Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Rhesus Chart Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Rhesus Chart
by Charles Stross

The Rhesus Chart is the fifth novel in the Laundry Files, a collection of novels and short stories about The United Kingdoms paranormal defence and espionage agency. (Go here for the first volumes.) The series follows Bob Howard, a hapless geek turned secret agent when he accidentally encountered Non-Euclidian cosmic horrors when developing software. Over the course of the preceding books Bob learns fieldcraft, masters magic, becomes partially Hungry Ghost, and begins to navigate the terrors of government bureaucracy and the secret Management of Mahogany Row. He also gets married to a Agent CANDID, the sometime philosopher and wielder of a Erich Zahn original Violin, a terrible weapon of eldritch destruction. In the Rhesus Chart, Everyone knows that Vampires don't exist, at least until Bob Howard uncovers evidence of them feeding on the public while surfing the Nation Health Services database. Now it is up to him to uncover the ancient evil lurking in the Banking Industry before the problem spreads further. 

Oh, and he adopts a cat. 

The Rhesus Chart is basically my ideal easy-reading kind of book. The novel, and really the Laundry Files series in general, is this balanced, tight reading experience. The cosmic horror and espionage core of the plot is suitably creepy and suspenseful and makes The Rhesus Chart an exciting read. The novel also has an infectious sense of fun: the wry humour of Bob Howard and the absurdist madness of Rube Goldberg bureaucracy provide a pleasant counterpoint to the novels more serious elements. Critically, The Rhesus Chart is also a very clever novel. Lurking below the genre action and jokes is a sharp intellect manifesting itself in the uncannily plausible portrayal of magic as a consequence of advanced mathematics and in the meticulously logical mundane elements of the plot. Also, the idea of vampires, which we all know don't exist, appearing from within the investment banking industry is endlessly delightful. Basically the Rhesus Chart is kind of like the novel equivalent of fancy ice cream for me: it's decadent and appeals to my reading sweet tooth, but still has enough complexity of flavour and craft to satisfy my more mature literary palette. The Rhesus Chart just makes me really happy, you know, in a tragic disquieting kind of way. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who reads at least five genre novels a year. Or rather, I would recommend the Laundry Files series, since the books are very much best read in the order intended. These books are positively geeky and a fusion of many familiar genre elements and make a great fun but smart alternative to build into a reading schedule. They are my injection of manic excitement and glee between more stodgy and traditionally rigorous fare and I suspect they might be able to work their indescribable, horrific magic on you as well.

The Laundry Files Novels
The Atrocity Archives
The Jennifer Morgue
The Fuller Memorandum
The Apocalypse Codex

Other Stross Novels
Accelerando and Glasshouse
Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood
Halting State and Rule 34
The Merchant Princes Series (Novels 1-6/1-3)
The Rapture of The Nerds

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