Charles Stross open thread

by John Q on January 27, 2009

This is where anyone who wants to discuss the Laundry series, Glasshouse or anything else that got missed out in the book event can have their say.



Paul 01.27.09 at 9:04 pm

Missile Gap is a twisted little story that is at once breathtaking and deeply depressing.


-dsr- 01.28.09 at 6:35 am

Glasshouse is set some centuries after the events of Accelerando have played themselves through. At least one interstellar civilization has grown, established itself, and fallen to a war of censorship, in which redacting memories was one of the major weapons. Sometime in the post-war recovery, Charlie tells us a story about gender and power and identity with an unreliable narrator set against criminal psychologists. It’s more accessible to the casual SF reader than any of his other novels to date. (The Merchant Princes books demand commitment to a series, otherwise they would qualify.)


Charlie Stross 01.28.09 at 12:57 pm

dsr: you also missed one of the key plot questions: in a society of immortal posthumans, when it becomes necessary for some of your IPs to do terrible things, how do you punish, rehabilitate, or reconcile them with the rest of society afterwards?

(Hint: the Glasshouse was previously a rehab center for “war criminals”. Robin has done terrible things. Robin is sent inside to do what …?)


Henry 01.28.09 at 1:19 pm

_Missile Gap_ is the fictional version of Haldane’s famous dictum that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles.


ajay 01.28.09 at 3:28 pm

The afterword to “Atrocity Archive” draws a lot of thematic parallels between the Cold War spy novel and the Lovecraft horror/fantasy novel – encrypted incantations, imminent lurking horror, uncaring annihilation, secret names and secret societies and so on.

But spy novels are also structurally similar to fantasy and horror novels in one important way. At some point early on in the fantasy or horror story, the Lid Comes Off – the narrator or main character discovers that there is more to his world than is apparent. Alice goes down the rabbit hole, Frodo gets infodumped on by Gandalf, the unnamed Lovecraft narrator starts to notice strange noises down in the cellar. They move from their everyday world into the secret world. The same thing happens in a spy novel, except it doesn’t happen to a character – it happens to the reader. Generally but not always, the characters are already well aware of the secret world.

And books like “Declare” and “The Atrocity Archive” mix the two – the reader becomes gradually informed of the extent of the occult world at the same rate, more or less, that Andrew Hale or Bob Howard discover it.


LizardBreath 01.28.09 at 5:01 pm

I do wish I had more to say about the Laundry books. They’re so much fun, and I enjoy them so much that I’d like to participate in a discussion of them, but I haven’t got much substantive to bring to one.


Nick 01.28.09 at 5:21 pm

ajay #5:

There are also spy novels where the lid comes off at the end, almost like a mystery novel. I recently read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in which both the reader and the main character think they know what is going on right from the start. Towards the end, both realize that there is a deeper game.

Incidentally, TSWCIFTC also works for me as a horror story. I frequently put down the book and thought, a) thank God the cold war is over b) I am so glad I don’t live in postwar Europe. I wonder what a Laundry novel riffing on Le Carre would look like


ajay 01.29.09 at 9:45 am

7: that’s not quite what I meant by the lid coming off – the plot unfolds in an unexpected direction, sure, but the characters are all in the secret world of defectors and intelligence officers from the start.
There is a certain horror-story element to a lot of accounts of Eastern Bloc life, to be honest. You can live a relatively normal life most of the time, with the same mundane concerns that most readers in the West would have – kids, family, job, money, house – but if you say the wrong thing to the wrong person, the secret police appear in the middle of the night and take you away… somewhere. Somewhere horrible. And the best you can hope for is a tiny temporary victory before They catch up with you and you either vanish, or are driven mad (psikuska rather than cosmic horror, though the effect is much the same), or are killed with strange and horrible poisons.

A Le Carre Laundry novel, I think, would have to be set after CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, when the Old Ones have not only returned but have successfully taken over.


Alex 01.29.09 at 12:31 pm

This arose on Charlie’s blog, specifically regarding a book in which Cthulhu returns from beyond time, and everyone keeps going to work and watching baseball, but the police force is now made up of shoggoths.

Which is, of course, precisely what happened in the great worst-case scenarios of the 20th century; the worst happened and kept happening, but none of your friends seemed to notice that the city had become the bombed-out capital of a totalitarian slave state that was literally burning people by the million…

This is of course the true horror of tyranny. Doesn’t everyone else notice? How can they stand it? I am alone…


LizardBreath 01.29.09 at 12:35 pm

A Le Carre Laundry novel, I think, would have to be set after CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, when the Old Ones have not only returned but have successfully taken over.

Neil Gaiman’s written this as a Sherlock Holmes story — “A Study In Emerald”. Holmes is investigating the murder of one of the Old Ones, and accepts that they’re the legitimate rulers.


Nick 01.29.09 at 1:32 pm

Holmes is investigating the murder of one of the Old Ones, and accepts that they’re the legitimate rulers.

I guess it would be a spoiler to comment on the accuracy of this statement.


Ray 01.29.09 at 1:36 pm

It did get me wondering how well I’d remembered the story.


Doug 01.29.09 at 2:24 pm

Would it be too obvious for the LeCarré tribute in the Laundry set to be titled The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold? Call for the Dead is already a JLeC title, as are The Looking Glass War and The Night Manager, all of which could be Laundry tales. Alternatively: Tinker, Tailor, Sorcerer, Spy; Smiley’s Creatures; The R’Lyeh House.



LizardBreath 01.29.09 at 2:32 pm

11: You expected me to blow the kicker?

and 13: I love “The Looking Glass War” as a Laundry title.


ajay 01.29.09 at 2:42 pm

“The Secret Pilgrim” is also pretty Laundry-ish. How about “Absolute Fiends”? Or “The Constant Reaper”?


Alex 01.29.09 at 2:54 pm

Hey, if Charlie wrote it, it would be the LOOKING GLASS war. Which was roughly what “Missile Gap” was anyway.


Peter Wilkinson 01.29.09 at 7:49 pm

I wonder if I was supposed to find the end of Glasshouse somewhat worrying. In early to middle Heinlein, I would have read it as standard “happy ever after” – but it being Stross, it started me speculating about what was being hidden.


Jacob Freeze 01.30.09 at 6:48 am

Shouldn’t there be a little faint praise mixed in with this Festival for CT Stross:

The “ideas” in all these books are sickeningly shallow, but at least there are lots of them!

Lots of books!

Lots of sickeningly shallow “ideas!”

And now for a faint…



Doug 01.30.09 at 10:42 am

Or when he’s a grand old man of SF and due for a Heinleinesque freakout, he could write The Looking Glasshouse Merchants’ War, crossing all three settings…


Charlie Stross 01.30.09 at 11:33 am

Peter Wilkinson: I am metaphorically sitting on a proposal for a sequel to “Glasshouse”, set some 140-200 years later (when the starship everyone is stranded on reaches its destination). Won’t be ready to begin writing it before 2011 at the earliest, however, and “happy ever after” doesn’t begin to describe it. (Think more along the lines of a mashup between “Alien” and Peter Watts’ “Blindsight”.)

I’m not planning on doing a John le Carre Laundry novel, any more than I could do a Graham Greene Laundry novel; it’s too much like hard work. (I’m lazy, me … and I don’t think I’ve got the stylistic chops to go after them, either.) It’s an interesting idea, though.


ajay 01.30.09 at 1:34 pm

“Alien” was cheerful compared to “Blindsight”… I remember reading an interview with Iain Banks in which he said that someone had asked “I’ve just finished reading [title redacted due to spoilers] – does every Banks novel finish with all the characters getting killed except one?” to which he had replied “No, sometimes they all get killed.”
Peter Watts makes Banks look like PG Wodehouse. (“No, they all die, and so does EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. PAINFULLY and HOPELESSLY.”)


Doug 01.31.09 at 3:11 pm

20: “I’m not planning on doing a John le Carre Laundry novel”

Well dang. Can we do one instead?

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