I was listening to this on Audible, and it started off really strangely. I couldn’t get a grip on the story and frankly I gave it up and moved on to something else. So I finished Chris Moore’s A Dirty Job and I had nothing downloaded except this, so I thought what the heck, let’s put it on and grind it through till I get to a place where I can download the next read. However this time I was able to stay with the story, and more, I managed to enjoy it. I suppose the early preamble and setup took way too long and got too gnarly, but once that was out of the way Stross was able to get in on the action.
The story’s about an IT guy in a magically-inclined highly classified secret service called the Laundry, got mixed up in some shenanigans that got the upper brass to notice him, and drafted him into an otherworldly adventure. Equal parts IT nerdism, Cthulhu mythology, spell casting, James Bond-ish spy thriller, Stross throws in everything but the kitchen sink here, replete with geek references and some pretty funny moments.
There are parts which are genuinely clever. Of note is how Stross describes a basilisk’s ability to fry people at a glance (called Gorgonism), and how this ability manifesting in humans has been researched by top secret military scientists until they could weoponize it as a software uploadable to a webcam. Outrageous, but fiendishly clever.
I also loved some of the characters here, especially the protagonist’s version of M, a straight-faced no-nonsense intelligence director, hinted to be a skilled magician, and the interchanges between him and the protagonist is pretty funny. “Get out of here before I mock you.” “And as you young people would say, ‘Don’t have a cow.'” There’s also the office politics. Oh yes. Lovely bits there too.
I was semi-glad this wasn’t a wasted purchased. The book turned out to be funny, which is always a book’s saving grace where I’m concerned, and I guess if you can wade through the front parts you may like it. If you’re into IT, sf, fantasy, and spy thriller, that is.