Review: The Nightmare Stacks by @cstross

The latest Laundry Files novel delivers the Stross cocktail of commentary on modern work environment and a pastiche of SFF tropes wrapped up in what can sometimes feel like a Terrance Dicks 1970s Target Doctor Who novelisation (and I mean that in a good way) of John Le Carre trying his hand at urban fantasy.

The earlier Laundry novels focussed on Bob Howard in a series of spy-genre pastiches with a Lovecraftian back-story and wry comments. The more recent novels have dropped the spy pastiche but instead looked at tropes of other genres (urban fantasy vampires, superheroes). The last two novels have pushed Bob to one side for a sound reason – his inevitable career path has led him into senior management and the tone of the series has better suited the voice of the person lower down the org-chart trying to make sense of the absurdities of their orders.

Instead of Bob, we have Alex Schwartz – a former banking quant, who accidently became a vampire through one overly clever financial manoeuvre (in the earlier Rhesus Chart). Nerdier than even Bob, Alex is an introverted mathematician struggling with his new problematic condition and beset with worry about how to explain to his parents that he is not only a vampire but has left his lucrative banking job to become a low-paid civil servant.

Really a book of two halves – the first a mix of Laundry style machinations disguised as busy work that is now its own genre, with a light touch of paranormal romance (he’s an introverted vampire, she is literally a manic* dream** pixie*** girl). The second part is more action thriller as events get more out of control then they ever have before – paving the way for the Laundry files big story arc CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

As with the last novel (The Annihilation Score) the story suffers a bit from trying to project a distinctly different voice than Bob Howard’s but Stross barrels over those issues by keeping up the pace.

The book ends suddenly but brilliantly. Not the best Laundry novel but will satisfy your Laundry cravings for the time being 😉

*[or rather, psychopathic]

**[or rather, interdimensional]

***[or rather, scary elf-being]

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11 comments

  1. thephantom182

    Mr. Stross is insufficiently edited. He’s done some books I liked, particularly Iron Sunrise. The first couple of Laundry books were ok, even if the metaphysical assumptions left me a bit disproving.

    But lately, his editor has been allowing him to get up on his hobby horse and just whip it to death, which is un-entertaining. Message-fic, with not enough fic in it. If I want a harangue I’ll just look at the Web. No shortage of scolds willing to rage for free.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I literally can’t think of any examples Phantom. OK – I can think of ONE example in the Nightmare Stacks and its a big one but its right at the end very well done, actually believable, doesn’t discuss the right/wrongs of the topics and you haven’t read the book anyway, so you can’t be referring to it.

      Is this just a standard paragraph you repeat about any left-leaning author because you think it might be true? Or, do you want to talk about a specific Stross book?

      Which was the last book you read by Stross? An actual discussion of what you didn’t like would be actually interesting rather than you reading from the teleprompter.

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      • thephantom182

        “Is this just a standard paragraph you repeat about any left-leaning author because you think it might be true?”

        Why on Earth would I bother with something like that? How idiotic.

        I’ve read most of the Laundry books. The last one where the main character ends up on Mahogany Row irritated me. I don’t like stories where main characters are disloyal. It’s a quirk of mine. Disloyalty is for Bad Guys, the Good Guys don’t do that. Plus he killed off the old demon character to no particular purpose, which was stupid as well. Demonic gateway made with an Arduino? By accident? And it kills the biggest badass in the whole place? Come on.

        Other than that, Stross is what some refer to as a militant atheist. It isn’t enough that he gets to believe what he wants, everybody else has to believe what he wants as well. Irritating.

        I don’t object to atheists per se, but I will not pay money to be told off for page after page about it. No different at all from John C. Wright banging on about Catholicism. It’s boring, and Stross does it quite a bit in the later Laundry books.There’s one where the character visits the USA. If you cut all the atheism bullshit and America hatred out of it, the page count would drop by a third. Can’t recall the title, I did a lot of skimming. Atheism, flip flip, fat Americans flip flip, torture flipflipflipflip, more atheism, more flipping… etc.

        The books would have been vastly improved by a freely wielded red pencil, trimming the ranting to one paragraph per instance. Hence, my point.

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      • Mark

        I’m not quite sure how you write Lovecraftian fiction without mentioning that the premise requires that all world religions be totally wrong.
        The US-set book is The Apocalypse Codex, which does strongly satirise elements of US religious culture, but no more so than he has satirised UK politics, or bureaucracy, or banking, or policing, or Bond Movies…
        Stross is, if not a satirist, then someone who lets a strong sense of satire into his books, but it’s pretty much equal opportunity satire. He does it with a very strong authorial voice, which I suppose you could edit into the ground, but at this point he has a strong fan base that read his books for that voice, so what editor with an eye on making money would do that?

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      • thephantom182

        “…so what editor with an eye on making money would do that?”

        One who wanted to expand Stross’ fanbase and make even more money. If the Harry Potter books had contained extended screeds on the subject of anything Rowling herself feels strongly about, would they have sold the same way? Nope.

        Stross used to be well edited. Now, he isn’t.

        “I’m not quite sure how you write Lovecraftian fiction without mentioning that the premise requires that all world religions be totally wrong.”

        Monster Hunter International is Lovecraftian fiction that does not require all world religions be wrong. One of the best things Correia does in that series is nuke Cthulhu. Twice. So far.

        Somebody succumbs to Cthulhu, that’s not particularly uplifting or edifying. Somebody shoots Cthulhu in the face, that I’m interested in.

        One of the problems with The Laundry, IMHO, is the construction of that world. Everything is evil, evil always wins eventually, there’s no point it fighting it, the characters just do so out of habit with no hope of salvation or victory. That breaks the story. People don’t act that way.

        As well, there is the Strossian insouciance of the MC. That guy never has his shit together, he falls from one frying pan to another. It breaks the story. I’m having to suspend my disbelief much too hard.

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  2. Mark

    What struck me was that the finale read like a Tom Clancy-style technothriller, which is not a mode that I’ve seen Stross do before, but he did with great intensity. (And seeing it applied to Lovecraftian monsters repurposed as artillery was absolutely unique!)
    Some friends of mine thought the ending was too abrupt, but I thought it worked – it was totally consistent with Cassie’s arc for her to do .

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