Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Equoid, by Charles Stross

A Laundry novella about My Little Ponies from hell.

Equoid, 2013, 65 pages. Available online at

"Equoid" is set shortly before the events of the "The Fuller Memorandum". It's the longest non-novel-length Laundry story so far. And it explains (among other things) precisely what H. P. Lovecraft saw behind the wood-shed when he was 14 that traumatized him for life, the reproductive life-cycle of unicorns, and what really happened on Cold Comfort Farm.

What happens when you mix unicorns, virgins, and Lovecraft.

To understand why I knew I'd been tricked, you need to know who I am and what I do. Assuming you've read this far without your eyeballs boiling in your skull, it's probably safe to tell you that my name's Bob Howard-at least, for operational purposes; true names have power, and we don't like to give extradimensional identity thieves the keys to our souls-and I work for a secret government agency known to its inmates as the Laundry. It morphed into its present form during the Second World War, ran the occult side of the conflict with the Thousand Year Reich, and survives to this day as an annoying blob somewhere off to the left on the org chart of the British intelligence services, funded out of the House of Lords black budget.

Bob Howard, a "computational demonologist," is sent to a rural English horse farm at the request of a local veterinarian, who knows just enough about the Laundry to call them in. They soon deduce that they are looking for unicorns.

This is not good - unicorns, in the Laundry universe, are not pretty ponies with sparkly horns. They are evil tentacled horrors who literally wear humans like sock puppets.

Stross is actually being subversive on two levels here. Traditional unicorns were also not prancing white horsies who gently laid their heads in virgins' laps - they were nasty and murderous in the original legends. Stross just makes them nastier with a Lovecraftian twist.

Speaking of Lovecraft, Stross invokes him directly in Equoid. Bob fills himself in on unicorns by reading Lovecraft's original letters. Howie apparently encountered an actual unicorn when he was a young man, and Stross has a bit too much fun trying to replicate HPL's turgid, purple prose.

Not until I met the blessed Sonia was I was even partially healed of the wound in my soul that the unicorn inflicted. Even today I am only half the man that I might have been had I not met the abomination in the stable. And this is why I urge you not to write lightly of the four-legged parasite that preys upon our instinct to protect & cherish the fairer sex. They are a thing of unclean & blasphemous appetites that preys upon the weak & foolish & our own intrinsic tendency towards degeneracy & self-abuse. Worse still, they harbor a feral intellect and they plan ahead. They must be destroyed on sight! Otherwise the madness & horror will breed, until only darkness remains.

Bob's job of cleaning out a nest of unicorns eventually involves a full tactical assault, a very ugly conversation with a child-killing monster, and uncovering a plot going back decades in Her Majesty's civil service. Equoid is humorous while being quite horrific, and if it were wholly original and stand-alone, would probably be a strong contender for my vote for the Hugo. However, I'm not sure it's the best of Stross's Laundry stories, and I hesitate to give the award to what amounts to just another episode in an ongoing series.

Verdict: As an homage and satire of Lovecraft, Equoid is both funny and repulsive; if you like gruesome monsters and British humor, it's a good read, but if the life-cycle of alien mollusks who depend on young girls to spread their spawn does not sound appealing, this may not be your cup of tea.

Also by Charles Stross: My reviews of Accelerando, Saturn's Children, and Neptune's Brood.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: 2014 hugo nominee, books, charles stross, reviews, science fiction

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