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The end approaches - 'The Nightmare Stacks'

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Stross's newest another fine installment of the Laundry Files

I'll say this right off the top Charles Stross's 'Laundry Files' books might well be my favorite sci-fi/fantasy/speculative series currently going.

It achieved that spot through chronicling the adventures of Bob Howard, IT guy-turned-paranormal espionage operative working for a government organization tasked with preventing magic from bleeding into everyday life and basically ending the world.

He was surprisingly busy.

However, the adventures of Mr. Howard have taken a back seat in the last two books, allowing other members of the Laundry to take center stage and further expand this beautifully constructed and wonderfully weird world Stross has given us.

The latest is 'The Nightmare Stacks' (Ace, $27). This book follows a relatively new operative named Alex Schwartz, a young man who was brought into the fold after his work in merchant banking led him to discover an algorithm that, well, turned him and his colleagues into vampires.

The Laundry is in desperate need of new headquarters, so Alex is dispatched to Leeds to investigate the viability of converting an old bunker located there into a usable HQ. The only trouble is that his parents live in Leeds and they have some questions about his job (the one he doesn't have anymore) and his girlfriend (the one he made up to get them to leave him alone about it) and he can't tell them about conceal his unusual 'condition' from them as well.

Wellthat's not the only trouble. There's also the fact that a race of elfin warrior-mages from another dimension has been decimated by a war with tentacled eldritch horrors and is looking for a new place to call home. They've decided that our world is just the ticket.

Further complicating things is Alex's budding relationship with a young drama student named Cassie, a woman whose surface weirdness is nothing compared to the bizarre secret that she's concealing one that might wind up putting our entire universe in peril.

So, Alex must find a way to make both his duty and his romance work despite being woefully underqualified to do either or else life as we know it will come to an end. No pressure.

Part of what has made the Laundry Files such an effective series is the narrative flexibility displayed by Stross. The first books were about the bumbling advances of Bob Howard, but one cannot remain a bumbler forever and still retain our interest. So, rather than leave Bob in a state of uninteresting stasis, Stross has shifted his focus onto other characters existing in this world.

In Alex, we have a sort of Bob 2.0, a social misfit thrust into a world beyond his understanding with little warning and even less preparation. Meanwhile, in the background, the nature of the work itself the interdimensional magical threats is accelerating, meaning that there's little time for any sort of methodical and/or gradual training. It's sink or swim with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.

However, what really makes these books stand out is the human element (or in Alex's case, the 'human' element). 'The Nightmare Stacks' is yet another finely-crafted example of the unique blend of workplace comedy, bureaucratic red tape and magical mayhem upon which Stross has built this entertaining series.

As the story has expanded particularly in the last three books it seems clear that Stross is moving toward his endgame with regards to the Laundry. The size and scope of events is growing with each subsequent installment. It appears much to the sad resignation of series fans such as myself that the end is in sight.

'The Nightmare Stacks' is yet another phenomenal offering from Charles Stross, whose blend of humorous and horrifying is essentially unequaled. If you haven't read the Laundry Files books, then it is definitely time to start. If you have, you're in for a real treat with this one.

And rest easy while the end would appear to coming, it isn't here yet.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:43

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