The Apocalypse Codex

A couple of weeks ago I read Charles Stross’ latest, The Apocalypse Codex, and I’ve kind of been sitting on it every since. It’s the next book in the Bob Howard/Laundry Files series that began with The Atrocity Archive, a series that is an delightful mash-up of Lovecraftian horror, computer science geekery, and classic espionage. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous books in the series, but this one put me off a bit.

Peter Sean Bradley at Lex Communis gives it a 5-star review, which you can go look at if you like; and he puts his finger on what bugs me about it. The villain is

The action takes place in a land that the British mind finds incomprehensible, and which it instinctively feels might be filled with death cults that worship the Elder Gods, i.e., the scary strange land of Middle America.

Bob, Persephone and Johnny follow a typically American televangelist – as imagined by a post-modern, post-Christian Brit.

What we have here is a televangelist who is literally working to revive a Lovecraftian horror from beyond time and space. He claims to his followers that he reviving the Son of God from his crypt, but the reality is far otherwise. And it’s Stross’ hamfisted handling of the American religious scene that puts me off.

It is dangerous to infer an author’s point of view from his fiction; but I get the sense that Stross finds commited Evangelical Christians as scary in real life as his protagonist finds the horror from beyond time and space in the book. That’s the first thing that bugs me.

The second is that he seems to be throwing vaguely Christian window-dressing around without really understanding whether or not it fits together. There are a number of instances of this, but the one that really bugs me is when the televangelist, a Calvinist, Quiver-full, Prosperity Gospel Evangelical (with decidely heterodox enhancements) holds a mockery of a communion service using vestments and language I remember from my days as an Anglican. Do pastors who are serious about Reformed Theology (Calvinism) go in for the Prosperity Gospel? I wouldn’t have thought so. Do non-denominational Evangelicals go in for vestments? I wouldn’t have expected that either.

I don’t know what Stross’ religious background is, but I’d guess he’s drawing on an Anglican childhood and on the mainstream media view of American Evangelicalism. It’s not a marriage made in Heaven.

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  • Peter Sean Bradley

    I don’t know if you listen to the very excellent Unbelievable podcast, but if you do you will recognize the same kind of “qualia” to the Brits – Christians and atheists – who appear on the show: America is a weird placed filled with snake-handlers and Elmer Gantrys. This kind of sterotype seems to be a feature of the post-modern, post-Chrisitan Brit worldview.

    Also, I found this Stross book to be annoyingly “preachy,” with its constant “God-botherers” and “sky pilot” references, even when applied to the liberal squishy Anglican friend of Bob’s.

    For a surprisingly different book check out Ken MacLeod’s “Night Sessions.” MacLeod is an atheist and a hard core lefits, except I thought he handled his religious characters and issues with more respect than Stross.

    • willduquette

      As I think I said in the review, I think he finds committed Christians scary and strange enough, without adding eldritch horrors into the mix, and it weakened the book: he assumed that all of his readers would feel the same way.