The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
The novel “The Apocalypse Codex” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2012. It won the Locus Award for the fantasy category. It’s part of the Laundry series and follows “The Fuller Memorandum“.
Bob Howard survived a series of more or less apocalyptic events while he was in the service of the Laundry. For this reason, he’s sent to a course of managemente and leadership needed for the type of work he’ll have to perform after he gets promoted within the organization.
In his new role, Bob has to investigate Raymond Schiller. a tele-evangelist the Laundry consider too interested in the British Prime Minister. He must act as a liaison between the organization and Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish, two external “consultants” who sometimes do the dirty work for the Laundry. When the three of them get stuck in the USA isolated from any help, as usual Bob must improvise to avoid the apocalypse.
For the previous novels in the series of the room, Charles Stross got inspired by the style of various writers. In “The Apocalypse Codex” it’s Peter O’Donnell’s style and in particular the source of inspiration is his heroine Modesty Blaise, who is the basis for the character of Persephone Hazard.
Initially, the novels of the series were narrated in the first person from the point of view of Bob Howard. “The Fuller Memorandum” already contained some parts narrated in the third person and in “The Apocalypse Codex” the change is even greater. These novels contain memories of the protagonist but this latest one is only partially that. Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish are in fact the co-protagonists and the parts of the story centered on them are narrated in the third person.
The various Laundry novels tell autonomous stories but are still part of a big story arc. Each new story contains references to the previous ones and new details about the Laundry and some characters such as Angleton are revealed. For this reason, the best choice is to read the whole series.
In “The Apocalypse Codex”, Bob Howard is a veteran of the Laundry, which means that he survived a series of magical attacks which sometimes included creatures from other worlds. His expertise in the field of computer science is helpful because in the fictional universe created by Charles Stross magic is an extension of the physical and mathematical sciences so spells can be written as computer programs.
Because of this pseudo-science vision of magic, I’ve always considered the Laundry series as science fiction although this novel won the Locus Award in the fantasy category. Just as in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, in this series you can see elements belonging to various genres so it can be considered a mix of them.
Bob Howard’s successes as a Laundry field agent haven’t gone unnoticed and as a result his career within the organization is advancing. For this reason, he got involved in activities related to magic would be proposed to join the Laundry. This is the kind of proposal that you can’t refuse but in “The Apocalypse Codex” Bob discovers that there are exceptions.
Persephone Hazard McTavish and Johnny are “external assets”, meaning they are two persons working in the world of magic but not part of the Laundry. That allows them to carry out non-official operations and the organization to be able to deny any connection with them, especially if there are negative consequences.
Bob Howard is appointed to act as liaison between the Laundry and the two “consultants” in the investigation of a tele-evangelist whose activities appear to be connected to magic. Needless to say, something goes very wrong and as a consequence the three of them end up being isolated in the USA and can only use their skills to save themselves and to prevent an apocalypse.
In “The Apocalypse Codex” the tone is rather dark, as in the previous novel. There are still funny moments with the geek references typical of this series. Those who work in the field of computer science can only admire the Bob Howard’s idea to use an alien parasite to try a man-in-the-middle attack.
In my opinion, in “The Apocalypse Codex” Charles Stross has found an excellent balance between the dramatic moments and funny ones. In the earlier novels he tended to have more geek moments than dramatic ones and this could make the reading difficult at times. From this point of view, the quality of the stories is improved by making the reading more fluid, also thanks to a faster pace, and accessible to anyone who is not an IT system manager while retaining some geek elements.
“The Apocalypse Codex” also contains new information not only on the Laundry but also on its American equivalent, the Black Chamber. The story is set largely in the USA and that gives Charles Stross the opportunity to further explore the relationships between the two agencies. The fact that the threat is centered on a church that professes a variant of Christianity allows the author to do other considerations about religion, generally not exactly positive. Don’t say you didn’t get warned!
Personally, I find that the Laundry series gets better with each new novel. The quality semmed to me was already high in the past, “The Apocalypse Codex” in my opinion is really excellent and is absolutely a must-have for all the people who have read the previous novels.