The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

The novel “The Annihilation Score” by Charles Stross was published for the first time in 2015. It’s part of the Laundry series and follows “The Rhesus Chart“.

For Dominique “Mo” O’Brien the problems related to her job are becoming a huge burden for her private life. Her husband is also affected because they’re both Laundry agents and this makes still living together impossible. The recent dramatic events have weakened the agency with the consequence that Mo is forced to intervene in an emergency case without adequate support and her actions are caught on camera by a television crew.

The event is just one of the growing supernatural manifestations that have as protagonists people who have acquired supernatural powers. Given the impossibility of keeping the secret, the British government decides to create a special task force that recruits new potential superheroes and fights people who use their powers against the law and appoints Mo as its head. The first supervillain they need to find is a character who calls himself Dr. Freudstein.

The Laundry series followed in the first five novels and in various short stories the adventures of Bob Howard, told in first person in his official reports. In “The Annihilation Score”, Charles Stross decided to tell the story of his wife Mo, again through her official reports.

“The Annihilation Score” begins just before the end of “The Rhesus Chart” and the two novels in some ways complement each other through the stories of the two protagonists. Initially, the Laundry stories were almost completely autonomous and mixed comedic and dramatic moments but in the latest novels Charles Stross started developing a common thread that will lead to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the code name for the return of the Great Old Ones. For this reason, the tones have become tendentially darker and there’s a horizontal plot developed through different novels.

Through Bob Howard’s comments, we already knew Mo and her very special violin, a really lethal weapon, but only the growth of Bob’s powers caused by his bond with Angleton allowed the reader to get a direct idea of that. In “The Annihilation Score” Mo’s point of view allows to develop in much greater depth her bond with the violin she nicknamed Lecter and the heavy burden it created.

However, “The Annihilation Score” marks above all the public disclosure of the existence of supernatural powers. In the Laundry’s fictional universe, supernatural is a branch of mathematics with computer applications that was kept secret for a very long time.

Charles Stross often been got inspired by other authors and characters, in this case he does that in a fairly generic way to Marvel and DC comics, with the difference that in this case the new superheroes and supervillains are not mutants but emerge as a symptom of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN approaching.

Charles Stross uses this theme to develop some elements already present in the previous Laundry stories and others. Some of them are connected directly to Mo, who suddenly finds himself literally under the world’s scrutiny and must start handling an important public image after having worked for years in absolute secrecy.

Although openly comedic moments seem to have become more rare in the Laundry stories, the satirical element in “The Annihilation Score” is more than ever important. In my opinion, the various ways in which it’s developed make it the best novel in the series from this point of view.

Charles Stross always targeted bureaucracy, especially the Laundry’s, this time he does it even more broadly throughout the novel. Mo is in charge of creating a new task force but spends most of her time in meetings with her staff and in meetings with the British government, with police chiefs and there’s a whole part about recruiting new superheroes.

Charles Stross also uses the novel’s themes to include the theme of discrimination. In the course of the novel, there are various occasions when Mo’s opinions get less consideration because she’s a woman and in some cases she’s not noticed because she’s not very young anymore. This theme includes the problem of politically correct decisions that address only the symptoms and not the causes. The British government asks Mo to create a politically correct superhero team that includes representatives of certain minorities.

My perplexities about “The Annihilation Score” are about the way Mo is depicted. In general the characters in the series have always had strengths and weaknesses and even Bob Howard is far from perfect. The problem is that Mo seems the stereotype of the woman who thinks she’s the most mature one in a relationship but only to delude herself of having the moral ground to blaming her husband for all the problems while facts show that she’s at fault.

Some problems between Mo and Bob are objective, caused by clashes of supernatural forces over which they have limited control. However, already in “The Rhesus Chart” Mo manifested an unjustified jealousy for the vampire PHANG Mhari even if Bob was only trying to save her life. When Mhari is assigned to Mo as her right arm and she reacts badly exactly because of their history, I honestly thought she brought it on herself. 😀

Reading “The Annihilation Score” I missed the deliciously geeky moments typical of the previous stories of the series and Mo doesn’t come out particularly well from the novel. She gets basically thrown to the lions finding herself in the worst possible conditions, but precisely for this reason some of her emotional reactions are particularly irrational if not petty. It’s almost paradoxical that Bob’s point of view in the previous novels shows above all Mo’s strengths while her first-person account shows her weaknesses so much.

All these elements form a novel that’s mainly character-oriented with a plot that is a bit thin. However, there are some events that are important for the series so once again there are consequences and aspects of the plot left open for the sequels. Overall, “The Annihilation Score” seemed to me not entirely successful but at this point the Laundry series readers must have all the novels in order not to lose important pieces of the bigger picture.

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