Review of ‘The Labyrinth Index’ by Charles Stross


A determinedly SF take on the occult, this series novel looks at magic as data of dubious provenance that needs to be managed accordingly. Post-Cold War, a new arms race is underfoot with elder gods instead of nukes and assorted uncanny agents employed in a Great Game of vampires, superheroes and undying psychopathic entities. The latter are particularly well-realised, my favourite being an inhuman prime minister who Gets Things Done, even though they’re awful. One could almost hope… But no, that would be wrong.

My issues with the book can be summed up by the title. There is no labyrinth. There is no index. It’s a cool name that has nothing to do with the story. Similarly, a large chunk of backstory and side observations don’t either, and the author uses verbal clichés too much for such an original thinker. It’s not that I mind loads of left-field erudition, it’s what I like about Charles Stross’s work; I just wanted more of the vampire agent on the ground, dealing with real world problems like sunlight when her vehicle is ambushed, and fewer government meetings.

Much of the plot is taken up with planning, and moving characters into place as they try to prevent Cthulu from turning the inner planets into a Matrioshka brain like the one in Accelerondo. As many jokes hit as don’t, while the idea of the US simply forgetting the President exists is a good take on the current vileness in the White House. The spy elements of the story are as solidly researched and lovingly imagined as you would expect, and while James Bond is ironically referenced as being too fantastic for the world of the Laundry, the book would have benefitted from Ian Fleming’s uber-tight storytelling (minus the dodgy shit obvs) and the way the films it inspired just get stuck straight in.

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