June 8, 2012

Review: Overtime, by Charles Stross

Author: Charles Stross
Title: Overtime
Series: Laundry Files (#2.5 (2))
Publisher: Tor (June 2nd 2010)

Buy your copy: Kindle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Introduced to readers in the novels The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue, the Laundry is a secret British government agency charged with preventing dark interdimensional entities from destroying the human race.  Now, in "Overtime," the Laundry is on a skeleton staff for Christmas — leaving one bureaucrat to be all that stands between the world and annihilation by the Thing That Comes Down Chimneys. Written especially for Tor.com’s holiday season, Charles Stross’s novelette is a finalist for the 2010 Hugo Award.   Charles Stross is the Hugo-winning author of some of the most acclaimed novels and stories of the last ten years, including Singularity Sky, Accelerando, Halting State, the "Merchant Princes" series beginning with The Family Trade, and the story collections Toast and Wireless” GoodReads’ blurb

Supershort review, since this is only a novelette written for a Christmas Tor compilation, but since it’s written in one of the best universes ever (The Laundry Files, in case there was room for doubt) I had to leave a comment about it.

The Laundry started with The Atrocity Archives (my review here) and followed up brilliantly with The Jennifer Morgue (my review is here) which was a wonderful satire of good old James Bond movies.

In case you want the short-and-dirty, these novels are very geeky. It’s based on the idea that Plato’s cavern idea is very real—and if you do a lot of figures on the wall, you might get the attention of someone else who’s looking from a different spot in the cave. The “someone else” is what we usually call demons.

Since the cave is all about ideas, and the only pure language is math, then the best way to make shadow bunnies is by using math... and computers are, essentially, machines with the ability to do unearthly amounts of mathematical operations... So, basically? Your local friendly IT support guy ends up being a sorceror and demonologist, and working for the Laundry—the secret agency under Her Majesty to keep people safe from things that go bump on the day.

This story plays with the idea that the human brain is, in truth, the most complex computer of them all. So, when a lot of humans think about the same thing, and believe in the same thing... The shadows on the wall are going to be BIG. Big enough to bring something over to our reality from the “someone else’s” world.

Something that crawls down chimneys on Christmas Eve.

Bob is right out of medical leave, he’s working overtime, and it has been prophesised by the Forecast Division that the end of the world is near. What’s a guy to do, except fetch his stocking and pray that the thing with tentacles finds the pastries before it finds him?

This new instalment is short and funny. It didn’t made me laugh out loud, like previous stories in the series have, but it was a delicious twist on a very seasonal tradition. I think you’d probably be better off starting somewhere else in the series, but still—I love every single one of the Laundry titles.

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