The Annihilation Score is the latest in Charle’s Stross’s Laundry novels. As with the previous it is a mix of humor targeted at modern office practices (PowerPoint, line management, HR) with a Lovercraftian backstory (gibbering demons from another dimension, eldritch summonings) and a spy-thriller aesthetic (shadowy government intelligence agency, safe houses, codenames). The early Laundry novels worked as a deliberate pastiche of a given spy-novel sub genre (Len Deighton, James Bond) but this and the previous novel have headed in new directions. The Rhesus Chart took a stab at urban-fantasy and vampires and the Annihilation Score targets the superhero genre.
The other major departure for this book is the protagonist. The focus has shifted here from Bob Howard (the hero of the previous stories) to Mo O’Brien, the mathematician/musician who has been a key supporting character in previous stories.
I’m not sure the shift in perspective is always successful and there is a notable tendency for Mo to say things that Bob would say but append “as Bob would say” afterwards. The vampire HR office Mahri from the Rhesus Chart also returns in this new novel but I feel her character is not as well explored as it was in the previous novel.
Aside from that Stross finds some interesting targets. The current popularity of the superhero genre is touched upon but Stross also takes some side swipes at the politics of British policing (an aspect partly touched on in his Laundry novella Equoid).
Additional targets include the more misanthropic parts of popular culture including this fantastic line:
This is a propaganda operation aimed at the unreasonable ones: disturbed hero-worshiping nerd-bigots who, if they accidentally acquire superpowers, will go on a Macht Recht spree unless they’re held in check by firm guidance and a role modulate channel them in less destructive directions.
On the other side are some digs at tokenistic diversity and Mens-Rights Activists at the same time:
“So let’s see. We have a three-to-one gender profile, which is bad, but balanced against it we have one LGBT and one feminist activist, one ethnic minority, one pensioner, two youths. Which makes it almost but not exactly off-target for the team makeup you were handed by head office, but at least the poor oppressed male trolls won’t have an excuse to go all rage face because it has too many girl cooties.”
The Laundry novels are fun potboiling fiction to be taken lightly but I do feel that maybe the series is running a little thin and the coming NIGHTMARE CASE GREEN should probably best turn up soon before the characters become too overpowered.