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The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files Novel) Paperback – 3 Jan 2006
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"Like his peer Cory Doctorow, Stross has an ironic Generation X sensibility, conditioned, in his case, by time spent in the simultaneously thrilling and boring world of information technology. In The Atrocity Archives, Stross's genius lies in devoting fully as much time to the bureaucratic shenanigans of the Laundry as he does to its thaumaturgic mission." - The Washington Post Book World"Much of the action is completely nuts, but Stross manages to ground it in believability through his protagonist's deadpan reactions to both insane office politics and supernatural mayhem." - San Francisco Chronicle "If this keeps up, 'Strossian' is going to become a sci-fi adjective...Charles Stross writes with intelligence and enjoys lifting the rock to show you what's crawling underneath...The clever results will bring a smile to your face." - The Kansas City Star
"It's science fiction's most pleasant surprise of the year." - San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Charles Stross was born in Leeds, England in 1964. He holds degrees in pharmacy and computer science, and has worked in a variety of jobs including pharmacist, technical author, software engineer, and freelance journalist. He is now a full-time writer.
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I've never been a great fan of pure horror but have enjoyed H P Lovecraft's stories; it was sad that he was never able to expand them further. Hence I am always on the lookout for attempts by other writers to emulate his style and further explore the Cthulhu mythos. Some in my opinion have been very successful and I count the Brian Lumley's Titus Crow adventures to be amongst the most enjoyable; I particularly like the more optimistic view in Lumley's take in that it is possible to resist the incursions of the Great Old Ones and their minions; in the original stories the best the protagonist could hope for was a descent into the depths of insanity.
Nick Pollotta's Bureau 13 series is another favourite of mine (incidentally it predates the X-files by several years) containing as it does fast moving adventure and subtle (and sometimes less subtle) horror elements mitigated with a smattering of humour. Interestingly they contain references to the British counterpart of Bureau 13, The Farm, I think you could easily substitute The Laundry for The Farm.
The Atrocity Archives makes a promising start to the series with the mix of malignant ethereal forces and equally malignant human agencies to confuse and muddy the waters. There is humour but it is darker than Bureau 13, the characters are convincing as is the occult technobabble. The series starts with an extra dimensional threat to the integrity of the Universe itself and by book three there are hints of far worse to come!
The question remains as to which poses the greater threat to humanity, the Old Ones or the perfidious minions of Human Resources?
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.
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