The Laundry Files series
by Charles Stross
The Atrocity Archives (2004)
The Jennifer Morgue (2006)
The Fuller Memorandum (2010)
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
The Rhesus Chart (2014)
The Annihilation Score (2015)
The Nightmare Stacks (2016)
The Delirium Brief (2017)
The Labyrinth Index (to be published 2018)
It’s a mixed blessing for a fan of an author when that author has a really good series of stories that happens to be rather open-ended. There’s always the chance for another entry in the series, but you feel compelled to read them all. And there’s the problem that the stories might have a specific order in which they should be read. Miss one, and you lose a lot of background information in the next. Or the author has to keep adding annoying infodumps to fill the reader in.
With his “Laundry Files” stories (the above-mentioned novels, plus a handful of shorter works), Stross has managed to avoid those problems for the most part. While the order given is both the order of publication and the order in which the stories take place, they can be read and enjoyed separately. A couple of the later entries (Score, Stacks, Index) even center on side characters.
Speaking of which, the main character is Bob Howard, an office flunky in Britain’s secret government agency that deals with the “occult”. Thanks to being in the right place at the right time (though to Bob, it’s the wrong place and wrong time), he rises quickly through the ranks to become the de facto head of the agency.
The Enterprise is at an unspecified starbase for a little R&R, and to pick up a few new crewmembers. The character development and backstory comes to a halt when new orders come in. The USS Bowfin, a scout ship, was sent off to do an anthropological survey, and they are well past their reporting deadline. Kirk and crew are dispatched to find out what happened.
The briefing en route fills in the details of the Bowfin’s mission. The planet they went to was pretty much uninhabited, except for a large tropical archipelago. Rather uninteresting, except for some oddities that warranted a closer look.
Looks like it’s pretty much a case of Mutiny on the Bowfin. But if that’s all there is, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we.
The Taking of K-129
Copyright 2017 by the author
Those of you old enough to have lived through Ancient History may recall hearing stuff in the early 1970s about mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor. One of Howard Hughes’ companies contracted the building of a huge ship, the Glomar Explorer, to see if these nodules could actually be scooped up in any way that could possibly be practical and profitable.
Years later, it came to light that the mining operation was actually the cover story for collecting something even more valuable and outrageous: a sunken Soviet ballistic missile submarine.
The Zorba family is in a rather bad state. That day, the repo men came and collected all their furniture. There’s no indication as to the source of their financial troubles, but it doesn’t really matter. That night, while eating dinner on the floor (the repo men didn’t take their dishes or kitchenware), a telegram arrives. The father, Cyrus (Donald Woods), is being instructed to show up at the offices of attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner, in his pre “Adam-12” days).
It doesn’t look good at all.
However, once Cyrus gets there, he’s informed that his eccentric uncle Plato Zorba has died recently, and has left Cyrus and his family his house and all its contents. This is a pleasant surprise to Cyrus; he’d though Plato had died years ago. The family quickly relocates to the old mansion (conveniently furnished, and with a live-in housekeeper (played with suitable creepiness by Margaret Hamilton).
There, they find out that Uncle Plato’s eccentricities concerned the supernatural, and he had developed a method that he claimed would make ghosts visible. That would explain the weird glasses that were the only non-house item left by the will. Uncle Plato also happened to “collect” ghosts – and they shared the house with him….
Haunted or no, the Zorbas really don’t have much choice at the moment….
The Berlin Project
by Gregory Beford
Copyright 2017 by the author
“What if we had the atomic bomb a year earlier? The easiest and least expensive method of separating isotopes, a method used throughout the world today, is based on a centrifuge procedure that Harold Urey proposed in 1940. General Groves chose the diffusion method instead. Karl Cohen, Urey’s able assistant during that period, believes that Groves’ decision delayed the atomic bomb by a year.
“If Dr. Cohen is right, atomic bombs of the simple gun design might have become available in the summer of 1944 and, in that case, would surely have been used against the Nazis. Atomic bombs in 1944 might have meant that millions of Jews would not have died, and that Eastern Europe would have been spared more than four decades of Soviet domination.”
– Edward Teller, Memoirs
Benford posits that the team working on the centrifuge method got enough independent funding to fix the engineering problems they were having, and got their method chosen over the diffusion method.
This alternate history novel takes it from there, and follows the career of Karl Cohen, the lead engineer-chemist on the centrifuge project.
That Cohen happens to be Benford’s father-in-law, well….
By Edward Gibbon
Published in six volumes, 1776-1789
With commentary by Henry Hart Milman, 1846
(Project Gutenberg edition)
“It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.”
Some months ago, in a discussion of “Great Works”, a friend of mine had mentioned that she’d read Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”. Intrigued, as I was nearing the end of Durant’s “Story of Civilisation”, and looking for something to load onto my mini-tablet for further lunchtime reading, I was pleasantly surprised to find an ePub version of all six volumes available at Project Gutenberg. I quickly downloaded and installed them.
Caesar’s Last Breath
Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us
Little, Brown, and Company
(c) 2017 by the author
In the kingdom of non-fiction books, there’s a land that can be described as “commodity biographies”. Here, the authors take an item or substance of great familiarity, and write about how it has influenced and has been influenced by human history. (e.g Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky). Given air’s ubiquity, it’s kind of hard to write a biography for it. Kean’s book can be better described as a collection of independent essays that together tell a history of Earth’s atmosphere and our understanding of it.
Well, the movie is sixty years old, and it’s about something that happened four decades earlier. But just in case there’s someone out there who, no matter how improbably, has never heard of the Titanic….
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
by H.W. Brands
(c) 2005 by the author
The current president likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, choosing Jackson’s portrait to hang in the Oval Office. Jackson is going to be removed from the $20 bill, to be replaced by Harriet Tubman. All the hubbub over Jackson has many people in a lather about him; essentially he’s seen as the Anti-Christ for his slave ownership and the “Trail of Tears”.
I thought it might be a good idea, then, to read a biography of our seventh President, and learn something of what all the fuss is about.
Copyright 2016 by the author
If you were looking for someone who could explain all the ins and outs and forwards and sideways of time travel, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better writer than James Gleick. He’s previously tackled topics like chaos theory and the life and work of Richard Feynman. So a history of the idea of time travel seems like a natural subject for him to present to the average intelligent reader.
Gleick starts by taking us back in time to when H.G. Wells was penning “The Time Machine”. He discusses early drafts of the novel, and mentions some of the problems that reviewers noted – what happens if solid objects are in the space the Traveler is passing through, for one, and how do you account for the fact that the earth is both rotating and moving through space (the latter is one that time travelers always seem to forget).
From there, he moves forward in time through physicists treating time mathematically as a dimension, philosophers grappling with the concept of time, and even lexicographers trying to simply come up with a definition of the term that doesn’t wind up spinning in circles: “Time is what clocks measure”; “A clock is a device for measuring the passage of time.”