The novel “The Jennifer Morgue” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2006. It’s the sequel of the stories included in “The Atrocity Archives“.
In the depths of the oceans there’s a very ancient civilization that could wipe out human beings with no problem. During the Cold War the Soviets tried to seize a weapon produced by abyssal creatures but their submarine was sunk and the Americans were unable to retrieve it.
A billionaire who made his fortune selling software complete with magical extensions wants to get his hands on the lost weapon and the Laundry assigns Bob Howard to the mission of stopping him. To work with him there’s an agent only apparently human from the American equivalent of the Laundry and Bob isn’t sure that she has the same goals as him.
After the success of “The Atrocity Archive” and “Concrete Jungle” Charles Stross gives us another adventure of the occult secret agent Bob Howard. You can read “The Jennifer Morgue” independently: obvioulsy various references will be lost but nothing fundamental. In fact, in “The Jennifer Morgue” it’s widely explained how in this narrative universe magic is nothing but an extension of physics and mathematics that is treated rigorously from a pseudo-scientific point of view, as in a hard science fiction novel rather than a fantasy or horror.
In “The Jennifer Morgue” more than ever there are references to H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos in particular, although in this case the existence of ancient creatures isn’t known only to some people who might have gone mad because of their discoveries but to all world governments, which keep their existence hidden to the population.
In 1974 there was actually a Project Azorian, erroneously reported by the press as Project Jennifer, a code name that identified a CIA project to recover a Soviet submarine sunken in the Pacific Ocean in 1968. In Charles Stross novel the submarine contained a weapon far more dangerous than the nuclear missiles it actually had.
Bob Howard, who was introduced as an anti-James Bond, acts like the famous agent 007, although the car he has to drive is a Smart, even if equipped with very special gadgets. At the same time Bob keeps his skills as a geek already admired in previous stories and the result is a pastiche of these elements, shaken, not stirred.
The result is different from “The Atrocity Archive”, which introduced the fictional world of Bob Howard and described his first experiences as a field agent. By the start of “The Jennifer Morgue” Bob Howard has become quite an expert, even if at the beginning of a mission he never really knows what kind of dangers he’s going to face.
“The Jennifer Morgue” focuses more on action than on the protagonist’s thoughts compared to “The Atrocity Archive”. There’s still the strong geek influence which among other things brings Bob Howard to face the hidden dangers of PowerPoint presentations and to understand why so many users of Apple products are such fanboys. Overall, it’s also more light-hearted than the previous novel, despite the sources of inspiration and the fact that dramatic moments are however present.
Of course the better you know H.P. Lovecraft stories, James Bond movies and computer science the more you can enjoy this novel. Given the continuous references to these topics I can say that in “The Jennifer Morgue” there’s more style than substance. In fact the point of the novel lies in putting together elements of works as diverse as the Cthulhu Mythos and James Bond, all with the constant geek references.
As a bonus at the end of the novel there’s the short story “Pimpf”, where Bob Howard has to mentor a Laundry rookie trying to save him from the dangers hidden in role-playing games but also within the agency.
As a second bonus there’s Charles Stross article “The Golden Age of Spying”, which contains amongst other things a pseudo-interview with Ernst Blofeld, James Bond’s arch enemy and head of SPECTRE.
“The Jennifer Morgue” is a good novel, accompanied by two discrete bonuses but just as I did with “The Atrocity Archives” I recommend it especially to geeks, who presumably have the knowledge needed to understand the references and have fun reading it.