Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Review | The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross

Lovecraft, MI6, British bureaucracy and a lot of programming: doesn't sound like the best fit, but it really does work. Which just goes to show that either: A) Charles Stross can do anything brilliantly or B) Cthulhu really likes literature.

The Atrocity Archives is the story of Bob Howard, a programmer (and general IT dogsbody) for the Laundry: a secret UK agency devoted to tackling occult - and more particularly, Lovecraftian - threats. Which they tackle with a mixture of bureaucracy, budget cuts... And rather shocking schemes. Because it seems that in the modern world, even programming can cross universes (as Bob found out when he nearly summoned Nyarlathotep with a a renderer - and nearly wiped out Birmingham).

Bob has volunteered for active duty, but when his first mission goes awry - well, things start to escalate. Soon he's trying to cope with his boss' technophobic demands (microfilm? Really?) while, yes, getting involved with new levels of Lovecraftian danger.

Okay - a bad summary. But with The Atrocity Archives as fast-paced as it is, any summary will inevitably give away some spoilers: and I've saved you some very good moments unspoiled. (You'll thank me later. Really. Now come out of the dark corner and listen...)

The Atrocity Archives isn't perpetually serious: how could it be, given its nicely eclectic mix? But it's hardly comic fantasy either, though you will get a lot more out of the references if you're British, know a little about programming, or have read Lovecraft (maybe). Where The Atrocity Archives really shines, however, is in its characters. Bob, Angleton, and - on occasion - Mo all play brilliantly to the situation. A programmer as anti-Lovecraftian hero makes for an unusual combination, and one who won't simply resort to martial means. That, for me, is interesting: I want to see protagonists who don't cut up their problems with a sword, or blow them up with a gun or a firestorm. And Bob, frequently genre-aware as he is, is definitely not either of those.

The novel isn't padded, either. It's as long as it needs to be, which isn't enormous: but includes a novella/short story (The Concrete Jungle), which I found equally interesting. The Laundry setting works well in short form, so I'll be looking out for more of these... As indeed there are (at least in the next novel).

All in all? This is a fun novel: one which plumbs no deep depths, but is fast-paced, brief - a rarety - and original. Lovecraft plus spies and a lot of tech humour? I'm all for it. (And in fact, I've just finished the second novel: and it's just as good)

Read this series, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!


  1. Is this the first Bob Howard/Laundry book? I'd read The Jennifer Morgue last year and loved it, but felt like I was coming into the story halfway through. I never expected Stross to write something that's so damn funny! The rest of the Laundry books are def on my reading list.

  2. Yes, it is. The second's actually slightly better - or at least funnier, simply for the whole Bond geas plotline. (Actually, I accidentally started with Jennifer Morgue, too, then had the same feeling so went and found Archives instead, hehe). I need my copy of the Fuller Memorandum. Fast. :P

  3. I picked up a copy of Fuller Memorandum earlier today, found a cheap paperback. Win!

    dude, you gotta find one!

  4. Cheap paperbacks and charity shops, got to love them! :D I've reserved it from the ever obliging library service, so while you've beaten me...

    ...It isn't for long. Mwahaha.

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