The Laundry is here

On Thursday I received ‘The Laundry‘ in the post. The announcement came back in March so I was really excited to get the book in the post this week. I have now spent a few hours reading it (all but most of the rules – which is another flavour of BRP, familiar to any CoC player). The game is based on Charles Stross’ Laundry Files – which is a series of novels set in a world where fighting unseen menaces from beyond our universe is left to a civil service department not dissimilar to MI5.

“The books are Lovecraftian spy thrillers. The best elements from both genres are thrown together with a sprinkling of long lost Nazis, terrorist cultists, other foreign governments wanting a piece of the action, as well as Her Majesty’s Civil Service.” added Cubicle 7’s Angus Abranson.

The Laundry is a branch of the British secret service, tasked to prevent hideous alien gods from wiping out all life on Earth. Players take the part of Laundry agents, cleaning up the mess after things go wrong or, sometimes, even managing to prevent the manifestation of ultimate evil. Agents have access to the best equipment they can get their superiors to approve, from Basilisk Guns to portable containment grids to a PDA loaded up with Category A countermeasure invocations.

I’ve only read “The Atrocity Archives” so far in the Laundry series (I’ve also read Glasshouse and Accelerando by Stross – they’re more straight sci-fi – the former very similar to Culture novels, the latter very cyberpunk. Both great.)
so I’ve added “The Jennifer Morgue” and “The Fuller Memorandum” to my Amazon wishlist. I’ll be taking The Atrocity Archives with me on my trip to Paris – Lord knows there’s going to be a lot of downtime.

If you’re not sure if you’ll like them, then you can get a taster with some of the Laundry short stories.

Overall, it seems enchantingly similar to Delta Green but without the feeling of hopelessness that comes from being mostly alone in a universe that is cold, dark and hostile. It’s gotten me interested again.

The Final Frontier. No, really.

Ian Sales writes on his blog:

And sometimes those imaginations run a little too free. A lot of science fiction is set in outer space, or on worlds which orbit other stars. Or, indeed, other types of celestial objects, both natural and artificial. In these stories, much of the difficulties associated with space travel are blithely ignored. Spaceships magically travel out of gravity wells. Spaceships magically provide interior gravity. Spaceship hulls magically protect occupants from all manner of spaceborne hazards. And, of course, spaceships magically travel unimaginable distances within days or weeks.

As Sir Arthur Eddington, an astronomer, said, “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine”. And yet sf writers seem content to refight historical wars in some sanitised and romanticised and safe imaginery place which is supposed to resemble the universe around us. They’re ignoring the unimaginable strangeness and the mind-boggling vastness of it all. They turned the Orion Arm into a shopping mall, and the Milky Way into Smallville. They’ve taken the wonder out of the real universe.

It’s time to put it back. Please.

My reply:

There’s a non-sequitur here that adding interstellar travel to a setting takes the wonder out of the universe?

Is science-fiction/fantasy really about the locations? Or is it about the plots and the drama and the characters? I can take MacBeth to the Interstellar Court where the Zanifraxians rule and the Darkness Syndicate seeks to destroy humanity before it can be accepted into the court, but at the end of the day, it’s still MacBeth.

For some science-fantasy it may be important to be in a galaxy far far away but yes, these stories could be set nearer to home – but why restrict ourselves?

My own writing is more about the interactions between a Earth human culture which is as alien to our 21st Century minds as anything I can conjure for interstellar aliens. That’s the sort of stuff that interests me and it’s why I enjoy reading Charlie Stross and Iain M Banks.

Is there a difference between a science-fiction tale of a lone cosmonaut on a supralight scout ship meeting strange new species or a pulp-fantasy take of a Venusian farmboy deciding to join the AetherCorps? Not really. But all of these stories elicit wonder in this reader.

Just because we cannot travel these distances, doesn’t mean we cannot dream these distances.