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The Atrocity Archives: Book 1 in The Laundry Files Kindle Edition
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That introduction is, as you might expect, a very friendly and warm introduction but also one that gives the reader fair warning of what the novel is likely to be like. As it says, Stross's first novel is "unpublished - great concept shaky execution" and "the novels kept getting better". No surprises then that this - Stross's first published novel - shows much of the talent and skill for predicting technology which makes Halting State such an excellent book, yet also at times has the rather clunky over-eager sentences of a novice writer trying a little too hard to amaze the reader.
The novel (and the short story) is science fiction, set in the present with a strong alternative history taste, plenty of technology speak and a touch of the horror novel thrown in. If you're not a fan of the latter, don't let that put you off. I'm not either yet enjoyed the book, for here the horror does not dominate and indeed adds an appropriate emotional strength to the deaths recounted in the book. It's not just an emotionless pile of dead bodies that accumulate through the plot's progress.
A bit of knowledge of IT, physics or maths helps to explain some of the jokes, though as much of the humour is about management and bureaucracy, it's funny even without it.
Part of the Laundry's remit is also to ensure that knowledge of these curves remains unknown, and then deal with the results when someone gets too curious without full knowledge of the consequences, which are never positive.
If you know Pratchett's work, or are familiar with Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos then you'll recognise the style of the work, or the nature of the nightmares that can appear amongst us.
I only encountered Stross' work recently, and I wish I'd found his work years earlier. This is a really enjoyable book, well-written, thoughtful, humourous and witty.
It's one of the best books I've read this year and I can't recommend it enough.
I can't comment on the frequent 'Lovecraftian' description, except to confirm the genre. Having not read any Lovecraft, or in fact any other supernatural-as-science stories, I'd be more inclined to describe the books as Strossian: there's a much stronger emphasis on the scientifically mundane nature of the horrors than on the terror of the unknown. They contain hints of Brookmyre, Chris Wooding, Ben Aaronovitch, Sergei Lukyanenko and Terry Pratchett, and at least one has a deliberately large dose of Ian Fleming. I couldn't ask for more.
They're narrated in the first person by a long-time inhabitant of London so while the author was born in Leeds, educated in Bradford and lives (I think) in Scotland, the fact that he writes in American (color, neighbor and plow) becomes profoundly irritating after a couple of chapters. Worse, he doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between 'principle' and 'principal', 'imminent' and 'immanent' or even 'who' and 'whom'.
So, Charles, five-star stories and genuinely books I can't put down, but you could recover the other two stars by sorting out your spelling and grammar checker's regional settings.
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