Sat Aug 31 02:22:57 PDT 2013

Review: "Apocalypse Codex" by Charles Stross (2012)

My tweet about the Apocalypse Codex

Actually, I want to expand on that.

Apoc. Cod. is a book that either needed another rewrite or a more aggressive editor, which is odd, for an author's 20th book.

Its sins are numerous. Stross has picked up an unfortunate habit of repeating himself-- SCORPION STARE is explained several times, and at many points where characters explain what's going on to other characters, instead of eliding the details, he'll actually spend a couple pages on the conversation. These recaps would be useful in a longer, more complex novel, but Apoc. Cod.'s tight structure and fast pacing work against it, (And its 336 page length) making the frequent reiterations of the plot more annoying than useful. (Plus, I powered through the whole thing in 5 hours during a car ride, which helps to keep events fresh in your mind.)

The book does have some fairly good moments, to the point where the usual in-car soundtrack of classic rock FM radio became grating, and I wished for something gloomy, sepulchral.[1] The despond is punctuated by some unfortunate attempts at soapboxing. One of the characters, much like the author, is an atheist, and by God he's gonna let you know about it.

This is ill-advised. Evangelical Christianity is best criticized by repeating their ludicrous bullshit with a straight face. (Did you know that Pat Robertson has a long list of divine revelations?) The Quiverfull ideology mentioned in the book is a real thing that actually exists. With all this rich material, having a in-universe character actually say "These people are super dumb" is redundant, bordering on jejune. We get it, dude. You don't need to have zombie missionaries smashing in the doors to get the point across.

Another problem is the hero, a computational demonologist and former IT schlub.

There's an authorial voice that's peculiar to nerds in general, and science fiction fans in particular. It shines through clearly in print in books like Fallen Angels (which contains paid-for cameos by big name fans) and the execrable Troper Tales of tvtropes, which were so bad that they've been quarantined on another site. It's distinctive as it is annoying.

When he's not actually holding a gun, Bob talks like a slashdot commenter. This is,

A.) Top notch characterization, and spot on accurate.

B.) Super, super irritating.

I found myself skimming early conversations just to avoid reading what the main character actually said, which is unhelpful for following the plot. This is another example of Stross' mania for absolute factual accuracy, which can occasionally get in the way of the story. (He emphasizes several times that the life of a spy is boring, and not at all like a Bond flick, which is troublesome when you're pretty much writing a bond flick.)

The book's okay. I guess.

1: While writing this, I discovered that Catacombs is actually a one man band, run by a fellow named Xathagorra Mlandroth. Xathagorra Mlandroth! Gosh I love funeral metal.

Posted by Samuel Bierwagen | Permanent link | File under: important, nerdery