The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, #4)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

There’s an American preacher reaching up to Number 10 and getting much deeper than he should. The Laundry are worried, so they send (the long-suffering) Bob Howard to investigate. Well, they send some other people and send Bob to keep an eye on them. I guess he’s finding out who watches the watchers.

We find out more about the Laundry in the fourth book in Stross’s series, and there are revelations about Bob including fallout from the last book (The Fuller Memorandum) and a bit of a jaw-dropping ending (not to mention the worrying sight of an Auditor smiling).

This book wasn’t nearly as dark as its predecessor. It had some disturbing images (maternity/spinal injury unit, I’m looking at you!), but nothing along the lines of what happens in the previous volume. I’m very glad of that, although I still think that as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN approaches, I may find the books harder to read (post-apocalyptic fiction isn’t really something I like).

This book did continue a trend started in the Fuller Memorandum of it not all being told in the first person. Stross (and Bob) acknowledge that it’s sometimes useful to be able to tell things from other points of view, and this is acknowledged at the outset of this volume of ‘Bob’s memoires’. Following the end of this book, I think this is something we’ll probably see more of this to come, as Bob leaves the everyman sphere that made him such a great narrator as part of his rise up the management tree.

Cameos from Pinky and Brains are present and correct, and this book’s gadget is a bit of a doozy (even if I don’t think it gets nearly enough use).

So still spy-fi-ish, but as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN looms and the loonies and cultists (sorry, tautology) come out to play, the books are getting steadily darker in tone. Still very enjoyable, if not as much fun as they have been.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356500980
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2012

The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files, #3)

By Charles Stross

Rating: 4 stars

Bob Howard’s not having a good time of it. A routine exorcism goes wrong; cultists are running around London, attacking him and his wife; his boss has disappeared; and he’s been seconded on to yet another committee. But at least he’s got a decent manager at the moment (following the demise of his last one).

The third Laundry novel is much darker than its predecessors, with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN starting to come to the fore, and much nastier scenes, including cannibalism and child sacrifice. It’s all relevant and you never get the impression that Stross is throwing stuff in purely to shock, but still, it does come as a bit of a shock to the system after the somewhat lighter hijinx of the previous novels.

The plot seemed a bit looser as well; I was able to guess the two big plot twists before they happened (which is unusual for me, I never see them coming), but this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book. Bob is still a great wise-cracking, Emacs-loving geek protagonist, and the supporting cast are all present and correct. Mo gets slightly scarier in each book, we get revelations about Angleton and a cameo from Pinky and Brains.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and sit in a corner and try not thinking too hard to do my bit to help prevent CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841497709
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Down Among the Dead Men (Forest Kingdom, #3)

By Simon R. Green

Rating: 2 stars

A decade ago, the Darkwood rose up and threatened to swallow the Forest Kingdom. It was driven back, but with great loss. Now a fort built on the border of the kingdom has gone silent and a small group of Rangers are sent to investigate, finding an evil more ancient than the demons of the Darkwood.

I didn’t really notice the author of this book when I bought it, just caring that it sounded vaguely interested and was the right size to fit into my pocket, but Simon R. Green is known as a horror writer, and I’m not a horror fan by any means. However, after reading it, although there is horror here, it’s very visual horror. It’s not the long drawn-out horror that can leave you uneasy for weeks afterwards, but the splatter-horror of the cinema. If this book had been a film, it would be gory and there would be a few ‘jump’ moments, but because I don’t have a particularly visual imagination when I’m reading, I only smiled wryly at the column of blood that erupted when a trapdoor was opened, for example.

The story was okay, albeit not hugely original, and the magic system was infuriatingly vague and unsatisfying. The characters were just sketches, with only Sergeant McNeil, the leader of the Rangers, getting any filling out at all. An enjoyable enough way to spend a few hours but utterly unmemorable.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575056206
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 1993

Collected Ghost Stories

By M.R. James

Rating: 4 stars

This is a complete collection of James’ ghost stories and although it’s not a big book, it took me quite a long time to finish it, since I was reading it slowly, just one or two stories at a time as I was finding some of them actually quite creepy. Most of them now just feel like period pieces with a twist at the end, but some, particularly the early ones, still have a distinct power to them.

These do feel distinctly old-fashioned, you can imagine sitting around James’ fire in his rooms at Cambridge in the early decades of the last century listening to these stories, with the goosebumps rising on your arm. Enjoyable but has to be sampled slowly.

Book details

ISBN: 9781853268397
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
Year of publication: 1931

The Small Assassin

By Ray Bradbury

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short horror-themed stories and despite the fact that I’m not normally a horror person, I really rather enjoyed it. Bradbury’s horror isn’t that of blood and guts, it’s the horror of the mundane with a twist, the familiar suddenly made horribly strange. From a mother whose fear of her baby may be well-founded or may be post-natal depression to the man who believes he’s dead, but falls in love.

Written with Bradbury’s trademark flair and thoughtfulness this isn’t a book that will cause nightmares but it will make you think.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450015625
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1962

Monsters (Isaac Asimov’s Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction #8)

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 3 stars

This is an anthology about, um, monsters. Big monsters, small monsters; monsters with teeth, psychological monsters; alien monsters, human monsters; monsters of all shapes and sizes. Some of the stories were fun, some were disturbing, but it’s a good collection and the theme works well.

Book details

ISBN: 9780451154118
Publisher: Signet
Year of publication: 1988

The Shadow Over Innsmouth And Other Stories Of Horror

By H.P. Lovecraft

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of short stories by Lovecraft ending with the titular novella. The stories are interesting but they have, however, lost their terror over the years as they have been copied and parodied. I very much enjoyed the collection though, especially The Colour out of Space and the titular The Shadow over Innsmouth.

Book details

ISBN: 9780590045438
Publisher: Scholastic Book Services
Year of publication: 1944

I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson

Rating: 4 stars

This is an SF novel about vampires. Robert Neville is the last man alive, yet not alone: everybody else has been turned into vampires. By day he hunts them and by night he hides in his fortified house.

This is an excellent book, dealing with the psychology of loneliness and the fight to survive. The scientific explanation of vampirism may not entirely convince, but that’s not really the point of the story. The conclusion is both inevitable and startling. Highly recommended.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857988093
Publisher: Millenium
Year of publication: 1954

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