So I stopped reading these after the Jennifer Morgue. Not really… consciously stopped. But I just never got around to reading the next one because tJM annoyed me, and there was always something better about, or Stargate. But I have borrowed books three to five from someone who assures me that they get better after tJM, so I shall trust.
So far, he appears to be correct*.
The thing that really got on my nerves in tJM was the main character’s smugness. And I know there was a good plot-reason for him to be smug (there really was) but it didn’t stop him being… really really irritating with it. And he really shouldn’t be smug; the female lead is so very much more competent than he is. So is the supporting lady. He sort of… bumbles from crisis to crisis but in a lead-charactery sort of way, and then smarms a bit. It’s insufferable. Okay, also, he’s computer-nerd smug, and my time talking to at least one CompSci has left me with an autopilot set to “judge and mock”. Not my fault. Anyway. The smugness is mostly gone in The Fuller Memorandum. I mean, Bob is still insufferable, but not so much that it gets in the way of things. Female-lead Mo also gets a few snippets of excellence that slightly balance things out. So Stross has toned down what I really didn’t like… and the rest of it has been left the same.
I really do like the Lovecraftian/spy crossover he’s got going on. Especially in a modern English setting. There’s something utterly fantastic about the juxtaposition of petty HR grumbles, tutting and eye-rolling, occasional espionage and cthuloid horrors. I’m not sure exactly why, but… un-drama is brilliant. Stross undercuts anything potentially OTT with snidey comments or sarcasm or nerd-jokes, and it contrasts so much with such a lot of other SFF. It’s like Pratchett, I guess. Anything that could potentially take itself too seriously? Nope, have a pun. But somehow the seriousness is there anyway, still, just lurking underneath. And doubly so with the horror slant Stross has going on.
The only downer I really have on tFM is that Angleton plays much less of a part. He is by far my favourite character (I do tend to like the older, knowledgeable posh-English characters – see also Nightingale in Aaronovitch – and this is no exception) and the books suffer without his presence. He’s the actually competent and mysteriously knowledgeable counterpoint to Bob’s smug but not that competent or knowledgeable lead, and serves as the curator of all exposition when need be, which is always the best role to have. And y’know, mega sorcery powers. That’s a plus-point too. Oh and telling Bob off. And calling him “boy” like he’s a 1920s schoolmaster with a naughty pupil. He’s never been fully in a starring role like Bob or Mo have in the other books, but he’s even more absent in this one, and I definitely felt it. Hopefully the next book will rectify that. We did, though, get a bit of exposition about who he actually is, beyond “mysterious civil service sorcerer whom all shall fear”, which went some of the way to making up for it.
The other thing tFM did better than tJM is maintain a sensible plot pace. I definitely felt in tJM, and to some extent in tAA, that there was a sudden rush to the plot climax near the end. Instead of everything falling neatly into place, it was more as though Stross were going “here! HAVE ALL THE THINGS QUICKLY QUICKLY MUST REACH THE END! Don’t drop any of this sudden new information QUICKLYYYY!”, which is slightly frustrating. I don’t like having to skim back a couple of pages in the flurry of plot completion to check what the heck is going on. tFM definitely avoided that, and handled the split perspectives of the ending much more calmly than its predecessors. There’s still plenty of excitement, but you don’t get the sense that a tonne of new information has been lobbed at your head just in time for you to get to the conclusion.
All in all, it could have done with more Mo and more Angleton (and definitely more Pinky and Brains, who were nearly entirely absent and who are fantastic), but other than that, it resolved a lot of the problems I had with the previous books, and continued to do all the good things they were already doing. Definitely going to carry on reading.
*He also lent me Babylon 5, which is so far excellent, so I’m not sure why I’m doubting judgement on this one. I may post about Babylon 5 when I finish it too, actually… which at my current rate will probably be next week.