Reading: Charles Stross — The Rhesus Chart

It’s giving me nightmares, oh yes. I arrived back in Berlin on Monday and off to pick up new laptop (fourth iteration; finally an undamaged one), and off to Saint George’s to pick up the newest from Mr Scary. A month or so ago, I finished the Merchant Princes’ series for the 4th-ish time, and the first time in the rewritten into a trilogy version which anticipates a continuing series set in that world next year. My recent Stross reading then has been in need of something new: here comes the fifth in The Laundry Files, The Rhesus Chart. As usual with Charlie, I’ve bashed through more than half of it in less than a full-day’s reading, much to my disappointment. I’d love for his novels to last for a good couple of weeks at my reading pace, and have to seriously hold myself back not to finish them in a day of loafing, eating, and gorging myself on pages.

I have the very British hardback cover, which continues the hard graphics design style of all his novels lately. It’s a very, very long way from the cover of Jo Walton’s My Real Children, which even Dasniya mistook for a romance novel and asked me what I was doing. I’ve written before about the tendencies in cover design to steer the audience one way or another (blue toys for boys and pink ones for girls kind of thing) so I won’t revisit that. As much as I liked The Rhesus Chart – and I was riding through the forest on Friday thinking about this – I find a tendency also in Stross to write in this direction also. Yes, he vocally for trans/women/etc representation and advocacy (as evinced by his blog, as well as his choice of stories and characters) and probably it’s churlish that I found this latest Laundry Files novel to have a noticeable deficiency of these people. The most prominent female character is absent for most of the book, and the replacement with Bob’s original partner Mhari despite her central role seems more in order to move the plot along than as a substantial person in herself.

Coming after reading Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and as much as I love reading Stross, it felt unsatisfactorily “white hetero boys running around doing something important” to me, and this in a way that pointing at all the female roles in the book doesn’t ameliorate. This is approximately the territory other formerly favourite writers William Gibson and Neal Stephenson arrived in which resulted in me moving on to authors who write for a wider audience than the hegemonic minority science-fiction too often caters for. So, yes, I’ll be reading it again, and am waiting with much anticipation for Stross’ continuation of the Merchant Princes’ series (and the next Laundry Files, written from Mo’s perspective) but to be honest, I’m slightly skeptical.