly for their country and snuffs out all of those budding apocalypses - to do a every-four decades check on their local warded sites, and eliminate some current yokai (local folkloric creatures) manifestations. The previous host of the Eater did not leave a good impression during his visit in the 1970s, though.

More seriously, a big manifestation is bubbling up, and Bob will need to contain it, with the aid of his local liaison officer.

That manifestation is centered on a theme park in Tama New Town, and will manifest as something that the book almost consistently calls Princess Kitty. (There are a couple of "Hello"s lurking, which I gather the publisher's attorneys missed in what may have been a late and rushed review.) As Stross says in his short afterword, this is the story that asks: "What if The Color Out of Space were...Pink?"

The Laundry books are often amusing, on the borderland of funny, in a buried, whistling-past-the-graveyard way; this one slots into that stream and is full of quirky little touches having to do with "Princess Kitty" and Japan in general. It is short, and entirely focused on this one short trip of Bob's, but it does just fine in its length.

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