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The Atrocity Archives (A Laundry Files Novel) Mass Market Paperback – December 30, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Lovecraft's Cthulhu meets Len Deighton's spies in Stross's latest, as the Scottish author explains in his afterword to this offbeat book offering two related long novellas, "The Atrocity Archive" and "The Concrete Jungle" (the latter previously unpublished). With often hilarious results, the author mixes the occult and the mundane, the truly weird and the petty. In "Atrocity," Bob, a low-level computer fix-it guy for the Laundry, a supersecret British agency that defends the world from occult happenings, finds himself promoted to fieldwork after he bravely saves the day during a routine demonstration gone awry. With his Palm, aka his Hand of Glory (a severed hand that, when ignited, renders the holder invisible), and his smarts, he saves the world from a powerful external force seeking to enter our universe to suck it dry. In "Jungle," Bob teams up with a cop, Josephine, to save the Laundry from a powermonger who seeks to stage an internal coup by using zombies as her minions. Amid all the bizarre happenings are the everyday trappings of a British bureaucracy. Bob gets called on the carpet by his bosses because he requested backup during an emergency without first getting his supervisor's okay and filling out the requisite forms. Though the characters all tend to sound the same, and Stross resorts to lengthy summary explanations to dispel confusion, the world he creates is wonderful fun.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
""Stross has gene-spliced H. P. Lovecraft and Len Deighton to produce a SF thriller that is both witty and unsettling."
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Top Customer Reviews
The British Secret Service (MI-6, the anti-spell branch) has a unique way of dealing with theoreticians who trip over the right formulae - they hire them into The Laundry and retire them to meaningless desk jobs. Bob Howard, however, is a little to itchy for the passive life. After a lot of trying he manages to get into field work. Now, as a relief from an irritating boss who counts paperclips and takes regular attendance, Bob gets to deal with dark forces and demonic possession.
There are two tales in this book. The first is The Atrocity Archives, which was Charles Stross's initial effort. Told as one long computer geek in-joke, the story introduces us to Bob and follows him through his first set of assignments and nervous breakdowns, while a series of ever more peculiar administrators keep telling him what a good job he's doing.
And he is doing a good job. Spotting mathematicians who have crossed the line, saving workshop attendees from being munched, and getting thrown out of the States for poking too far into the badness on what should have been a routine extraction. But even good agents have bad days and our wisecracking hero finds himself going through a portal to rescue a very attractive scientist from a very dead earth.
The second story Concrete Jungle mixes interdepartmental politics, electronic basilisks, and fears about the end of the world in a story of one too many cows.
Intrigued? If you are comfortable with computers, or at least have a handle on geek speak and enjoy twisted, funny writers whose imaginations have run wild, this is something you will want to read. Despite a large serving of sarcasm and irony, Stross also manages to deliver a genuinely interesting plot with as much action as there is esoteric muttering. By all means check this out. I'm going to order everything else he's written.
There is a fascinating premise to this series: A stifling bureaucratic govt. agency that guards against supernatural entities--the existence of these beings is dependent on physics and math. That certainly got my attention. Unfortunately, there were pages of alphabet soup bureaucratic details and pages of science concepts that would hold no meaning for anyone not working in the field. Consequently, a large of this book lacked any drama.
I was on the fence about a one star rating, but the crisis scene on the Nazi planet was very exciting and well written.
I like the concept, but now I have to decide if I will be able to go straight to the starred review book, or if I should give another book a try.
The Atrocity Archives is best read with this in mind: despite looking a bit like horror, this is really hard science fiction with a lot of humour and a very weird Lovecraftian twist regarding the nature of the world. It's geeky but cool, a clever take on the spy thriller, and the only connection it has with "A Colder War" is that it's Lovecraft-inspired spy fiction by the same author. (Indeed, other even sillier Lovecraft homages appear in his short story collection "Toast").
The one-star review below should be taken with a grain of salt: don't come to any book with brittle expectations and then complain that it's the book's fault when your expectations are dashed!
The Atrocity Archives is quite unlike anything else out there at the moment, but those familiar with Stross, Cory Doctorow, or various other contemporary sf authors' up-to-the-minute genre-busting fiction will eat it up with gusto.
And the beginning passage, in which a succession of everyday events (such a pager going off in our hero's pocket) are made ominous by horror-inflected prose, is pure gold.