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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore November 5, 2015

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Bookends: Adventures in the spy trade and in a bookstore

By Dan DavidsonMorgue

May 6, 2015

– 792 words –

The Jennifer Morgue

By Charles Stross

Ace Books

401 pages

$9.99

Once there was a writer from Texas named Robert E. Howard. He specialized in a form of fantasy called sword and sorcery and, though he was far from the only writer in the genre, his tales of Conan the barbarian have probably rendered him the best known name of the tribe.

He was an associate of another genre writer named H.P. Lovecraft, whose tales of eldritch monsters from other dimensions, that used to rule the Earth, have inspired many a horror fantasy writer.

Then there was Ian Fleming, a one time spy, stockbroker, banker and foreign correspondent, who turned his wish-fulfillment dreams into James Bond and left that mark on the world. You can read more about him and his creation in the afterword to this novel, “The Golden Age of Spying.”

The book at hand is the second in Charles Stross’s tales of the Laundry, which is what he’s calling his magic driven version of the British secret service. Magic is a form of applied mathematics in this world, a compendium of useful spells at stored on PDAs for easy retrieval.

Bob Howard (the reference should be obvious from how I started this column) is a top agent of the Laundry, and his business is keeping mystical mishaps and alien incursions from happening.

In this reality we are sharing the planet with some rather nasty creatures, and there are various protocols in place that allow us to coexist without being wiped out by them. Some live deep in the Earth, so we must not tunnel too deeply. Fracking would be a no-no. others are in the deepest reaches of the oceans and so there are other boundaries we must observe.

Some of them are at war with each other and would be creating planetary havoc if not for certain fail safes that have been put in place.

A billionaire named Ellis Billington believes that by commandeering one of these, code named the Jennifer Morgue, he can achieve ultimate power in the human world. In order to do this he needs some unwitting agents to act out the basic patterns that can be found in the works of Ian Fleming. He arranges to impose a geas (compulsion spell) on Bob to cause him to assume the role of Bond, and lines up a suitable woman (sort of – it’s complicated) to play the part of the somewhat dubious female lead. Bound by this spell, and linked psychically in ways no Fleming couple ever could have been, they are to become the unwitting agents of his success.

It might have all worked as planned if Bob and Ramona hadn’t managed to work out just what was going on and managed to jam a few sticks through the bicycle wheels of his plot.

This is the second Laundry Files book, the first having been a collection of stories called The Atrocity Archives. The present book actually contains the mystical Fleming homage I’ve been describing, which is a full novel on its own. Then there is a short story that is more the usual sort of Laundry adventure, something involving computer role playing games. Finally there is the informative and entertaining essay about Fleming and his hero to which I referred you back in paragraph 3.

The whole package is full of adventure and no small amount of humour. Give it a try.

Curious George Goes to a BookstoreGeorge

Story by Julie M. Bartynski

Illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

32 pages

$17.95

Margret and H.A. Rey are no longer with us, but Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat live on. I don’t think the original books ever got quite the posh treatment that this one has received: hardcover, full colour, slick paper, end papers. This is a far cry from those Scholastic Press paperbacks that have filled the children’s sections of so many libraries.

This follows the standard outline. The Man (no longer capitalized for some reason) takes George somewhere. George wanders off and gets into a bit of mischief that doesn’t actually hurt anyone and is rescued from the situation by the man.

George meets his favourite author, had some banana bread, finds boxes full of the newest book in his favourite series of books, sets up an unauthorized but very inventive book display that everyone likes, and gets to meet his favourite author.

There’s a nice touch at the end, a page that gives a brief section on how to write a story and three story starters, which it invites young readers to try for themselves.

-30-

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