I read Stross’s The Fuller Memorandum not long ago. It’s good as usual, though two of the major plot points I anticipated (it’s nice to be surprised instead). However, I’m starting to have some quibbles about the whole Laundry concept.
Briefly, it’s hard to write even ersatz spy novels without absorbing the spy-novel mentality, and that feels rather right-wing to me… and it’s about ten times more so when it’s dealing with magic and Lovecraftian horror. The basic idea, after all, is that there is knowledge that must not be known. You don’t want every 14-year-old hacker figuring out how to summon alien mind-eating intelligences. Thus, you know, secret agency, triple top secret, etc.
Fine, but this is pretty much diametrically opposed to both democracy, and to the best notions of how science progresses. In this book Stross posits that increasing population is going to trigger the end of the world. Isn’t that something that might merit breaking open the “top secret” stickers so we can get some wider input?
I know, nukes. Publish plans for a nuclear weapon and you’ll undoubtedly quickly make aquaintances in high places. But one, we concentrate much more on restricting the technology than the knowledge (which is really almost impossible; nukes after all are now a half-century-old idea). And two, we certainly don’t hide the very existence of nuclear weapons, or prevent voters from knowing about them and taking them into account as they vote.
There’s a reason we don’t generally restrict knowledge and technology to an elite– it throttles both, and leads to authoritarian callousness. There’s a certain disconnect because Stross is fairly left-wing himself, so I’d expect a little more undermining of these tropes. (He goes out of the way, in fact, to show that the Laundry is a typical hidebound bureaucracy, and makes some extremely morally dubious decisions about its own employees. But so far we haven’t got the Laundry equivalent of a Wikileaks, or even a Seymour Hersh.)