The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

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The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A normally desk-bound government agent combines (literally) with an American equivalent to best a Bond-type baddie with global plans. This humorous sci-fi fantasy is fun, but could be better.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495705

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Flashback to 1975, and, in the middle of the Cold War, the USA is spending large on trying to raise a Soviet submarine from the bed of the Pacific Ocean. Other entities are against that idea - and I don't mean the Russians.

Flashforward to the modern day. We're not told it is the modern day, but there are enough jokes to the detriment of Microsoft and PowerPoint displays to narrow it down. Our hero, Bob Howard, is called on to use his knowledge of the worlds that exist - for the most part - outside our universe, magic, demonology, and Windows Vista to go on the trail of... well, that would be telling - and in a way that this light-on-exposition novel does not.

To carry out his task he has to work both with and against - and how! - Ramona, the sexy agent the US's Black Chamber have provided for the purpose, and the less than brilliant comrades provided by The Laundry (his headquarters, no less) - and his partner.

To go back to the exposition... Yes, Bob gets the mission details forced into his brain during a dream as blunt as you could like, but the rest of the narrative - the first person story-telling we receive from Bob - is for quite a large part up to us to work out. This I suppose adds to the thriller element of the story, but at the same time left a couple of scenes - the control of evil spirits by his comrades, hiding in wardrobes in the room next to his in the anonymous German transit hotel he starts his adventure in, for one - a bit under-described.

It is a style also that makes it less easy for us to engage with the alien and unusual than in, say, Terry Pratchett. And I only mention him because I was forced to by the post-scripted notes at the bottom of the page. I know other books use them, but none have ever surpassed the Discworld footnotes, and this is a long way short. Also, vernacular such as "double-plus ungood" is not very novel.

One area where the matter-of-fact approach is more appreciated is in the mix of sci-fi and fantasy. This is a modern world where both hacking and hexing are done through a USB port, demons and fantastic wards fight or protect, and a screen-saver will literally save you. Our hero has been approved to leave his desk-bound job to help save the world for his masters, whose equivalents all have X-Files back stories in a global effort to keep humanity protected, or quiet, or whatever the conspiracy of the week is.

This is a book that practically quotes Arthur C Clarke's adage that any technology that appears unfathomable will be deemed magical, and runs with it. It's just a bit of a lumpen run, unfortunately. I think there was a jolly adventure here; instead there were too many twists and double-crosses for my taste. The settings range from the typical (nasty man's technological headquarters) to the unusual (a nudist beach), and the story sometimes does not behave as lively as it could in touching on all such areas.

There are a few problems with the actual edition of the book, that might not concern many but I think bear mentioning. Italics are used often, only to leak one word further along the line than they should. I lost count of missing pronunciation, and ditto the use of the word "in" becoming "m". Somebody's fourth wife becomes their third, or vice versa. Quite what a "geas" is, neither I nor the internet know.

However there is a good book between these covers - one that suffers from being a little too long, a little on the uneven side as regards use of humour, and a tiny bit trying when it could have been warmly quirky and more welcoming. The style allows for humour regarding James Bond and a lot more, but I didn't feel the jokes gelled with the rest of the story as well as they could. The droll spoofing contrasted too much with the gravity of the inventive sci-fantasy world.

There certainly is a great value book between these covers, for immediately after the novel comes a bonus short story, which is perhaps even more successful for being a more compact piece of drollery, and even an essay regarding the novel's influences.

Such generosity has earned the publishers an extra half a mark on my star rating, and I thank them for giving the Bookbag a copy to sample.

Buy The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross at Amazon.com.

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