The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

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The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (4/5 stars)

Think Lovecraft meets Len Deighton meets geeks anonymous. Lovecraft inspired monsters and demons (tentacles always popular) from other universes combated by The Laundry; a bureaucratic top secret organisation (“As far as the public knows, the Official Secrets Act only has two sections; that’s because Section Three is itself classified Secret under the terms of the preceding sections, and merely knowing about Section Three’s existence—without having formally signed it—is a criminal offence.”). However this is not glossy James Bond secret agent work, more Harry Palmer accounting for every paperclip.

There is actually a novel and a novella in this book but their theme is the same and my comments apply equally to both. I have previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a couple of Stross’ Laundry short stories - Down on the Farm and Overtime both available free from his blog http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/online-fiction-by-charles-stro.html. This full story was equally enjoyable but with somewhat less humour than those shorts which was, I felt, a shame, though the whole idea is still presented very tongue in cheek. Is this science fiction, fantasy, weird, horror? I really don’t know, so tagged it with all of them!

The main character is witty and likable, the action tight and the plot well-constructed. Considering this was either his first or one of his first books I was generally very impressed with the writing; easy and enjoyable to read. The geekiness is well written too with Stross continually poking fun at it in a nice, self-deprecating way and with a good many in jokes scattered throughout. Really Charlie, I mean: “I follow my minder through a maze of twisty little cubicle farms, all alike…” think “xyzzy,” and you probably need to be over 50 to get the connection.

As a bonus for the more literary there is also an essay at the end – Inside the Fear Factory – that looks at the relationship between espionage and horror stories. Not immediately obvious but quite convincing and worth reading if only to witness H P Lovecraft described as a writer of spy stories and Len Deighton as a writer of horror stories!

A very good, recommended read; I will certainly be going on to read more in the Laundry series.
 
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