Novel Review: The Jennifer Morgue

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

ISBN: 1-930846-45-2

Available from and


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.

High Point:

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.

Low Point:

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.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. It’s an original mix of familiar elements.

Imagery: 5/6.

Story: 5/6.

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

4 replies on “Novel Review: The Jennifer Morgue”

  1. who??
    Never even heard of this guy… but the review says enough that I might just swing by the library! After reading the Song of Ice and Fire stuff I’m itching for some more sci-fi.

      • Re: who??

        Never even heard of this guy…

        If you search his name at our site you’ll find reviews of most of his novels. I recommend Singularity Sky and Glasshouse in particular. If you want to read the Bob Howard stuff, start with The Atrocity Archives.

        I just picked up the Jennifer Morgue from the library and read a few chapters… good so far.

    • Re: who??

      Never even heard of this guy… but the review says enough that I might just swing by the library! After reading the Song of Ice and Fire stuff I’m itching for some more sci-fi.

      I hadn’t either, but a couple of his books (notably Icehouse) got really good reviews in the early issues of Locus in 2006, and I ordered a couple, read them, fell in love, and have hunted down everything else he’s written.

      "The Merchant Princes" series is probably my least favorite — in particular, his American main character often sounds terribly British. But everything else has been great (and I’m still buying the Merchant Princes series, too).

      I’m a huge Iain [M] Banks fan, and Stross reminds me a bit of him, especially in terms of his politics. Another Scottish SF author who’s even more like Banks who I’d never heard of is Ken MacLeod. He is also amazing, and well worth tracking down.

      If you don’t follow Locus, you’re probably missing out (and saving lots of money). They have a website at, but the real meat is in the articles. Locus is where you find out who’s sold what book to what publisher, what’s being published when, who did various things to other authors at what convention, and get really excellent, in-depth reviews of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

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