Literature: The Laundry Series
Magic is applied mathematics. The many-angled ones live at the bottom of the Mandelbrot set. Demonology is right after debugging in the dictionary.
—Bob Howard, "Pimpf"
A series of Cosmic Horror Story
novels and novellas by author Charles Stross
. According to Word of God
, the idea for the series originated from a realization that Lovecraftian horror
and the Cold War
are actually pretty darn similar
, and if there really were elder, tentacled horrors
lurking around the edges of reality, the government would get involved
and the departments they'd set up to do so would look very much like Stale Beer flavored Spy Fiction
The main protagonist of the series is Bob Howard, a Desk Jockey
who was forcibly recruited into "The Laundry
" after his graduate computer science work nearly summoned Nyarlathotep. Now he's charged with protecting Earth from incursions by the many-angled ones, who can be summoned all too easily with modern computer technology. Most of the job is attending meetings and filling out paperwork, but ever so often there's a major incident that results in Laundry agents trying to fight off Cthulhu and his cronies with their Palm Pilotsnote
, Monkey's Paw wards
, and the occasional briefcase nuke
, while Bob has the misfortune to land right in the middle of it.
The series is thus far composed of the following novels and short stories (in chronological order):
- The Atrocity Archive
- "The Concrete Jungle" (published together with Archive as Archives, and available online)
- The Jennifer Morgue
- "Pimpf" (included in Morgue)
- "Down on the Farm" (available online)
- Equoid (winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for best novella; available online)
- The Fuller Memorandum
- "Overtime" (available online)
- The Apocalypse Codex
- The Rhesus Chart
- The Annihilation Score (to be published in July 2015)
- The Nightmare Stacks (to be published in 2016)
According to Word of God
(on his blog), the series was planned in advance to be 9 books long (plus assorted side stories), with CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN beginning around book five or so. However, The Rhesus Chart
was apparently not part of the original plan, thus probably extending the series by at least one book. (Updated Word of God
: books 5-7 represent a detour from the original story arc. So there may be more than 9 books eventually if the author, his publishers, and his readers don't lose interest first.)
A Tabletop RPG
adaptation has been published, using the Basic Roleplaying
game system - the very same system used by Call of Cthulhu
and it's own lovecraftian spy setting, Delta Green
This series contains examples of:
open/close all folders
Tropes A - F
- Action Girl:
- Dominique "Mo" O'Brien who started off as a Damsel in Distress in The Atrocity Archives, but in The Jennifer Morgue turns out to have been Bond in the destiny trap and saves the day with her demon-killing violin. Bob lampshades this in Memorandum by noting that he'd rescued Mo in Archives, and since then she's been overcompensating.
- Ramona Random in The Jennifer Morgue.
- The Apocalypse Codex has Persephone Hazard.
- Affably Evil: If you manage to get on Angleton's bad side, the friendlier he is to you, the more doomed you are. If you catch him chuckling, you are already dead, or worse.
- Alien Sky:
- Subverted in The Atrocity Archives; it turns out that it's not an alien world, but an alternate Earth and the reason the sky looks different is that the Infovore has consumed all the heat from the stars.
- In The Fuller Memorandum, the world on which the dead plateau is found has a galactic core or supercluster visible in the sky.
- A Load of Bull: The RPG brings its own take on the minotaur in the form of ASTERION SNARL. Like the medusa in "The Concrete Jungle," it's not an actual intermingling of man and bull so much as possession by a low-grade demon that results in increased bulk, monstrous rage, bone-like growths from the head, and a penchant to wander around labyrinthine structures. It's possible for the minotaurs to reproduce, however, resulting in a child that doesn't lack in size and easily makes up for its parent in mental stability.
- All Take and No Give: Mhari and Bob's relationship. She sleeps around on him, hoping to trade up to a better boyfriend, and then comes sauntering back for a safe bet when that doesn't work out, and blows up at him when he gets mad about it. Of course, we only really get Bob's bitter word about it.
- When she shows up in the Rhesus Chart, it's clarified that she was alternately using him for sex and taking out her frustration at being trapped in a dead-end job in the Laundry on him, but now that she's got a job she likes and has grown up a bit, is actually a pretty okay person. Apart from being a vampire.
- Animate Dead: The Laundry uses zombie security guards. Of former employees.
- Apocalypse Cult: A number of cults try to bring their Eldritch Abomination deities to Earth which would result in the deaths of millions and End of the World as We Know It. The Cult of the Black Pharaoh is the oldest and most dangerous one of these.
- Apocalypse How:
- The Jotun Infovore is a high Class X-5, failing to enter Class Z primarily due to the difficulties inherent in consuming itself.
- CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN could be anywhere between a high Class 1 and a Class X-4, depending on how nasty what comes through turns out to be.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Lots of this in Equoid. Bob is not pleased when sent to investigate a report of unicorns, especially when it requires him to read background material by that old fraud H.P. Lovecraft. Turns out unicorns are a form of Eldritch Abomination and Lovecraft was not entirely full of it. But Bob assures us that "Old Bat-Wings" does not exist.
- The first line of The Rhesus Chart is:
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "Everybody knows vampires don't exist."
- Which is then repeated by various characters throughout the book, because a vampire has geased the entire Laundry into becoming vampire-skeptics.
- Arc Words: The Rhesus Chart has "Everyone knows vampires don't exist."
- Artifact of Doom: Mo's violin is clearly an evil device that, in any other story, would be the subject of a quest to destroy it. In this universe, however, it's a useful tool for the good guys. But it does seem to be able to override the will of its wielder.
- They'd like to make more like it, but then, "just owning the necessary supplies probably puts you in breach of the Human Tissues Act of 2004, not to mention a raft of other legislation."
- In fact, Mo tries to go out of her way to prove to her superiors that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN won't require the production of more violins.
- Asshole Victim: Harriet and Bridget, at the very least. If you wind up on Angleton's desk, chances are you deserved it.
- Badass Normal:
- The entire OCCULUS team.
- The lone Spetsnaz soldier in The Fuller Memorandum who kills his way through a hell of a lot of zombies and cultists after the rest of his team is wiped out.
Grigori does not play paintball; Grigori kills people.
- Badass Bookworm: Everyone in Laundry Active Ops, really.
- Bob himself is an excellent example; for all his insistence that he's not some sort of super-spy and his dislike of guns, he's very competent, as noted by several characters.
- Bad Santa: The Filler of Stockings; Lurker in Fireplaces, Bringer of Gifts, the King in Red (Pick your culture: prepare to die).
- Bastard Operator from Hell: Robert Oliver Francis Howard. And his intern, Peter-Fred Young.
- Batman Gambit:
- The villain in The Jennifer Morgue attempts this. His plan depends on the Laundry and the Black Chamber trying to stop him - see Invoked Trope below. Needless to say, it doesn't work out.
- The Jotun Infovore in The Atrocity Archives is just as nasty and manipulative. It targeted Mo to get the Laundry on its tail, then abducted her into its reality, while dropping hints that the Nazis were behind the whole thing. This forces the Laundry to pursue it in force with a nuclear weapon just to be on the safe side. That's exactly what it wants: a burst of powerful, concentrated energy like a hydrogen bomb is what it needs to open a big enough gate to our reality so it can feed on all that delicious energy in our universe.
- The Rhesus Chart as a whole. An ancient vampire who embedded himself in the Laundry used the Laundry itself as a tool to take down an even older vampire, by tempting the elder to create a "nest of baby vamps", then arranged for them to be snatched up by the Laundry and thereby blow away plausible deniability, then co-opting the elder vampire's pet vampire hunter, then manipulating the elder vampire to attack the Laundry personally. If the plan came of smoothly, the elder would be eliminated with prejudice by the Laundry, and even if it failed, both would be less one frustratingly effective government agency.
- Battleaxe Nurse: "Down On The Farm" has robot nurses, slaved to a 1960s minicomputer with a demonic intelligence system
- Because Destiny Says So: In The Jennifer Morgue, Bob and Ramona are destiny-entangled and it turns out that the villain trapped him in a James Bond destiny trap.
- Bedlam House: The Funny Farm in "Down On The Farm".
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Alan Turing was also murdered by the Laundry. Their regret over having wasted such a peerless mind heavily informs their latter-day approach to dealing with people on the outside who have happened upon knowledge only permissible to people on the inside.
- And he's not the only famous person with skin in the game. Arthur Ransome (yes, that Arthur Ransome) and Ian Fleming were both close correspondents of the first head of the Laundry, and did a fair bit of occult field research for him. Ungern-Sternberg and the Bogd Khan had a hand in containing the Sleeper in the Pyramid, a potentially world-ending entity, through means best not dwelt upon. And yes, Lovecraft knew the truth, or at least enough of it to be dangerous, and his fiction is considered the occult equivalent of The Anarchist's Cookbook (more likely to produce results harmful for the reader).
- Beneath the Earth: Humanity shares the planet with at least two other sentient species. The Deep Ones, code-named Blue Hades, live just beneath the seafloor and could curb stomp humanity if ever they're pissed off. Luckily for humanity they seem to be fairly reasonable folks, and the occult agencies liaise with them a semiregular basis. The Deep Seven, creatures known in the Cthulhu Mythos as Chthonians, live deep beneath the upper crust in the polar regions. Very little is known about them, save that they are polymorphous, and that the Deep Ones are terrified of them. Humanity's saving grace, as always, is that it's not really important: Neither species feels threatened by us, and they don't want anything that we have, so there's no reason to leave their environments.
- Betty and Veronica: Mo and Ramona in The Jennifer Morgue.
- Big Damn Heroes: Mo and Alan Barnes' team in The Jennifer Morgue. Then in The Fuller Memorandum, they're set up for a repeat but arrive too late to do more than clean up after Bob's giant summoning.
- Blood Bath: The Jennifer Morgue references the original legend with Bathory PaleGrace (TM), a makeup that carries a youth-projecting glamour in every jar. As the company's founder says, stem cell research means they're down to about 14 parts per million virgin blood in every jar... but there's no other way to get the endorphins that come with stress.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Billington was already a Blofeldian figure (Corrupt Corporate Executive, planning a scheme to Take Over the World, using a yacht converted from a warship), so casting a "destiny trap" to create a James Bond-like figure is risky at the very least. It's justified, partly because Billington thought he could turn it off at any time and partly because he was insane and possessed. It's later pointed out that if Billington had simply approached the Black Chamber with his salvage scheme he would have gotten away with it.
- Brave Scot: Johnny McTavish from Codex, who grew up in an isolated Scottish fishing village with rather disturbing theological practices before running away and vowing never to return to that church.
- Brick Joke: Bob keeps making references to "paperclip audits" through the series. It seems like a Running Gag, until we actually get to see the start of one. Shortly therafter, we learn that if you have a paperclip from the same batch as a classified document, you can use it to track said document.
- Brown Note
- Building of Adventure: the Laundry HQ often becomes this, due to the sheer amount of magical artifacts, powerful wizards and classified information present there and the cutthroat bureaucratic politics that surrounds them.
- Bullet Time: one of Persephone's powers, via Ritual Magic.
- Bullying a Dragon: An Iranian special forces officer makes the mistake of threatening Mo while she's holding her violin. She uses it to tear out his soul and apply it as a bandaid across a crack in reality.
- The Captain: Captain Alan Barnes of the Artists' Rifles.
- Captain Ersatz: Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish in The Apocalypse Codex are thinly disguised and slightly historically updated versions of Modesty Blaise and her sidekick Willie Garvin. Persephone's codename is even Bashful Incendiary...
- Captured Super Entity:
- The Laundry has control of TEAPOT, also known as the Eater of Souls. Well, they think they have control of it. Turns out that it's here voluntarily.
- The Sleeper in the Pyramid on the Dead Plateau is a more straightforward example; it's an unspecified Eldritch Abomination that's being held inside a pyramid on a distant planet by observer effect magic. The structure is surrounded by a Wall Of Pain of impaled victims that are just barely alive enough to constantly observe it and collapse its wave function into a "captive in the pyramid and dormant" state. The RAF has a special wormhole airplane that does a flyby over the Plateau every once in a while, just in case. Further details are revealed in Codex: first, the Wall of Pain is set to come to undeath and chase down any interlopers who try to awaken the Sleeper. Second, waking the Sleeper isn't the hard part. It's feeding him enough souls to open the Outer Gates that's the difficult bit.
- The Black Chamber likes doing this with its operatives. Two of the characters in Jennifer Morgue have had soul eating abominations bound to them and are then in turn wrapped up in a few layers of powerful control magics to keep them on a short leash.
- Card-Carrying Villain: The Black Chamber actually includes operatives described as Nazgūl and called that. By other operatives.
- And signing on with them at all means "wearing the Dark Mark". And their Dark Mark is something Voldemort only wished he'd been able to create.
- Cast from Lifespan: Some of Persephone's more exotic abilities have this drawback. Bob implies Mo's violin might also do the same, though whether it's a short-term drain she can recover from or siphoning off her long-term lifespan is unsaid.
- Catch Phrase: "But I digress."
- Cats Are Mean: Fluffy, a white persian which is similar in appearance and attitude to Ernst Stavro Blofeld's and is a vessel for the mind of an ancient Chthonian war-god.
- The Cavalry: Four novels in, none of them came down to Bob finishing off the Big Bad all by himself. (The Fuller Memorandum came closest, but he still needed to be rescued afterwards.)
- Chekhov's Skill:
- Bob's offhand comment about Mo playing her violin at all hours seems like a typical relationship gripe, until you realize she was training to use her Instrument of Murder.
- In The Apocalypse Codex, when we see Persephone practicing evasion and escape skills in the countryside, we know she'll be using them by the end of the book.
- Chinese Launderer: The Laundry is so named because one of these once served as cover for its entrance.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
- The various occult intelligence agencies can't seem to help it. Even when they're allied and want the same thing, they always end up double-crossing each other, trying to spin the situation to their advantage.
- The career bureaucrats in the Laundry (particularly in Administration and HR) also seem to suffer from this, in addition to being obstructive bureaucrats. To the point where you can be certain that if Bob's current manager is a character in the story, he/she will be involved with the Big Bad in some way.
- In The Fuller Memorandum, Iris Carpenter is a Double Subversion.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Usually, demon-summoning requires a fair bit of effort. However, when the stars are right, just believing in something will be enough to call it forth from the vasty deeps. Worse yet, in about a decade there is supposed to be a period when just about anything can walk right in to our universe as long as people believe in it. Like, say, high-school witchcraft clubs. Worse worse yet, the latest novel suggests that this period has already begun.
- Overtime shows exactly how this sort of thing can and will happen. Belief in Santa Claus allows a monster that Bob snarkily names "The Bringer of Gifts" to enter the world at the focus of greatest belief in foreign-reality entities: The Laundry. Bob has to "complete the ritual" by mimicking the usual Santa Claus traditions; snack and milk in exchange for a gift and then leaving. If he failed to get the critter its snacks in time, the entity would be no longer bound to obey the ritual and can do as it pleases, which involves neither leaving the premises nor leaving Bob uneaten.
- Clean Up Crew
- Cool Car:
- While not exactly a car, the Kettenkrad is cool enough to be salvaged from a bleak, airless alternate dimension where Axis has won WWII (And promptly caused an apocalypse), and lovingly restored by Pinky and Brains to working condition.
- Subverted in The Jennifer Morgue, where Bob is stuck with a Smart car. He's not very happy about this, mainly because he has to drive down the Autobahn to a conference and keeps getting blitzed by Audis. On the other hand, once Pinky and Brains jam the obligatory load of James Bond-esque gadgets in it...
- And then re-subverted when, at the end of the day, it's still a Smart Car stuffed with Bond-esque gadgets...
- Cool Boat: Billington, the Blofeldian supervillain of The Jennifer Morgue, owns not one but three. Mabuse, a denavalized ex-Indian Navy Krivak III-class frigate, is his yacht. The ex-Glomar Explorer is the 66,000-ton salvage ship he's bought to enact his plan. And the Hopper only ever puts in an offscreen appearance, but it's mentioned as a old liner that's wired up with enough satellite bandwidth to serve as the nerve center of his business/surveillance operation.
- Cool Plane: RAF 666 Squadron flies "White Elephants": Concordes. The original nuclear-armed version, retrofitted to carry a setup to open a Gate to the Dead Plateau and a suite of reconnaissance sensors to keep watch on developments there. The nuke isn't normally carried, and it's for if the Sleeper in the Pyramid awakens: the Laundry is grimly aware that it probably won't be enough, but it's better than nothing.
- Cosmic Horror Story
- Cowardly Lion: Bob is quite up front about hating being put into dangerous situations and yet every time he is performs beyond expectations.
- Critical Failure: During The Fuller Memorandom when Iris tries to summon the story's monster of the week into Bob while he casts a summon of his own — from inside his freaking head, even! — Bob leaves his body and is PULLED RIGHT BACK IN thanks to her summon. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain.
- Darker and Edgier: The Fuller Memorandum is considerably darker in tone than previous stories in the series. Not to be taken as representing a trend—The Apocalypse Codex is rather less bleak.
- Equoid is outright disturbing and very dark, worse than Mo's description of CLUB ZERO in Fuller Memorandum or what Persephone stumbles over during her escape in The Apocalypse Codex; the Laundry series hints at many horrors, but almost never describes them outright or in detail, and Equoid serves as an example of why we should all be grateful for that; many commenters on the story called for Brain Bleach. Word of God, also mentioned in the comment section, is that it was for a unicorn story anthology John Scalzi was trying to get going, and for which Stross volunteered.
- Deadly Upgrade: The series' magic is a branch of mathematics, and can be executed essentially by solving math problems. This is easy and (relatively) safe if done by computer, but mathematically sophisticated sorcerers can do it mentally — at the risk of ending up with Krantzberg syndrome: summoning microscopic and hungry Eldritch Abominations into their own skulls, leading inevitably to a particularly nasty species of dementia. There is a risk of doing so accidentally.
- Deconstruction: Of various Spy Thriller tropes. Intelligence officers are desk jockeys on civil service salary, the Laundry aims to be the first fully ISO 9000 certified intelligence agency (with all the paperwork that implies), and even active field agents spend most of their time in briefings and committee meetings. Not to mention the permanent squabbling over the budget. All of which are more or less Truth in Television.
- Deface of the Moon: Hitler's portrait carved into a moon in The Atrocity Archives.
- Demonic Possession: A common plot element. In particular, a botched summoning at the climax of The Fuller Memorandum causes Bob to get possessed by himself.
- Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: Standard ammunition for the Laundry takes the form of "banishment rounds"—silver-plated bullets with spells engraved onto them in 90-nanometer scale. Takes care of certain nasties being Immune to Bullets very nicely, and it still works on other targets as well.
- Diesel Punk: The memex, a WWII-technology hypertext database that uses kilometers of microfilm, millions of wristwatch-precision cams and gears and a very
nasty effective magical defense system. Angleton isn't stupid, and there's a perfectly good reason why he uses a machine so outdated that it shouldn't exist: there's this procedure called Van Eck phreaking that you can use to eavesdrop in a CRT or LCD monitor and gain access to classified information. The memex uses microfiche readers, and is not vulnerable to this method. It also cleanly averts Everything Is Online and the myriad of Laundry network problems that Bob always complains about.
- Bob observes that Angleton's office is already TEMPEST shielded, so van Eck attacks would be impractical if the attacker wasn't in the same room as the terrifying sorceror. The implication is that the memex is there to protect some something else.
- Disaster Dominoes: Bob notes early in Memorandum that no disaster is a single event; instead, they're the result of a whole chain of small missteps that all add up in a spectacularly wrong fashion. This comes back as a Brick Joke when Iris and the rest of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharoah try to sacrifice him to summon up the Eater of Souls. Unfortunately for them, they've made a chain of missteps and misunderstandings: nothing disastrous individually, but in toto...
- Which is itself a bit of Fridge Brilliance. The basis of Chaos Theory is that miniscule changes in initial conditions can result in wildly different results when run through the same set of mathematical processes. Replace "conditions" with "mistakes" and "mathematical processes" with "plans."
- Dissonant Serenity: Angleton in "The Concrete Jungle".
- Driven to Suicide: There are very few vampires because most of them, upon realizing what they've become, kill themselves rather than survive via murder (it is impossible for a vampire not to kill their victims; drinking someone's blood allows the demonic entity that makes a person a vampire to feed on the victim's brain, which is always fatal).
- Eagleland: Um...is there a type three? Because while the Laundry and their European counterparts aren't exactly that good, they're about as nice as an organization can be in a world where Lovecraft Was Right. The Laundry's American counterpart, the Black Chamber, on the other hand, is basically outright evil, as are most other Americans who turn up as characters in the series. Basically the Supreme Court in the land of the free has taken What Measure Is a Non-Human? to its most extreme conclusion, by declaring that the Constitution only applies to humans, and only pure humans at that. The Black Chamber, officially the Operational Phenomenology Agency and once memorably described by Bob as "not so much our sister agency as our psycho ex-girlfriend turned bunny boiler", loves taking the "human" out of "human intelligence", using lots of golems, zombies, Deep Ones, and the like, all of whom are said to have had no choice in becoming disposable tools for the organization. And the handlers of the various creatures are just brutal. Their handlers ARE human, but are apparently enchanted and geassed up to the eyeballs so hard that they don't have even the minor freedom that the nonhuman grunts have. The only difference is that the nonhuman grunts are conscripts, and the handlers are (implied to be) volunteers. As demonstrated in The Apocalypse Codex, even death doesn't end employment with the Black Chamber. And not in a Residual Human Resources sense either. Indeed, they're proud of this; their motto is "Death is no escape." Admittedly, the same scene demonstrates what happens to those who break their oath to The Laundry, and it's not pretty.
- The name, "the Black Chamber", originated as a sobriquet for the Cipher Bureau, which was the United States' first dedicated cryptanalysis bureau, and thus a spiritual, if not lineal, predecessor of the National Security Agency.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Some aspects of The Atrocity Archives seem out of place compared with details from later in the series. For example, Bob says in AA that the reason he got drafted into the Laundry is because he almost summoned Nyarlathotep by accident. A couple books later, and this is basically stated to be impossible, at least not just by whipping up the right fractal algorithm.
Panin: ...there is a hierarchy of horrors here, a ladder that must be climbed. But the thing in the pyramid can set the process in motion, starting a chain of events that will ultimately open the doors of uncreation and release the Black Pharaoh.
- Also, in Down on the Farm, a few possible explanations for Krantzberg syndrome are posited, and the text states that there isn't a definitive answer as to what the true cause is. In every other work in the series, it's taken as read that K-syndrome is caused by performing mental magic.
- Eldritch Abomination: As you can expect in a Cosmic Horror Story, there's a whole hierarchy of them, coming from the many branches of the Multiverse: there's your average preta zombie-maker, which is closer to a few lines of necrosymbolic code than an actual lifeform. There are also the Feeders in the Night, which possess multiple bodies at a time and can spread by touch. Near the top of the ladder there are things like TEAPOT, which is as intelligent as, if not more so, than a human being, and very proficient in the occult disciplines. On the reality-altering level you have the Jotun Infovore and the Sleeper In The Pyramid On The Dead Plateau; having one of them summoned/awakened/released from captivity means you can pretty much kiss your universe goodbye. Above them still, you have The Black Pharaoh himself, Nyar lath'Hotep. Yes, that one.
- Empowered Badass Normal: Bob starts as an ordinary, albeit very competent, human, but gains the ability to among other things eat souls thanks to the events of The Fuller Memorandum. Persephone Hazard coaches him a little on it during The Apocalypse Codex.
- The Rhesus Chart has Bob upgraded into the Eater of Souls when Angleton dies, inheriting most of the powers (including the scary authority inherit in the position) and all the knowledge contained inside Angleton's Memex.
- The End of the World as We Know It: CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. In essence, billions upon billions of humans doing what we do—thinking, imagining, calculating—is very bad for reality. Sufficient levels of belief in an entity, or calculations related to an entity, can summon it from one of the countless parallel (and... not so parallel...) universes where an iteration of it exists. In the best of times, the ability to do so is generally offset by the difficulty. However, a roughly 70-year period is coming very soon—and probably has already begun—during which... well, during which the stars are right. CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is predicted to be bad enough that an all-out nuclear war was considered, in order to reduce the population and thus the chances of summoning something big and hungry. However, the sheer number of deaths would almost certainly attract equally unpleasant creatures—and that's assuming that nobody dedicates the deaths to their favorite gibbering horror.
- Enemy Mine: The Black Chamber is, as discussed above, downright evil. They're still responsible for keeping Eldritch Abominations from getting into the world (probably), though, so they have cooperated with The Laundry now and then.
- Energy Beings: Many summoned beings don't have their own bodies, and so must take possession of an existing one to exist in our universe. If it's a living body, it's often a case of Demonic Possession; otherwise, some beings—like the Feeders in the Night—will take hold of corpses. Since they're electrical creatures piggybacking the physical nervous system of a real body, though, it does mean they're vulnerable to electrical energy, like tasers.
- Evil Is Deathly Cold: The "Jotun" Infovore and many lesser abominations suck heat out of the environment. Spells can have the similar effect. In fact, unnatural cold often serves as the most obvious warning that something is horribly wrong.
- Specifically, following the mathematical rules of The Verse, especially powerful Eldritch Abominations will absorb information from existing systems. In macroscopic terms, this tends to cause things to get deathly cold, as a complete absorption of information would maximize entropy and cause all matter and energy to eventually reach a universal equilibrium where all matter and energy stops doing anything. This is why the Jotun Infovore was hoping to receive a nuclear explosion and therefore get a huge blast of fresh entropy to feed on, after having almost completely drained its entire universe.
- Evil Is Not a Toy:
- The Nazis learned this the hard way after summoning up something they couldn't put back down.
- So did Billington in The Jennifer Morgue.
- Everything Sensor: Bob's palmtop, progressively updated through the series.
- Exact Words: The Rhesus Chart has a character get mind controlled by an ancient vampire and ordered to guard a door and kill anyone who steps through it. While the vampire meant for him to kill heroes trying to get in, it occurs to them that this also applies to a mind-controlled minion trying to get out.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Extremely common throughout the series, including some quite creative ones. The consequence is that various characters quite willingly and casually risk their lives, since a violent death is seen as an unpleasant fate, but absolutely not as the worse thing that can happen.
- One of the reasons that Bob and Mo don't have children is because they know that if CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN comes to pass, slitting their own children's throats might be the best option to save them from an even worse fate.
- The Fettered: Angleton. Looking at the RPG, it's mentioned that whereas other PCs roll Sanity checks when confronted with danger, he rolls Etiquette. And when it reaches zero... it isn't good for anyone.
- First-Person Smartass: Bob throws a great deal of wry humor into his narration
- Fish People: Blue Hades are an extremely advanced species, living on and below the deep sea floor, that have been around for millions of years. The various occult spy agencies stay in semiregular contact with them via Half-Human Hybrid go-betweens. To their credit, they aren't hostile towards humanity (mainly because they've little use for the regions that mankind populates) which is just as well considering that they could wipe out much of us surface-dwellers via volcanoes and tsunamis. Angleton speculates that they have even more advanced weapons that humans cannot comprehend, comparing it to a soldier pointing a bayonet-tipped assault rifle towards a headhunter (who would only see a Blade on a Stick.)
- Foreshadowing: Early in Codex, Bob is sent off to a training course whose purpose is to identify talented administrators and managers from other government agencies, in case the Laundry needs to suddenly conscript them to fight CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. By the end of the book, Bob himself has passed his "test" with flying colors, and is conscripted into the secret-beyond-secret core of sorcerers and administrators who actually run the Laundry: Mahogany Row.
- For the Evulz: Not all of the eldritch abominations in the series, are driven by simple Horror Hunger. And this will be really unfortunate for humanity if one of them breaks into out universe. Cultists of the Black Pharaoh have shades of this as well.
- From Bad to Worse: The Fuller Memorandum has this in spades. It starts with an utterly bleak prologue, then lightens a bit in the first chapter, but things go rapidly downhill from there. (That said, the ending turns out to be not quite as bleak as the prologue implied.)
- The Rhesus Chart starts with a bad quarrel between Bob and Mo, and ends with the death of Angleton and several important side characters, and Bob separating from Mo.
- Fun with Acronyms: The Free Church of the Universal Kingdom (FCUK) is only a slightly scrambled version of what they plan to do to humanity...
- From "Equoid": Enhanced-Mobility Operational Capability Upgrade Mounts (EMOCUM)
- Inverted with the information campaign for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. It is classified as KGB.2.YA, which doesn't sound too bad until you realize it's short for "Kiss Good-Bye 2 Your Ass".
- The Mooks in The Jennifer Morgue keep referencing TLA's IPO. As it turns out, this does not stand for 'Initial Public Offering', but rather, 'Install Planetary Overlord'.
Tropes G - P
- Gambit Pileup: The Jennifer Morgue — Billington, the Black Chamber and the Laundry are all counting on each others plotting to achieve their own goals.
- Small ones to ensure secrecy are thrown around all the time.
- In the second book the protagonist is put under a geas that essentially turns him into James Bond. Too bad it's a trick by the big bad.
- TEAPOT, also known as Angleton, is controlled by one. It wore off decades ago.
- Genre Blindness: In The Jennifer Morgue. For a pop-culture quoting geek who claims to have seen all the films and books in question before he was 15, Bob takes an awfully long time to realize that the archetype he's labouring under is James Bond. He even gets a cabin where the DVDs are all Bond titles, and still doesn't figure it out. To his credit, he easily figures he's in some kind of thriller, but even after Billington tells him that the archetype in question has been reinforced by millions of viewers over fifty years of film — while they're at dinner— he still doesn't catch on. (Partially this is because the archetype itself is keeping him from realising, since he's more the (good) Bond girl rather than Bond himself; also, Ramona Random mentions that it's designed to prevent "recursive attacks", i.e. trying to brute-force your way through the geas by taking advantage of the knowledge of James Bond.)
- Genre Savvy: The villain of The Jennifer Morgue magically enforces a genre on the situation and the hero. All involved factions are aware of this and try to exploit it to their own advantage - it gets complicated near the end, when everyone tries to play their endgame at once, all of them slightly different than the other parties expect.
- Geometric Magic: various bits of magic in the series involve "Dho-Nha" curves, easily derived by proving Turing's last theorem. These curves amplify through space-time, tearing through reality and causing magic to happen. Bob's experimenting with unusual fractals comes dangerously close to generating a Dho-Nha function, and summoning an Eldritch Abomination to destroy Wolverhampton.
- Ghostapo: The Atrocity Archives deals with the consequences of Nazi attempts to harness an Eldritch Abomination ...via the Holocaust.
- Glowing Eyelights of Undeath: If someone's eye sockets are full of glowing worms, that's a good sign to start running.
- Godzilla Threshold:
- "The Concrete Jungle" shows that SCORPION STARE is supposed to be fed over every CCTV camera in Britain for use as a remote controlled defence grid, regardless of the potential body count when CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN comes about.
- Angleton mentions in The Jennifer Morgue that one of the support vessels for the operation, open for a "direct line of credit", is HMS Vanguard. Considering that the Blofeldian supervillain wants to resurrect an ancient Cthonian war god, having a sub full of ICBMs on standby suddenly looks like a reasonable precaution.
- The Fuller Memorandum has Bob, on the verge of being sacrificed by a cannibal cult to bring something very nasty into our universe, decide triggering a localized Zombie Apocalypse couldn't possibly make things worse.
- Going Native: The Fuller Memorandum reveals that this is Angleton's backstory. Bob suspects that he might be just siding with humanity because it gives him the best chances of survival during CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, though.
- Gone Horribly Right: A mild version of it. Angleton, a.k.a. TEAPOT, was originally trained to be a weapon, an Eater of Souls under the command of the Laundry's predecessor. Unfortunately for J.F.C. Fuller and the rest, when it was trained/indoctrinated to pass for human, it absorbed the British ideals—fair play and honour and a very sharp sense of humor—more than its cynical human masters did, rendering it useless in its original purpose of a hungry ghost. Instead the SOE assigned it to management, where it performs stellar service as Angleton.
- Good Shepherd: Pete, a local vicar and a friend of the Howards, shows up in Codex. Even though Bob claims to be an atheist (actually, closer to a Nay-Theist, but he couldn't well reveal the truth about betentacled Elder Gods and the like), he respects him for genuinely taking care of his flock's spiritual needs. Doubles as a Chekhov's Gunman when Bob needs a theological scholar to analyze the Apocalypse Codex of Saint Enoch, which Pete quickly deciphers as a guide to a ritual, not to mention deeply disturbing: Bob has to reassure him that, no, he hasn't gone batshit crazy and joined that particular church. Bob, naturally, feels really guilty about dragging him into it.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Ramona Random is half Deep One.
- Happily Married: Following the events of "Jennifer Morgue", Bob and Mo have a very healthy relationship, despite the looming specter of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
- Hellish Horse: The eponymous "equoids" in Equoid are large, bad-tempered, have sharp teeth, and eat meat (raw, and, for preference, alive). They're equipped with saddles that are pretty much cages, as much to protect the riders from their mounts as much as from whatever they might be riding toward.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Persephone and Johnny in Codex, despite both of them being attractive people and Johnny at least liking women. Despite their clear close friendship, there's basically no romantic interest between them at all.
- Hijacking Cthulhu: Attempted in several books with varying degrees of success.
- Historical Character Confusion: In "Pimpf," Peter-Fred Young thinking that Alan Turing worked for John Carmack. Which Bob lampshades.
- Historical-Domain Character: Several pop up in the archives of the Laundry; H.P. Lovecraft ironically enough is only regarded as a hack writer (though it appears he had one genuine encounter with an Eldritch Abomination).
- History Marches On: Minor case for Archive. A throwaway exchange has Mo find a copy of the missing volume four of Donald Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming (sort of like The Bible for computer scientists) on Bob's bookshelf. Bob explains that the Laundry has a deal with Knuth: "he doesn't publish volume four, and we don't render him metabolically challenged." In real life, the first part of volume four was finally published in 2005, one year after Archive.
- Then again, what Bob has is the un-redacted version.
- For the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group in The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross was originally going to have them be Al-Queda: "an obscure but fanatical and unpleasant gang who might, conceivably, be planning an atrocity on American soil".
- That is the first of no less than five incidents Stross cites here in which history swerved under the Laundry Files, sometimes early enough to correct, but sometimes after a book had been typeset but before it was officially released.
- Homage: Archive for Len Deighton, Morgue for James Bond. Fuller sounds like a Quiller title, but Word of God is that it ended up more of an Anthony Price homage. The Apocalypse Codex is a Modesty Blaise homage.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: at the end of The Apocalypse Codex, Pastor Schiller is left in the Pyramid with the newly-awakened Sleeper, whom he awakened, and who is hungry for souls to eat.
- Horror Hunger: Why most of the Eldritch Abominations appearing in the series are interested in humanity. Lots of them feed by increasing entropy (including destruction of information), so killing intelligent beings and (for more powerful ones) sucking out their souls gives them excellent nutrition.
- Humanoid Abomination: Angleton.
- Humans Are Special: Unfortunately, only in terms of danger the humanity unwittingly poses to itself, the Earth and the Universe. Other races don't seem to have quite the same potential for summoning malevolent soul-sucking Physical Gods by accident or stupidity, as evidenced by the world not being reduced to a toy of said gods yet.
- Insane Troll Logic: The Laundry's response to a committee in The Seventies which suggested using the Mother of a Thousand Young as a Weapon of Mass Destruction — even to develop such a system would invite a preemptive strike from the Soviets or the destruction of mankind by Blue Hades. The Laundry recommended that all the members of this committee be forced into early retirement and "denied access to sharp objects".
- I Should Write a Book About This: At the start of The Apocalypse Codex, Bob mentions that he has been encouraged to document his experiences in the field to serve as a (highly classified) resource to assist in training new Laundry agents.
- It Can Think: In Equoid the Eldritch Abomination gains sentience towards the end of its life cycle, and can make defensive moves like arranging for the delivery of a ton of ammonium nitrate, enough to blow up anyone who tried to Kill It with Fire before it spawns. At first Bob assumes this is due to it forming a Hive Mind with its young, but apparently it's due to reincarnation.
- I Want My Jet Pack: It's explained in the books that some "future" concepts are possible but are suppressed due to supernatural consequences (certain forms of computing open portals to hell-dimensions, underwater human bases would really piss off BLUE HADES, etc)
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: If you're really a Humanoid Abomination, eat this baby. Bob manages to pass as an Eater of Souls. Rather, he's forced to drink the baby's blood as part of a binding ritual for the Eater, and his resistance is accepted by the cultists as the Eater not wanting to be bound. He does find the taste of blood worryingly delightful during this time, though.
- I'm a Humanitarian: The cultists in The Fuller Memorandum. Nom nom nom!
- Incompetence, Inc.: The Laundry finds it easiest to deal with people who can't be let go by simply giving them a pointless paper-pushing job until they can retire with a pension. It's cheaper in some ways, and it avoids a lot of nasty legal and PR issues.
- The root of the matter is that they hire as an alternative to killing random civilians, and this is almost the only way anybody comes to work for them. Unlike a standard setup where people are Kicked Upstairs, all of the lowest-level jobs are sinecures.
- In-Series Nickname: The Black Chamber's omnipresence and sinister air lead to them being called the Nazgūl by the British characters. They also refer to the binding on volunteers as "The Dark Mark".
- Instrument of Murder: The Jennifer Morgue plays on this; Bob's girlfriend, Mo, carries a Zahn-model violin that she wields like a weapon. In an amusing Shout-Out to Woody Guthrie, the violin has "THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS" written on it. The violin itself is a shout out to the Lovecraft short, "The Music of Erich Zahn".
- Inspiration Nod: Persephone Hazard, the expy of Modesty Blaise, is referred to in the Laundry's internal files by the code name BASHFUL INCENDIARY.
- In the Blood: Johnny McTavish carries the bloodline of Lilith, which carries supernatural properties and is needed in a ritual. McTavish is an escaped member of one of the half-Deep One churches, knows exactly what the purpose entails, and has no intention of letting it come to pass.
- Whether Lilith existed or not is hard to say, but his ancestors presumably engaged in a little bit of hanky-panky with the Deep Ones so he isn't quite like a normal human.
- Invoked Trope: The destiny trap in The Jennifer Morgue.
- It Came from the Fridge: the reason temporal multiplexers are no longer allowed in the Howard residence. Cricket bats are involved.
- Killed Off for Real : By the end of The Rhesus Chart, OCCULUS trooper Steve Howe, Andy Newstrom, and Angleton, who have been around since the first book, are all killed.
- Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Deconstructed; the predecessors to the Laundry did this to Alan Turing. Since he was, you know, Alan Turing, this merely meant that they lost a potentially really useful resource when they could have achieved the same basic effect and made use of his skills and intelligence by simply drafting him into the service and making him sign the Official Secrets Act. After kicking themselves thoroughly, the Laundry went on to make averting this a matter of policy.
- An Enforced Trope with vampires, who kill off any other vampire they encounter, as even a small increase in the death rate in Britain would risk compromising them.
- Lighter and Softer: Compared to Stross's two earlier Cold War short cosmic horror stories "A Colder War" and "Missile Gap", in which humanity is brought to extinction by an all-out war and in one case, the remnants escape only to die of cold and starvation in an alternate dimension, the Laundryverse is downright optimistic about humanity's chances.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: In The Jennifer Morgue, the Hero Trap induces Bond Villain Stupidity on the villains holding Bob captive. They lock him in a stateroom in the yacht of the Big Bad, and while they do remove the obvious computer from its desk, they forget to check the television - which is an unsecured, network-capable Windows Media PC. And when Robert Oliver Francis Howard is not in the field, he's essentially the official Bastard Operator from Hell for Her Majesty's occult secret service...
- Lovecraft Lite: For the most part, as long as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN isn't involved.
- Mad Lib Thriller Title: Standard for the novels.
- The Magic Comes Back: CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
- Magic from Technology: forms the premise of the series' magical system.
- May Contain Evil: Downplayed and played for laughs, then subverted. Apparently Apple puts mild glamours on its products to make people want to buy them. Early in The Fuller Memorandum, Bob ends up falling for the glamour and buying an iPhone. It ends up saving his life after Pinky installs anti-monster apps on it without permission.
- The Men in Black: Most major powers in the setting maintain their own occult intelligence services. So far, we've seen the Laundry for the British, the Black Chamber for America, the Faust Force for Germany, and the Thirteenth Directorate for Russia.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Angleton seems not to have made it out of The Rhesus Chart. On the one hand, they Never Found the Body; on the other, it wasn't originally his anyway...
- The Mole: Iris Carpenter in The Fuller Memorandum.
- Ms. Fanservice: Ramona Random in The Jennifer Morgue.
- More Dakka: Laundry agents are discouraged from carrying guns around; they tend to be much more trouble than they're worth. On the other hand, when they do get authorization they get all kinds of fun toys. Like the Atchisson AA-12 that Harry the Horse offers Bob, who thinks it'd be great for clearing unwelcome visitors off their front step—and the sidewalk, and the street, and the neighbors across the street, and anyone in the neighbors' backyard as well...
- Musical Assassin: Dominique in The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum.
- Naytheist: As of The Fuller Memorandum, Bob is absolutely certain that there is a God, which god is the true God, and that the true God is coming back. Bob will be waiting for Him with a shotgun.
- As noted in Jennifer Morgue, he did not believe in God, but he did believe in Hell.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: gleefully subverted on one occasion.
- Necromancy: Bob is good at this.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Billington's first response to discovering the computer security on his warship-turned-yacht has been compromised? Sink the entire ship.
- Noodle Incident: Fairly frequent. Done to especially good effect by combination with the CLASSIFIED CODE WORDS naming scheme.
- Whatever Bob did the one time he succumbed to the urge to respond to a 419 Scam. All he'll say is that Laundry Internal Security waxed sarcastic at him for half an hour, and them made him give the scammers back their bank.
- No Such Agency: The Laundry and equivalents in other countries (Black Chamber, Thirteenth Directorate, and so on).
- No Such Thing as H.R.: Averted. They're not particularly helpful, though. HR is often the cause of the problems that in Real Life they'd be expected to solve. This is partly just because of Rule of Funny, partly because of the spy setting, partly because no one chose to be there and so they may take it out on each other, also partly because of the Ultimate Job Security - they can't lose their job until they screw up big enough to get killed.
- No Such Thing as Space Jesus: there are various cults that identify Jesus with any one of a number of horrors, not realizing that calling him back would certainly not result in rapture (although the apocalypse is almost certain should they succeed). Most of the Laundry is skeptical about him; Johnny McTavish sums up the main issue with associating him with a soul-eating horror:
...he grew up with this deviant theology, although he doesn't hold with with it himself—the doctrine that Jesus was a supernatural vessel for the Gatekeeper is inner doctrine, but he considers the idea that the Sermon on the Mount was delivered by a sockpuppet for the Sleeper in the Pyramid to be somewhere between implausible and hilarious.
- Nothing Is Scarier: In universe, Bob considers his boss, Angleton, less scary upon learning he's a "hungry ghost" named the Eater of Souls bound to the body of convicted murderer.
- Not What It Looks Like: Bob has a serious Oh, Crap moment when Mo comes home from assignment with her killer violin and finds Bob's ex-girlfriend Mhari in a stake of undress in their house. Bob successfully convinces his wife that Mhari is only there because she needs protection whereupon the violin tries to take control of Mo and force her to kill Mhari and then Bob when he intervenes. Fortunately Bob's newfound power is enough to restrain the violin. For now.
- Obfuscating Insanity: The residents of the Funny Farm's Secure Wing turns out to be a long-term research team sequestered within an asylum on the grounds that it's the most secure place for them.
- In The Rhesus Chart Basil appears to be a slightly-senile archivist, always rambling on about the good old days of World War II. Turns out he's the ancient vampire sorcerer they're searching for.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Bridget, Harriet, pretty much the entire Human Resources department. Some of them aren't above using ruthless methods to clear a spot on the promotion ladder either.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: In The Rhesus Chart we have a two hundred year old vampire with extensive necromantic power fighting one of the Auditors and then going toe to toe with Angleton which appears to have ended in a mutual kill. And it's relayed to the reader after the fact because everyone who witnessed it is dead and Bob's writing up a committee's post-mortem of what happened.
- Oh, Crap: Or as it's known in the trade, an Unscheduled Reality Excursion.
- Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: a variant on the phrase is used as a joking bit of spy speak (no, really!) in Concrete Jungle, when Bob needs to identify himself to the OCCULUS team he just called in. To be fair, "is that a gun in your hand or are you just here to have a wank?" is not a phrase most people would utter when staring down the snout of a carbine.
- Our Mermaids Are Different: The half-Deep Ones are aquatic lifeforms but not half-fish, avoiding the Mermaid Problem. It's explicitly mentioned that some Laundry employees "start spending too much time skinny-dipping with a snorkel". They actually look passably human as long as they don't spend too much time in salt water. Otherwise they eventually change into Deep Ones, Innsmouth-style. Ramona Random says that those like herself are intended to look good and associate with humans more, while the "bumpkin cousins" sporting the ugly half-transformed "Innsmouth look" are decidedly more common.
- Our Souls Are Different: They're the informational echoes of a person's consciousness; although these echoes can occasionally haunt a spot as a ghost, souls are of more significance as food for various otherworldly abominations.
- Our Zombies Are Different: They're demons bound into reanimated corpses. The garden-variety are not very clever, and are apparently programmable if you know the right language. However, there are many types of demons, and accidentally summoning the wrong kind gives rise to a possessed corpse that can steal souls by touch. Oh, and make all the Boom, Headshots you want. It won't help.
- Painting the Medium: Codex switches between first and third person narration, all written by Bob. His idiosyncratic narration bleeds over into the third-person sections, such as when the decidedly non-geeky Johnny makes an "all your base" reference during a phone conversation.
- Though admittedly, it is mentioned that Johnny plays World of Warcraft, so he might be more geeky than people give him credit for.
- Also in that book, a P90 is described variously as a machine pistol, a submachine gun, a "big gun", and a machine gun, all within a few pages. None of those are technically correct; it's a "Personal Defense Weapon", though SMG comes closest. Bob mentioned earlier - and shows during the sequence in question - that he's crap with guns. Hence his problem identifying it.
- Plot Tailored to the Party: The Jennifer Morgue, in keeping with the James Bond theme, features the typical bunch of random gadgets. Ramona also mumbles about this in a conversation with Bob, much to his confusion. Doubly subverted - near the end of the story, Bob muses that he ended up using all the gadgets except for an unmodified Zippo lighter that "he's going to keep". It then ends up playing an essential role in the epilogue.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: The woman from the Laundry's cover-organisation who doesn't have a clue what Bob actually does but, thanks to matrix-management, somehow has a say in how he does it. This is thanks to the fact that Bob basically has two jobs in the Laundry. The important one is as a field operative, which involves doing things that are very classified and even being in the Laundry doesn't get you the information without being cleared for it. His second job, during all the extended periods where he's not fending off colors out of space, is as a network technician keeping a section of the Laundry's computers running smoothly. The boss for his second job considers the entire field work division to be unimportant compared to the bureaucratic busywork, and constantly rode Bob's ass over it until Angleton dealt with her.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: Pale Grace Skin Hydromax cream. Made from "100% natural ingredients". There are also various other rituals and artifacts requiring human sacrifices.
- Precision F-Strike: Bob is generally gleefully profane in his narration; on the other hand, when Angleton curses, you know things have really gone to shit. Whereas, when Angleton says "Oh dear", you know the situation has... gone significantly outside anticipated operational parameters.
- Precursors: ANNING BLUE SKULL, the Elder Things, created life on Earth before being wiped out by their creations, ANNING BLACK (the Shoggoths). Everyone from the Nazis to the Black Chamber and Laundry is always eager to locate and study their technology (which is both deceptively simple and impossibly dangerous), because all evidence points to their having both encountered and survived a CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN-like scenario in their deep past. Since there's none of them left on Earth to ask, recent efforts have concentrated on the capture, containment and control/interrogation of Shoggoths.
- Pride Parade: Bob explains to Mo in The Atrocity Archive that back in the day when it was against secret service policy to be homosexual because they viewed you as a security risknote , homosexuals actually ended up as one because they were vulnerable to blackmail ("do this for me or I tell your boss and you're fired"). The solution ended up being to ensure that if an employee was gay, he was openly gay, since you can't be blackmailed if you're not hiding anything. Hence, once a year Camp Gay Pinky drags Straight Gay Brains out to Gay Pride to maintain the latter's security clearance.
- Punch-Packing Pistol: 'Basilisk guns', the Weapon of Choice for the Laundry's nerdier operatives, are really digital cameras loaded with a very special software package that explosively petrifies anything in the viewfinder, but function in all regards like a particularly powerful and well-disguised version of this trope. If a Laundryman wants to take your photo, run.
- Punk in the Trunk: Bob gets stuffed in the trunk of a car by cultists in The Fuller Memorandum. With a badly injured arm, so he's in tremendous pain the whole ride.
- Punny Name: Check the quote at the top of the page. Remember the "many-angled ones"? Think of what Angleton breaks down into.
- Puppeteer Parasite / Orifice Invasion: The tongue-eating cymothoans in The Apocalypse Codex.
Tropes R - Z
- Rank Up: Ever since The Atrocity Archives, Bob has been fast-tracked for promotion and is steadily rising through the ranks of the Laundry. The last lines of Codex: "welcome to Mahogany Row."
- Reasonable Authority Figure:
- Angleton. Not nice, but reasonable. He'll make fun of his subordinates if he feels they deserve it ("Go away, before I mock you," when Bob did something dumb in Archive) and does not suffer fools gladly (reference the fate of the late, unlamented Bridget), but if you're competent and make the effort he will back you all the way.
- In The Fuller Memorandum, Iris. In contrast to his previous line managers Bob thinks she's the type who acquired her management skills shepherding a large, unruly family rather than in business school. Horrifyingly subverted when it turns out she's The Mole and head of a cult of Nyarlathotep.
- The Senior Auditor in The Apocalypse Codex.
- Reincarnation: In Equoid the Mother of a Thousand Young encounters H.P. Lovecraft who manages to Kill It with Fire, but not before the dying creature tells him We Will Meet Again. When Bob Howard encounters the creature in contemporary times, it implies that he's the reincarnation of Lovecraft — ironic as Bob had earlier dismissed HPL as an unreliable hack writer with a bent for Purple Prose.
- Religion of Evil: Some of the bigger cults to various Things Which Should Not Be, including one masquerading as an evangelical megachurch in Apocalypse Codex, whose leader believes the Sleeper in the Pyramid to be Christ come again—and that it is his job to bring Him back via mass sacrifice.
- Ret Gone: The 'Forecasting Operations Department'. The precogs who would be in the Department predicted that the formation of the Department would inevitably lead to disaster, resulting in them deciding never to form the Department in the first place.
- Revealing Coverup: Averted. The Laundry only uses assassination as an absolute last resort for this very reason. They find it much more useful to recruit people who find out instead. This also doubles as punishment, since the job tends to force people to retire early.
- Ritual Magic: It's almost exactly opposed to the Laundry's branch of Computational Demonology, in that it requires innate talent, a lot of it, to use properly without frying your own brain. It's also hinted to be just as powerful, if not more, than its more mathematical counterpart. Persephone Hazard turns out to be a practitioner.
- Roleplaying Game Terms: Used for a gag in The Fuller Memorandum. Bob has just gotten his PDA fried and needs to pick up a new one. He just happens to stumble upon the iPhone sitting pretty in a display case. In Mo's words:
"Bob loses saving throw versus shiny at -5 penalty, takes 3d8 damage to the credit card."
- Running Gag: Whenever Bob gets annoyed at the Laundry's bureaucratic excesses, he brings up the regular paperclip audits. Then they crop up again in the middle of The Fuller Memorandum and it turns out there's a very good reason for them: a Chekhov's Gun set up 5 stories ago. Whew.
- Sarcastic Confession: The Blofeldian supervillain of The Jennifer Morgue jokingly claims that his plans for world domination are all for Fluffy's sake. "Fluffy" is the vessel for the mind of the ancient Eldritch Abomination that he plans on resurrecting.
- Sealed Evil in a Duel: In The Rhesus Chart'', a powerful vampire sorcerer attacks the Laundry and Angleton apparently performs a Heroic Sacrifice to stop him, but they Never Found the Body as they're sealed inside a dome-shaped protection ward too powerful to even approach. Earlier another vampire had demonstrated the use of such a ward to keep his victims alive so they can be fed upon.
- Screw Destiny:
- At the end of The Jennifer Morgue, Bob breaks the Bond destiny by proposing to Mo.
- "Overtime" also does this in its climax.
- Secret Test of Character: Specifically invoked in The Apocalypse Codex when Bob is not told about his mission just to see how far his loyalty goes. It tends to surprise even his testers. (But not Angleton.)
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: When Dr. Kringle prophesies that there will be no Christmas party next year, everyone assumes that it's because the Laundry will be overrun by gibbering squamous horrors by then. When Bob asks if they couldn't avert that by just canceling the party themselves, Andy derides the idea as ridiculous. (The rest of Dr. Kringle's news was that they'd done the math wrong and the apocalypse was coming early — and in fact had already started to warm up. Bob's suggestion was that they delay the apocalypse indefinitely by canceling the Christmas party so it can't be disrupted.) Dr. Kringle's morbid pronouncement kills the appetite at the office party, resulting in leftover pies which allowed Bob to banish Santa Claus. Otherwise, the horror would have taken up residence in the Laundry building and eaten everybody, thus making this a rare case of a Self-Averting Prophecy.
- Lots to H.P. Lovecraft
- Those Two Techy Guys are nicknamed Pinky and Brains.
- The Jennifer Morgue is a Whole Plot Reference to James Bond.
- When a Mook picks up Bob's enchanted iPhone, he is on the receiving end of a nasty curse that turns him briefly into a dancing black silhouette (such as in iPod advertising) before killing him.
- Bob Howard, named after Robert E. Howard, collaborator and friend of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.
- Bob also has a pair of middle names, Oliver & Francis, making his initials BOFH.
- And the intern he acquires in Pimpf is named Peter-Fred Young, and is indeed a pimply-faced youth.
- This is referenced in the God Game Black RPG sourcebook, where it's mentioned that Bastard Operator is not actually Bob's codename, no matter how much he wishes that it were.
- Known Discworld fan Stross equips Bob with a thaumometer in The Atrocity Archive. There's another joke there about being locked in the library by an orangutan if Mo stayed too late. Dungeon Dimensions also are mentioned.
- Pimpf features a reference to Delta Green.
- The Fuller Memorandum also features a note from the Laundry's founder to a friend in Naval Intelligence with the codename "17F".
- The Fuller Memorandum additionally has Bob idly reading a novel about a private magician for hire in Chicago.
- This remark in The Atrocity Archive when Bob is giving an overview of computational demonology:
- The trip through the titular Atrocity Archive includes a glimpse of a rack-like machine full of glass needles - likely the execution device from Kafka's "In the Penal Colony," itself a story about a murderous tradition carried out by authoritarian bastards with occult delusions.
- The name of the badass Scottish soldier-of-fortune who accompanies Persephone, and who has killed opponents with throwing knives? Johnny McTavish.
- The Jennifer Morgue has Bob going on at length about the the weird practices of the Black Chamber and American occult intelligence, saying that "staring at goats is the least of it."
- "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." "Three times is enemy action" has been used frequently.
- Angleton is a Shout-Out to James Jesus Angleton, head of counter-intelligence for the CIA from 1954 to 1975 and generally remembered as a very strange man. (One particularly wild conspiracy theory had it that he personally ordered the murder of John F Kennedy because he thought Kennedy was a Soviet mole.)
- By the way, this has the result of making it a seriously surreal experience to read the real-life Angleton's Wikipedia page shortly after reading the Laundry books. Try it.
- "Equoid", in which Bob investigates a farm in Sussex, has numerous shout-outs to Cold Comfort Farm, culminating with Bob seeing something nasty in the woodshed.
- To Dungeons & Dragons in The Fuller Memorandum. Mo's remarks on Bob's purchase of an iPhone:
"Bob loses saving throw versus shiny at -5 penalty, takes 3d8 damage to the credit card."
- Shrouded in Myth:
- Angleton, at first; we learn more about him in Memorandum.
- Persephone Hazard; the Laundry only has brief, tantalizing glimpses of her past lives—a war refugee from the Balkans, murdered adoptive parents followed by the sudden demise of some local cultists, suddenly-stellar university grades in various arcane subjects, et cetera.
- Shrunken Head: At the end of short story "Pimpf", Bob's boss Angleton is seen playing with a Newton's cradle. Upon closer inspection the balls turn out to be the shrunken heads of the story's Big Bad Duumvirate, implied to be still alive and aware despite the treatment.
- Signed Up for the Dental: One of the Black Chamber's minions in The Apocalypse Codex explains to Johnny that he signed up with them because he had no other way to pay his wife's medical bills. It's Played for Drama; he's well aware of what the Black Chamber's work entails, and that joining them was a bad choice, but it was the only choice he had.
- Someone Has to Die: At the end of The Atrocity Archive, someone has to stay behind to blow up the nuke manually and cause a "fizzle". At the end of the book, he's suffering the effects of radiation poisoning and the outlook is not the best, but then The Jennifer Morgue confirms he survived; he shows up again as the leader of The Cavalry after the cat dies. Lampshaded in the RPG, where Bob notes that there had to be some potent magic involved to keep him alive, and wonders just what the cost was...
- Spacetime Eater: The Infovore, which feeds on quantum information and is thus actively causing the premature death of the alternate universe.
- Space Is Cold: Stross did his research in The Atrocity Archives. Despite the ambient temperature on the alternate Earth being roughly 40 Kelvin, the characters note that since there's no air they can't lose heat by convection, so heat exhaustion is a potential danger.
- Starfish Aliens: All of the aliens are patently bizarre, but GENOA FRACTAL, aka the Flying Polyps, are more akin to a sentient infection than a race: they develop as a "Stage-V metastasis" of cancer, where the tumor bursts out of the patient and starts floating around and killing people. Apparently a Mad Scientist has been making them via cloning; it's unclear how the ancient variety from Australia relates to them.
- Stealth Pun: Bob is eventually revealed to have the middle names Oliver Francis, at the same time as he is reluctantly given an apprentice; Peter-Fred Young. So that's BOFH and PFY...
- Succubus: The demon riding Ramona Random.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens / Higher-Tech Species: Most of the known nonhuman/alien species are significantly more advanced than humanity (though not all of them are explicitly extraterrestrial):
- BLUE HADES, the Deep Ones, can sink most coastal nations and islands, and are apt at both genetic engineering and sorcery. Technically we've signed the Benthic Treaty which prohibits them from attacking signatory nations without a good reason, but the wording is more along the lines of "unless they feel like it" than anything else. They're at war with DEEP SEVEN.
- DEEP SEVEN, also known as the Chthonians, can tectonically destabilize almost any land area on the planet, and a single one can lay waste to a whole city. It's unclear how much of it is technology and how much is their innate Fast Tunnelling.
- ANNING BLUE SKULL, the Antarctic Crinoids or Elder Things, are pretty much everyone's Precursors, at least in terms of biology. The RPG book describes them as either genetically engineered or evolved to a staggering degree of adaptability: in addition to their fabled resistance to everything from hard vacuum to crushing pressures, their manipulators have fingers that subdivide into bundles of five all the way down to the nanoscopic scale, allowing them to manipulate cells and DNA by hand. All of their surviving technology is impossibly advanced, with something as mundane as a heater making use of another universe for power. Moreover, their cities and ruins get into your head, dumping an understanding of their culture and society into the brain of everyone who spends a few hours exploring them.
- PLUTO KOBOLD, otherwise known as the Fungi from Yuggoth or the Mi-Go have apparently been running mining colonies all over the planet, in near-complete secrecy, for millions of years. Apart from their hobby of snatching up the brains of people and random sheep, not much known about them. The Laundry has the head of one as a captive, but its responses are just Mind Screwy enough that we don't know if it's real of a Black Chamber plant.
- OLD DREAMER are The Great Race Of Yith. Again, not much has been said about them so far, except for one account in the RPG Rulebooks referring to a 19th century bloke who got snatched away by them.
- Sunglasses at Night: The mooks in The Jennifer Morgue. Bob wonders why, and it turns out it's because they're wearing eyeliner, which their boss can use to monitor their eyes and ears. Since they have stock options, they don't mind, but the shades are because it's hard to take a guard wearing eyeliner seriously.
- Supernatural Phone: Magic is advanced maths, and is therefore easier for computers to do than people. When Bob gets an iPhone, Brain gimmicks it to have the usual array of Laundry Agent spells as apps.
- Taken for Granite: The basilisk effect, which converts carbon to silicon via spooky observer-effect magic. Then blows it apart thanks to the wildly unstable molecular configurations that result. Originally formed by a particular kind of brain tumour, SCORPION STARE is the result of the Laundry producing a chip that can duplicate the effect with a camera, allowing its use as a weapon. Any camera with the chip can be activated through an Internet connection, and this includes just about every CCTV, webcam, and digital camera in Great Britain. And you know those DRM chips Hollywood wants installed in all new cameras? Guess what those are.
- They're actually just DRM chips: the in-universe point of the DCMA is that any chip capable of functioning as compliant DRM has both the computational power to emulate the appropriate cluster of nerve cells and the capacity to have its firmware updated to do just that, usually over the Internet. Neither the Laundry nor Black Chamber - as a whole - are stupid enough to consider actually globally deploying SCORPION STARE until the Godzilla Threshold is passed.
- The Nazis were implied to have been working on forcibly creating human basilisks as terror weapons. The Allies considered this to be crossing the Moral Event Horizon and threatened use of chemical weapons on German cities if the project was not shut down.
- Theory of Narrative Causality: Powers Billington's Hero-trap geas. He casts himself as the villain in a James Bond plot, limiting his opposition to one hero archetype, and at the critical moment plans to destroy the geas, leaving himself ascendant and unopposed. Of course, that would only work if he captured the true Bond figure, instead of the designated love interest — at which time, the plot becomes one of the variations.
- He also failed to consider that Bond Villain Stupidity inflicted on him by the geas will also influence his attempts to shut down the geas. And that the last step of his plan while under the geas was 'turn off the geas at the right moment'...and the final step of Bond villain plans never succeed.
- This Page Will Self-Destruct: happens to Bob's Powerpoint briefing in The Jennifer Morgue when he takes too long and doesn't get to finish it. Angleton is less than pleased, and resorts to sending him future briefings in his dreams.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Created the contents of the titular Atrocity Archives.
- Too Dumb to Live: Fred the Accountant.
- Took a Level in Badass: Dominique, as a result of the Hero-trap geas. Bob himself steadily levels through the series, and is acknowledged as a good operative even in the first book. By book three, Mo herself has apparently kept the several levels of badass that she's taken, primarily due to her skills with the Erich Zahn-model violin, that the OCCULUS special forces team willingly accepts her presence on missions.
- She even warrants her own codename now, CANDID. Single word codenames are exceptionally unusual, but whether this implies she is unusually important or not has not yet been revealed. Another such entity, TEAPOT, has a history dating back hundreds of years and the disappearance of its summoning ritual was enough to cause an international incident and be the cornerstone of a plan to usher in the end of the world ahead of schedule.
- Bob himself. As a result of having his soul ripped out, then being summoned in place of the Eater of Souls at the end of book three., in book four, he has gained, among other, the ability to consume souls, and command certain types of undead.
- Trauma Conga Line: The Fuller Memorandum, made clear from the onset (in the prologue). In order, Bob performs an exorcism that goes bad and ends up killing a civilian. The next day, Mo gets an even more traumatizing job and returns on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Then Bob gets attacked by a zombie, shot, attacked by Cthulhu cultists and narrowly escapes, his office is broken in, he gets an internal investigation set on him, gets suspended, attacked by the cultists again, kidnapped, gets part of his right arm carved up and eaten while he's fully conscious, and is very nearly possessed by the Eater of Souls. The latter ritual involving, among other things, the cultists killing a baby and making Bob drink its blood. Mind that the whole ordeal happens within a two-week period. At the end of it, Bob is a wreck both physically and psychically, as alluded to by both the prologue and epilogue. Though Overtime suggests that he does recover eventually.
- Tuckerization: Dr Mike Ford, the Laundry researcher with the implausible eyebrows who appears in The Fuller Memorandum, is a tuckerization of author and fan personality John M Ford, to whom the novel is dedicated.
- Ultimate Job Security: Everyone in the Laundry has it. They can get themselves killed through treason, failed coups or their own innocent stupidity, but no one is ever fired. This is because Laundry policy is to made dangerous people safe by employing them. To keep people quiet, in most cases they are given jobs in the Laundry (and Mind Control to make them incapable of discussing it with people without the proper clearance.)
- Unexplained Recovery: The last time we see Capt. Alan Barnes in The Atrocity Archive, he's on a hospital bed being treated for 500 rems of radiation poisoning. Then in The Jennifer Morgue, he shows up with The Cavalry, looking like a recovered radiation-therapy patient but otherwise fine. Bob lampshades it in the RPG by wondering what the Laundry had to promise to whom to get this effect.
- Unicorn: It's not all My Little Pony except for the magic.
- Unreliable Narrator: For one thing, his name isn't "Bob Howard", for I Know Your True Name reasons. Also, the characters sound slightly different when he's narrating in first person compared to the independent/"reconstruction"/speculation third-person bits. Details of Bob's past, like what exactly disaster he almost caused unwittingly before The Laundry found him also may vary.
- The Un-Smile: Angleton's smile is traumatizing. Bob compares it to "seeing an atom bomb go off over your hometown and getting to watch all your pets and lovers and children die simultaneously."
Angleton smiles at her, and she freezes. (...)"We will leave now," he says, and steps past her. I follow him, and try to ignore the solitary tear
overflowing her left eyelid and trickling under her surgical mask."
- Vampire Hunter: Deconstructed; anyone willing to track down and kill vampires must by definition be insane — given that vampires are essentially serial killers with Super Strength, Mind Control and are (usually) powerful sorcerers. As vampire numbers must be kept low to maintain The Masquerade, the more cunning and long-lived vampires utilize these psychotics to kill off their rivals. In The Rhesus Chart, the vampire hunter is a woman with a 'fang fetish' who assassinates vampires by seducing them, breaking their neck, having sex with their paralyzed body, then leaving them next to an open window so they'll be burnt up come dawn. And you thought Spike and Buffy got up to some twisted shit.
- Vast Bureaucracy: The Laundry. The Laundry has a policy of offering everyone who knows too much a job (killing them is too conspicuous and messy). As a result, they're completely overstaffed by incompetent (or at least untrained) drones with Ultimate Job Security. All the bureaucracy is just a way of keeping them busy.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Lots of references to Mandelbrot sets, P-complete and NP-complete equations, the Church-Turing thesis, etc. If you're not a geek, a lot of Shown Their Work will be lost on you; fortunately, the real meat of the story still scans if you just read it as "burble burble jargon burble".
- The Virus: The Infovore of The Atrocity Archives, along with numerous other Lovecraftian beasties. Demons in the setting spread along electrical circuits, and skin is conductive...
- What Would X Do?: In Codex, Persephone has a "WWLJD" bracelet. When she's trying to infiltrate Schiller's compound, everyone naturally assumes it stands for "What would Lord Jesus do?" Actually, it's "What would Leeroy Jenkins do?"
- Xanatos Gambit: It's revealed late in Codex that Schiller's security chief is an operative for the Black Chamber. Persephone figures it out in time: if Schiller succeeds, the Black Chamber could potentially grab control of a powerful supernatural entity, and if he fails, they would be rid of a dangerous madman. Whether the operative was running a officially sanctioned or a rogue operation is left worryingly unanswered.
- This is remakably similar to the setup in Jennifer Morgue, with the reasoning behind their actions left equally unanswered.
- X Meets Y: The Cthulhu Mythos meets Spy Fiction (Stale Beer variety)... meets Dilbert.
- You Can't Make an Omelette...: Pinky and Brain try to prove this is in fact possible. Their results are somewhat dubious, but it proves to be a Chekhov's Gun when Bob uses their technique to disrupt the detonation of a nuclear device.
- You Can Never Leave: You can leave the Laundry, just as long as you don't take a job in any area that might get you into trouble, like computing. Which rules out any job that Bob might be interested in. However by The Rhesus Chart this policy has changed due to the number of people who now know about The Masquerade; instead those who are useful to society are inducted, trained, then let back into the workplace as a reserve force to be drawn on in emergencies, as well as providing useful contacts throughout society. Officially their absence is explained by their working part-time for the Territorial Army (aka the Army Reserve).
- Your Soul Is Mine: type 2/2B. Certain eldritch beasties, as well as machines designed for the role, can kill someone and then destroy their soul. Since many abominations feed by increasing entropy, the destruction of ordered data (like a soul) works well for summoning or feeding them.
- Wham Episode: The Rhesus Chart
- Wham Line: The very last line of The Apocalypse Codex. "Welcome to Mahogany Row, Mr. Howard. And may whichever god you choose to believe in have mercy on your soul."