I started reading Charles Stross’s science fiction novels on the recommendation of people posting and commenting at Crooked Timber, and was extremely disappointed. I think I started with Halting State and Rule 34, and I couldn’t stand them. They combined two things that really annoy me: overly intensive computer software metaphors about real things, and ordinary working-stiff engineer types who are somehow also involved in super-secret, super-high powered government agencies.
Finally, a little while ago, I read one of his “Laundry” series of novels (though maybe one of the ones I read was a late Laundry novel? I’m not sure), and actually liked it. It was the second in the series, called The Jennifer Morgue. (The library didn’t have the first one, also the online reviews of the second might have been better.)
The Jennifer Morgue does follow another of those software engineer types who gets recruited into some super-duper government agency. In this case, he begins working at what he thinks is an ordinary software firm, but discovers he’s being inducted into Something Bigger. And it has an enormous secret menace, both natural and supernatural, which the government agencies have to control, which is another thing that annoys me in these books.
But the plot of this one takes him to St. Maartens, which is a huge plus for me, because I’ve visited there a few times, and it is definitely a place where you could imagine international skullduggery. Retire and buy a boat, become a freelance agent for MI6—what’s the difference? In Stross’s case, it’s a place where (being Dutch) the Brits can spy on the Americans. There’s also a Bond-like supervillain, and the whole thing doesn’t take itself too seriously, for the most part. It’s still a little too “everything is about Bob” for my taste, but you’re not going to find a potted explanation of life, the universe, and everything here. Crazy, but also fun, and I hope the others in the series are, too.