Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stross, Banks, & Sturges - Review and Thoughts

Charles Stross is one of the more prolific writers, releasing a book or two a year in each of the different series he writes, or stand-alones like Saturn’s Children. The latest wide release for Mr. Stross is The Jennifer Morgue, the review of which I posted yesterday. Mixing James Bond and Cthulhu pastiche, the book was a lot of fun, here’s part of my review:

Part of the fun of this book is reveling in the clichés Stross himself pokes fun at and uses to tell the story. Much of the early spy plot mirrors Casino Royale in that Bob Howard finds himself in a casino gambling at high stakes. However, whereas Bond is smooth, debonair, and a single ladies-man, Howard is awkward, romantically linked and can’t gamble worth a lick. When he meets up with his partner Romana, a drop-dead gorgeous American counterpart, the Bond parallels only continue, but this is where the Lovecraftian/Cthulhu elements really take hold. It turns out the titular JENNIFER MORGUE is something of a lodestone between our world and the world of the DEEP SEVEN, beings who mirror Lovecrafts Old Ones. When billionaire Ellis Billington, who does have cat much like Blofeld, hatches a plot to take the MORGUE for his own purpose, the Bond elements are in full effect.

While I’ve read, and for the most part enjoyed, some of Stross’s other fiction (Singularity Sky; Saturn’s Children; Missile Gap) this is the most over-the-top and readable book I’ve read by him. I also get the sense that Stross had a great deal of fun putting Bob Howard through the proverbial wringer in this story. The humour abounds, and one of the most entertaining aspects of the story is the use of footnotes throughout the novel that either provide additional narrative insight from Howard or provide “facts” about the world in which the story takes place.

The two books I’m reading at the moment, Consider Phlebas and Midwinter, are hitting some of the same thematic notes. Granted the Banks novel takes place in the deep reaches of space and involves strange aliens who can shift their shapes and the Sturges novel takes place in a Faerie-land with elves and talking horses…well right there you’ve got a similarity of Other places. But also, both novels can be consider capers or heist stories. I hadn’t even planned to be reading them simultaneously, so I find it kind of cool how they both work on that level. Regardless, I like both of them quite a bit so far.

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