When Stross isn’t writing some of today’s best SF, he sometimes spins tales of Bob Howard, a Mary Sue of sorts—- technogeeky secret agent in a world where events from H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction really happened. The Jennifer Morgue parodies fiction’s most famous spy while pitting Howard and associates against an eldritch horror.
Title: The Jennifer Morgue
Author: Charles Stross
British occult agent Bob Howard finds himself entangled with a billionaire’s plot to use a cthonian artifact to evil advantage.
Extras include “Pimpf,” which sends Howard into a videogame in Stross’s fun take on a familiar concept. “The Golden Age of Spying” examines James Bond, the Cold War, and the Bond Villain’s antecedents and real-life counterparts. Although a work of non-fiction, it incorporates a fictional interview with Blofeld as a means of examining what the character represents.
The premise gives Stross a license to fill his novel with every cliché and convention of the Bond canon. Indeed, it requires him to do so. The Morgue gives us the action and suspense of Bond, while maintaining an ironic distance. It also provides ample opportunities for Stross to spin geeky gags. This may not be literature for the ages (and it’s not Stross’s best), but it’s very clever, and a great read.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to tell this tale without dumping information, and Stross generally makes the exposition work. Indeed, excessive exposition marks the spy genre (remember the name of Austin Powers’ boss?). At one point, however, Jennifer Morgue breaks narrative point-of-view to explain background, and I found the chapter distracted me needlessly. Other ways exist to communicate this information.
Originality: 4/6. It’s an original mix of familiar elements.
Characterization: 5/6 Stross’s best characterization occurs when Howard, Ramona, and others share minds.
Emotional Response: 5/6. I enjoyed reading this novel. You may be shaken or even stirred.
Editing: 5/6. Stross is a superior writer. While he clearly intends the plot clichés as parody, verbal clichés sometimes creep into his writing without explanation or need.
Overall score: 5/6 If you have some background in this novel’s elements– computers, Lovecraft, Bond, or even postmodern literary theory—- you should enjoy this book.
In total, The Jennifer Morgue receives 34/42