The Labyrinth Index

The Labyrinth Index

The arrival of vast, alien, inhuman intelligences reshaped the landscape for human affairs across the world, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Things have changed in Britain since the dread elder god Nyarlathotep ascended to the rank of Prime Minister. Mhari Murphy, recently elevated to the House of Lords and head of the Lords Select Committee on Sanguinary Affairs (...

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Title:The Labyrinth Index
Author:Charles Stross
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Edition Language:English

The Labyrinth Index Reviews

  • Bradley

    Okay. So I admit I've been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this and I seriously couldn't wait.

    So I devoured it.

    Only to be devoured.

    By K Syndrome.

    And then I was volunteered for a Mission Impossible with other K Syndromes and other oddities in the United States! And the President... has been erased from everyone's minds. The Gesh! What a Gesh!!! It's almost like he gave us our greatest wish while making it totally evil at the same time. :) And then I remember that old stint on the intern

    Okay. So I admit I've been chomping at the bit to get my hands on this and I seriously couldn't wait.

    So I devoured it.

    Only to be devoured.

    By K Syndrome.

    And then I was volunteered for a Mission Impossible with other K Syndromes and other oddities in the United States! And the President... has been erased from everyone's minds. The Gesh! What a Gesh!!! It's almost like he gave us our greatest wish while making it totally evil at the same time. :) And then I remember that old stint on the internet when Cthuhlu ran for President under the party line, "Vote for the Lesser Evil!" Hmmm... could Stross be running with a theme, here? Maybe? :)

    Of course, with the Laundry Files in general, Stross doesn't stint on the action, the ramping up of the peril, or the epic disasters as the world tumbles into a singularity of evil. This time it's focused on America with a crack team of vampires and hand-picked specials invading and ostensibly "saving" the pres. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

    I loved it. What can I say? Stross writes like a bureaucratic nightmare storm with a big dose of despair and disillusionment backed up by a rock-solid sense of duty spiced with fatalism. :) What can one do when a greater demon is the Prime Minister and the only way you can survive is by participating in human sacrifice? It's just another day on the job. :)

    Brilliantly fun. :)

  • David Harris

    I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book (thanks Nazia!)

    Stross's Laundry Files are now, I think, his most numerous and long lasting series, running to eight or nine novels (with The Labyrinth Index) and several novellas and short stories (depending how you count the stories in The Atrocity Archives, the first book).

    While always having at its centre The Laundry itself, the UK's occult service ("occult secret service" would be a tautology, no?) which is lovingly portrayed wit

    I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book (thanks Nazia!)

    Stross's Laundry Files are now, I think, his most numerous and long lasting series, running to eight or nine novels (with The Labyrinth Index) and several novellas and short stories (depending how you count the stories in The Atrocity Archives, the first book).

    While always having at its centre The Laundry itself, the UK's occult service ("occult secret service" would be a tautology, no?) which is lovingly portrayed with all its bureaucratic quirks and terrors, the books really come into their own in disassembling and rebuilding the Lovecraft mythos to fit a world of coders, geeks and cubicles. Stross has lots of fun with this (and with geek culture more generally) but there's no disguising the cosmic horror that increasingly hangs over these books.

    As The Labyrinth Index opens with a particularly chilling execution scene, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is active and the Laundry has fallen, with the Black Pharaoh, N'yar Lat-Hotep, assuming power as the UK's Prime Minister. The New Management is in charge, the lesser of two evils, apparently. Well, at least it's a change from the previous Government, and should liven things up? They can't really be that bad?

    I mean, things can't get any worse, can they?

    Can they...?

    I really take my hat off to the way Stross has followed through the logic of power politics to root his Lovecraftian singularity in a firmly credible, modern day setting. The world of the Laundry Files is not all crazed cultists in the woods but well-financed televangelists, crooked bankers and, of course, venal politicians. Very much like our own. And over the series the cast of characters in these books has expanded to reflect this, Stross introducing not only new human members of the Laundry staff but elves, vampires and superheroes too, all of it plausibly done with explanations for everything rooted in the idea that computation is magic.

    In The Labyrinth Index, the Prime Minister commands His servants to investigate why the US President has gone missing. A complex, if desperate plan is devised to infiltrate the United States (with the US equivalent of the Laundry referred to as the Nazgûl, the line "One does not simply walk into Mordor" can be deployed unironically...) The activity here is underpinned by the usual meticulous degree of research, and it could, you know, all perfectly well work, given the premise of computational demonology.

    Central to all this is Mhairi, the PHANG who did actually appear in The Atrocity Archives but then faded from sight for a while. She has the central role in this book, as Baroness Karnstein, the new PM's fixer but is supported by, for the first time, pretty much everyone we've met so far (including an elven vampire necromancer who's on the autistic spectrum. Great to meet you, Marisol!) In fact almost the only regular characters we see little of are Bob, who has new responsibilities as avatar of the Eater of Souls, and Mo. Hopefully they'll be back again soon but in the meantime it's good to see this story told through other eyes. Mhairi is an engaging lead, concealing a fair amount of her history from us but also clearly wracked by shock and guilt that she has to consume blood to live.

    Guilt is fairly widespread in fact as the very act of submitting to N'yar Lat-Hotel takes its toll, even if He is a relatively sparing Lord. In the USA the Black Chamber have taken a different tack, and for once it's hard to argue that our friends in the Laundry are on firmer moral ground, even if the entity they deal with seems less far reaching in His evil. All choices are bad, everything leads to ruin, seems to be the subtext.

    But while the world merrily rattles off to Hell in its accelerating handcart, we can still have some fun - the bone violin plays a good jig - and The Labyrinth Index serves plenty of that up, whether you're into a solid, clever plot, sly humour with a point (there's a running gag about the problems in the US - when people go to sleep, they forget who the President is, allowing his enemies to write him out of reality. So there are plenty of allusions to those who know what's going as being "awake"... but not everyone wants to be awake...) or just excellent storytelling.

    At the same time, the book moves us forward into Stross's Apocalypse. The tipping point in this universe was reached, I think, a couple of books ago, but so far it hasn't been clear what exact form the catastrophe might take. Now things seem to be getting clearer, and the pace picking up.

    In short this series shows no sign of tailing off, rather it seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I really can't wait to see what Stross serves up next.

  • Trish

    I finished this on Halloween. As expected/hoped, it was a wild ride with the author pulling out all the stops (that were never there). The reason I post the review only now? Because I needed some time. Time, amongst other things, to digest the events here.

    This 9th volume in the series is from Mhairi's point of view (Bob's former girlfriend, I hadn't known that that was how her name was spelled since I only ever read the audio versions). I'm

    I finished this on Halloween. As expected/hoped, it was a wild ride with the author pulling out all the stops (that were never there). The reason I post the review only now? Because I needed some time. Time, amongst other things, to digest the events here.

    This 9th volume in the series is from Mhairi's point of view (Bob's former girlfriend, I hadn't known that that was how her name was spelled since I only ever read the audio versions). I'm not a fan of hers. Neither am I fan of her "Fuckboy", aka Officer Friendly, aka Superintendent Jim Somethingorother. But the mark of a great author is that he can tell you a story from any POV and you enjoy the hell out of it. As I did with this.

    The Laundry is gone, the Black Pharao has taken over and is the UK's Prime Minister. Mhairi has moved up in the world but it's always dangerous working for such a creature - he is, after all, only marginally the lesser evil. Instead of Case Nightmare Green we got Case Nightmare Red and it's nightmare(s) indeed! We know that

    has happened to Mo so she is no longer in Mhairi's life (must have been in the aftermath of giving up the violin and becoming a Senior Auditor). And while Bob makes a quick cameo, we know very little about how he's been since the change in leadership but it can't be good given what the changes are that are currently being implemented.

    So it's Mhairi, Officer Friendly, Pete and Brains and a few other agents. And the Americans.

    Because in this volume we deal with the Americans apparently forgetting all about the Executive Branch of their governemnt. Yep, the guy whose title starts with a "P". Almost all of us shudder at the moment about him in real life but I was delighted how the author mixed social/political commentary through dark humour with soothing commentary about the office itself. Thus, Mhairi and her team go to the States and encounter a very well organized plot (though the American version of the Laundry isn't entirely helpless) leading to a race for who can find and "secure" the President first so the Sleeper in the Pyramid will remain just that: a sleeper. You know, instead of waking up and causing the extinction of the human race.

    The series has become quite dark indeed and it can only get darker. No daisies and sunshine in the future, I don't think. It's unclear, at this point, if there will be some form of nice ending, but I'm really enjoying the ride regardless. The magic system is not only cool but also funny as hell (the blend of technology with what we expect to be magic), every action has consequences, being a vampire or superhero has some heavy side-effects (and not only positive ones such as "enhanced dental assets") and every story thread is intricately woven into an intelligent tapestry of a story.

    The way the author can make me care deeply for people I've only read about for a page or two (

    ) is seriously awesome. To say nothing of him managing to almost make me like Mhairi and Jim! But I will need therapy soon because of all the tragic things happening (

    ).

    I'm really in love with this series and the world created in it. And now the wait begins ...

  • Jacqie

    Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book for review.

    It's weird to think of a book describing the Lovecraftian singularity as comfort reading, yet it is for me. At least, I reach for the Laundry Files whenever I need a sure thing, a book I know I'll like and read as fast as I can. Thank you, Charles Stross, for continuing to turn these out regularly! This one came along just when I needed it.

    Bob and Mo do not appear in this book except very briefly. Mhari the HR vampire (no, really,

    Thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book for review.

    It's weird to think of a book describing the Lovecraftian singularity as comfort reading, yet it is for me. At least, I reach for the Laundry Files whenever I need a sure thing, a book I know I'll like and read as fast as I can. Thank you, Charles Stross, for continuing to turn these out regularly! This one came along just when I needed it.

    Bob and Mo do not appear in this book except very briefly. Mhari the HR vampire (no, really, she's a vampire) is the POV character. Stross has leveled up Bob and Mo to the point where they realistically aren't going to be seeing a lot of the action that makes reading a book like this fun. I have a feeling that when the apocalypse really gets rolling they'll be called to action again, but for now the stakes aren't world-endingly high, although things are pretty terrible. When Nyarlathotep is your best best for the creature to ally with as least likely to end humanity because he at least thinks humans are kind of fun to play with and useful minions, you know you're in a bad way.

    Mhari (and all the UK) are now Nyarlathotep's to use as he pleases. And he pleases to send Mhari along with a team of expendables to the US. The President is no longer remembered by any of the public that he is supposed to lead, and this is a Bad Sign that yet another super-powerful eldritch horror is making its move.

    I don't want to talk too much about the plot because that's enough spoilers, really. I do want to talk about what works for me with these books. Stross has got the knack of ramping up tension and of creating a just-sideways world that is endlessly fascinating. In this universe, everyone's doomed, really. They are just raging against the dying of the light, trying to hold on as long as they can before everyone's soul is spun into a power grid for gibbering horrors to snack upon. It feels a bit too close for comfort in this year of kleptocracy, blatant treasonous behavior by our leaders and indifference to it by their minions, climate change denial, and evil coming out into the open again, eager for blood. We're all doomed, really.

    Or are we? Mhari hints just slightly that something's in the works that she's not able to share, some desperate play that may keep hope alive in the future. That's not the purpose of this book, though.

    So, it was fun. Best Laundry book ever? No. Mhari has a guy that she calls Fuckboy through the entire book- I didn't find this amusing any more than I'd find a guy character calling his main squeeze Fuckgirl, in other words not at all. The plot's a bit all over the place, and it's hard to put the pieces together. But that's part of the point of a Stross book- a bunch of stuff that looks random that ends up falling into place in a really cool way. You just keep reading along faster and faster for that Aha moment. It's darkly funny, it's poignant, it's just a bit challenging, and I'll keep reading them as fast as they come out.

  • Lindsay

    CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is in full effect. The UK is under the New Management, an ancient evil only slightly less horrible than the alternatives and the USA seems to be undergoing a similar change with the President missing.

    Mhari Murphy has been tapped by the new resident of 10 Downing St to reform the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an early predecessor organization of the Laundry and assigns her to deal with the American problem. With a collection of political undesirables and skilled expenda

    CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is in full effect. The UK is under the New Management, an ancient evil only slightly less horrible than the alternatives and the USA seems to be undergoing a similar change with the President missing.

    Mhari Murphy has been tapped by the new resident of 10 Downing St to reform the Special Operations Executive (SOE), an early predecessor organization of the Laundry and assigns her to deal with the American problem. With a collection of political undesirables and skilled expendables, Mhari leads a force into the US on a mission to deal with the President and confront the Black Chamber, the occult organization that's now in charge and who have Very Big Plans.

    Mhari remains an interesting character as she tries to survive the new world where she's a pawn in a chess match between titanic forces and her own personal life is maintained by a steady stream of victims required to feed her vampirism. After a bleak couple of books it's also great to see a way out for the Laundry and the rest of humanity, however vaguely it's hinted at here. The payoff for this multi-book setup should be awesome.

    Stross maintains the excellent standard of the series with an engaging story in its own right along with cutting political and social commentary and satire.

  • rixx

    **The Labyrinth Index**, the latest entry in *Charlie Stross*' Laundry Files series … escalates. When the last volume of the Laundry Files ended fairly apocalyptic, I was under the impression that Charlie was fed up with reality overtaking his books pre-publication, and escalated to a level reality isn't yet willing to follow.

    The Labyrinth Index introduces Mhari as the protagonist and POV character, which I found refreshing and nice. Laundry protagonists are a bit chancy, for me – Mo was part gr

    **The Labyrinth Index**, the latest entry in *Charlie Stross*' Laundry Files series … escalates. When the last volume of the Laundry Files ended fairly apocalyptic, I was under the impression that Charlie was fed up with reality overtaking his books pre-publication, and escalated to a level reality isn't yet willing to follow.

    The Labyrinth Index introduces Mhari as the protagonist and POV character, which I found refreshing and nice. Laundry protagonists are a bit chancy, for me – Mo was part great, part meh, and Alex was 90% annoying. Mhari is about as good as Mo, for me, and maybe a bit more evenly written (or the transition to yet-another-protagonist is less jarring than to the first non-Bob one). Bob and Mo are not part of this story, btw – we accompany Mhari on a field mission to the US, where the conflicts between the UK's new Lord and the US' new Lord are dunked out.

    I enjoyed the plot, which is fast-paced and surprisingly well-explained. Maybe it's my imagination, but I think the recent Laundry books leave less to the reader's deductive reasoning and explain and show more in detail what's actually going on. Instead, the subtle clues now concern side action that will mostly become relevant in a later volume. Like the last book, a lot of characters are drawn from previous books, but it's more of a solid recurring cast, and less of a "Use ALL the characters", which we had last time.

    As usually, the book is well paced (and by that I mean: escalating consistently), well-researched, clever, and plain fun. It goes deeper into gross and disgusting aspects of the Elder Management than previously, which can be a bit graphic (not that I'm complaining, just as a heads-up to other readers). It may not be the best Laundry book, but it meets all my expectations and then some.

  • David Wintheiser

    The first Laundry Files book where we see the aftereffect of the Faustian bargain made by the leaders of the Laundry to save themselves from annihilation at the tentacles of the Sleeper in the Pyramid. This book also gives us a longer look than most other books into the workings of the Operational Phenomenology Agency, a.k.a.: the Black Chamber, the lords of which have been consistently referred to in other Laundry works as the Nasgul.

    It's a curious and timely book, with a significant focus on t

    The first Laundry Files book where we see the aftereffect of the Faustian bargain made by the leaders of the Laundry to save themselves from annihilation at the tentacles of the Sleeper in the Pyramid. This book also gives us a longer look than most other books into the workings of the Operational Phenomenology Agency, a.k.a.: the Black Chamber, the lords of which have been consistently referred to in other Laundry works as the Nasgul.

    It's a curious and timely book, with a significant focus on the ceremonial and symbolic power of the office of the U.S. Presidency, and I can't help but wonder if the release date is deliberate in the hopes that Stross's fans finish the book quickly and be motivated to vote in the upcoming real-world mid-term U.S. elections. (Stross himself is a Scottish citizen, and has stated publicly that he will not be traveling to the U.S. while the current administration remains in power.)

    My only real criticism is that Stross, as other authors will popular long-running series do, seems unwilling to leave his key characters to suffer the full impact of the dire things that happen to them. We are re-introduced to a number of characters we've met in previous stories, plus a couple of new characters introduced just for this tale, and the entire group is sent on what is effectively a suicide mission, yet nearly every character survives (though most are definitely changed by their experience). Stross seems to be teasing an acceleration of a trope he's used in previous stories -- that the survival of the protagonists can leave them in a position that's worse than if they'd perished -- yet if Stross does not begin closing the book on some of these characters soon, the final book in the series is going to be catastrophically depressing as everyones' negative circumstances come crashing down upon them and the world simultaneously.

  • Michael Burnam-Fink

    Okay, the President has not technically been kidnapped. Rather, the Operational Phenomenology Agency, aka the Black Chamber, aka the Nazgul, has worked a geas across the entire United States to make them forget that the President even exists. Mhari Murphy, Laundry Officer, PHANG, (oh, and Bob's ex from book 1) is the Bad Dude responsible for getting him back, along with a team of high-level Laundry agents doing old-school 'Set Europe Ablaze' style SOE sabotage.

    This being The Laundry, nothing is

    Okay, the President has not technically been kidnapped. Rather, the Operational Phenomenology Agency, aka the Black Chamber, aka the Nazgul, has worked a geas across the entire United States to make them forget that the President even exists. Mhari Murphy, Laundry Officer, PHANG, (oh, and Bob's ex from book 1) is the Bad Dude responsible for getting him back, along with a team of high-level Laundry agents doing old-school 'Set Europe Ablaze' style SOE sabotage.

    This being The Laundry, nothing is simple or easy. The new Prime Minister, an avatar of Nyarlathotep, has taken a personal interest in Mhari's mission. Failure means that her skull, and the skulls of everyone she loves, will decorate the sacrificial arch Nyarly is building in the center of London. Success means advancing the plans of an Elder God, who's only virtue is that it finds humanity amusing. And messing up means getting caught in the United States, which is now run by the NSA crossed with mind-hacking Cthulhu cultists. There are fates worth than death, and being used as a fleshy avatar of Cthulhu is one of them.

    Some parts really worked. Nyarlathotep is supremely creepy as Prime Minister. The Americans protecting the President, the last little cells free of the Nazgul's geas, feel properly paranoid and oppressed. They forget their mission every time they sleep, and are running on modafinil and fear. The ultimate plan of the Nazgul, a brute force attempt to wake Cthulhu by the inner solar system into a Matryoshka brain of orbital computers running invocations, is a nice call-back to Stross's first Singularity books. And the final set-piece, which involves a Concorde from 666 Squadron, is properly badass.

    That said, while Mhari is decent enough as a protagonist, her concerns about being a bloodsucking vampire working for an inhuman monster, never felt more than obligatory. Yes, yes, she's a nice English girl so she doesn't like living by murder, and doesn't want to be an advance agent for an Empire that'd make the people who did the Opium Wars, mustard gas in COIN, and multiple famines in the name of the Free Market look like innocent schoolboys. But I don't really believe it. Stross is still only so-so about writing about America, though better than he was back in Book #4, as he sketches in a

    style occult history of the US.

    And finally the bad, and this is a thing where an editor should have put a foot down. The central human relationship of the book is between Mhari and Jim/Officer Friendly from Book 6. Jim is a super-powered flying tank, senior police officer, and silver fox of a man. Mhari has a "strictly physical, seriously guys" relationship with him that grows over the course of the book, and she also consistently calls him Fuckboy. Which, and

    will back me up on, is an entirely different species of lameass loser. I totally believe that Mhari would have a deeming nickname for Jim, but I'm roughly the same age she is, and there's no way an ambitious career-minded woman of my generation would use that specific phrase for someone who she ever wants to see again, even if she is a self-loathing monster.

    There's also a doubt growing the in back of my mind about the long-term direction of The Laundry series, and the role of humans. Stross has always been concerned with the relationship between people and superhuman entities, whether they've been AIs running Economics 2.0, the Eschaton, corporate and government bureaucracies, or Lovecraftian entities standing in for any of the prior. His best heroes have dealt with these entities by being clever, basically by the hacker ethos. Mhari is not a hacker, she's a people person (or at least was). But Mhari solves her problems with superspeed, superstrength, and a basilisk gun. If the series going forward is just about PHANGs, that's a bad joke played on the readers.

  • C.T. Phipps

    THE LABYRINTH INDEX is probably the book which is the most like a James Bond pastiche after a long period of the series poo-pooing on the very concept. It stars an arrogant sexist protagonist who fights against a sinsiter cartel with a world-ending scheme that doens't actually make a whole lot of sense. The big difference being that Mhari is a woman sexist against men (referring to her boyfriend and partner as "****boy" for most of the novel) plus she has a team of minor Laundry characters accom

    THE LABYRINTH INDEX is probably the book which is the most like a James Bond pastiche after a long period of the series poo-pooing on the very concept. It stars an arrogant sexist protagonist who fights against a sinsiter cartel with a world-ending scheme that doens't actually make a whole lot of sense. The big difference being that Mhari is a woman sexist against men (referring to her boyfriend and partner as "****boy" for most of the novel) plus she has a team of minor Laundry characters accompanying her on a mission. In that respect, it's more like the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible movies.

    I can't be too hard on Charles Stross because he's reversed one of his earlier decrees of the Laundry when he declared that everything from Howard Phillips Lovecraft was true(ish) other than the existence of Cthulhu, who he calls Old Bat Wings. Charles said that was the one element of the series which wasn't true--and is apparently now like vampires in that he was totally lying. Cthulhu's presence is revealed early on and he is also revealed to be the master of a longtime group of petty antagonists for the Laundry in the Black Chamber.

    In this book, Mhari is dispatched by the Prime Minister (Mr. Everyman who is basically Johm Simm's Master with godlike power and a hatred for all Jews--which include Christians and Muslims BTW) to the Americas. Someone has wiped the President of the United States from its 300 million citizens' memories and this is probably the prelude to something bad. Much gunplay, shoggoth summoning, and character growth for Mhari occurs. We also get snapshots into other characters views on events.

    Charles Stross has been struggling to keep the Laundry relevant with the cataclysmic weirdness in politics these past few years and this is the book he finally gives up on. Brexit, Trump, and other contemporary issues flat out don't exist in the Laundryverse now with a fictional new heroic President taking their place while the U.K. has bigger issues than its withdrawal from the EU. It's probably for the best but costs the series some of its meticulously researched realism. Then again, I suppose that went out the window with K-syndrome superheroes and PHANGS.

    The short version is this book is...okay. I give props for the use of the Black Chamber, Cthulhu, American military history, and the return of characters I like such as Peter. However, the fact Stross writes his heroes as overtly evil (siding with Nyarlathotep versus Cthulhu is even namechecked as "Stalin over Hitler" but that's not exactly reassuring). A bit like Mo in The Annihilation Score, Mhari is a deeply unpleasant person. While she undergoes some character growth, it seems consistent Stross prefers to write his men as nardy and devoted to their partners while the women are overtly dismissive to them when not doing "necessary" evils. It showed up in The Nightmare Stacks as

    well.

    So, it was okay, I guess? I think the series has lost a lot of its charm without Bob Howard and none of the other protagonists really work well. I liked Mhari more than Mo and she's probably the second best protagonist but this feels like the kind of fiction which Charles Stross used to mock in earlier books and that's a bit odd to now have to take completely straight.

    6.5/10

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