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edge staff writer


The end of the world as we know it

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The Apocalypse Codex' a fantastic, funny sci-fi spy thriller

There are a lot of science fiction series being written out there. Scores of writers churning away, assembling trilogies and quadrilogies and what have you up to and including the ominous 'open-ended' series. There's so much that it can prove tough to cut through the noise and find a series that speaks to your personal sensibilities.

Finding that series is exciting; receiving the latest book in that series even more so. Charles Stross is one of the best authors working in the genre today; 'The Apocalypse Codex' (ACE; $25.95) is the latest in his Laundry series featuring accidental paranormal secret agent Bob Howard.

The Laundry is the quasi-affectionate nickname for the shadowy organization that protects Great Britain from supernatural threats. In this world, magic operates as nothing more than a form of highly advanced mathematics; computer scientists and theoretical mathematicians are the wizards of this universe, battling constantly to keep eldritch horrors from beyond from leaking into our dimension.

In 'The Apocalypse Codex,' Howard is being considered for promotion to a management position. This leads him to be assigned to External Assets, an offshoot of the agency that focuses on using freelance contractors for tasks specifically prohibited by the rules of operation.

When charismatic religious leader Ray Schiller begins getting uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister, Bob along with freelance operatives Persephone Hazard and John McTavish finds himself once again trying to save the world without a whole lot of help from anyone. Schiller's sect is devoted to the coming End Times as described in The Apocalypse Codex. The Codex is an ancient addendum to the Book of Revelations that may also be a thinly-disguised recipe for a ritual that will awake an ancient evil.

In Bob Howard, Stross has created a seeming paradox: the everyman spy. Sure, he spends his workdays alternating between office IT work and sealing the door between our world and unending occult horror, but he also has a simple home and a wife that he loves. It's a job like any other; an important job, but just a job nonetheless. Howard is a reluctant hero, but no less courageous for that reluctance. Perhaps he's even braver because of it.

Folding aspects of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos into a Fleming-esque (though Howard would never be mistaken for James Bond) spy novel scenario would seem to be a risky proposition, but Stross has done a wonderful job in creating an inclusive, consistent world. It feels as though it were assembled both meticulously and effortlessly. It's a bizarre marriage, but one that really works.

By striking a balance between the global pressures of fighting monsters and the numbing bureaucracy of civil service, Stross mines some wonderful humor to go along with the spy novel tension and the fantasy weirdness. Again, it would seem to be an oil and water situation, but Stross makes it work.

This is the fourth full-length novel released as part of the Laundry Files (there have also been a couple of related short stories). This means that readers new to the series are increasingly removed from its beginnings. While Stross has done commendable work in creating a story that can be understood and enjoyed on its own, there's no denying that one should start at the beginning.

'The Apocalypse Codex' is typical Charles Stross. It's well-written, well-reasoned and thoroughly entertaining. Dig into the Laundry Files there's a mad joy inherent to these books that is difficult to find anywhere else.


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