Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Concrete Jungle

Charles Stross' overtures to the Laundry universe continue in The Concrete Jungle, joined with The Atrocity Archives (previously) to make book one of the series. Yet again we join Bob Howard, IT monkey and hapless geek-thrown-into-fieldwork-of-a-rugose-and-squamous-nature. The bon mots are frequent, the silliness is pervasive, there are blood-pumping action sequences interspersed with tedious buzzword-filled officespeak.

This novella features:
  1. smart, good-aligned nerds who are bad at bureaucratic-politics-navigating skills,
  2. technologically inept bureaucrats who shine in the paperwork-'n'-politics realm, and
  3. an eldrich explanation for why DRM won't die.
Every story seems to involve some civilians being exposed to the Real Lovecraft Underpinnings of the Universe, and thus being forcibly enrolled in the Laundry, the British government's branch that deals with suppressing and controlling the same. At this rate of expansion, it's no wonder that the bureaucracy is sprawling, inexplicably ramified, and variously inept (applying inappropriate "solutions" to nonexistent problems, or worse, to very serious and existent problems).

The idea of a bureaucracy so thorough, ruthless, and unflinching that it can execute a near-real-time paperclip audit (justifying every use and tracking each deployment) is as frightening as any of the mundane, merely Lovecraftian horrors that feature in this novella.

It is a joyful, sarcastic romp.

In the afterword/author's note, Stross goes into detail about the alignments of various elements that hummed resonantly in his brain and caused him to create this universe and its stories. I want to quote the entire thing, but I'll limit myself to this quip from p. 301:
The metafictional conceit that magic is a science has been used in fantasy --- or science fiction  --- several times. ... There is something about mathematics that makes it seem to beg for this sort of misappropriation: an image problem deeply rooted both in the way that the queen of sciences is taught, and in the way we think about it --- in the philosophy of mathematics.

This post's theme word is mumpsimus, "a view stubbornly held in spite of clear evidence that it's wrong" or "a person who holds such a view." The accountant was such a mumpsimus that he stepped into the summoning circle, even after the runes had started to glow and the scent of brimstone filled the air.

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