|Submitted by Archren |
(May 19, 2006)
Black-Ops Spy Thriller meets Cyberpunk meets Lovecraft. Possibly one of the unlikeliest synopses ever, but with Charlie Stross’ authorial voice behind it, it works. It helps that it doesn’t take itself 100% seriously, leaving lots of room for in-jokes and sarcasm. Did I mention the Dilbert-esque office politics? No one can do government bureaucracy like the British.
Told from the first-person POV of Bob Howard, “Atrocity Archives” contains a novel and a novella detailing his adventures as part of a super-secret agency. Its mission is to keep secret the fact that it is possible to make gateways to other universes and that sometimes mind-bogglingly evil and frightening things pop their heads through to take a look around. It aims to keep those gateways shut. As it turns out, Alan Turing did actually write a paper showing how NP-complete problems (look it up, it’s part of the fun of reading Stross) could be transformed. That’s what started the trouble. Every once in a while someone else rediscovers the solution and has to be sabotaged or brought into the agency. And sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, gates get opened anyway. Then mayhem most certainly ensues.
With great aplomb and good humor, we’re introduced to the weird world of black-ops computer hackers, people who are quirky to say the least. Most people in the agency want to never, ever see the Elder Gods sitting in Trafalgar Square, and do everything they can to prevent that. In the meantime, though, they also do stupid things to their computers and have to call IT. The main character is in the process of shifting from IT work to field ops, and having a foot in the Dilbert world and another in Bond-meets-Lovecraft world is the sort of juxtaposition that only Stross could think up.
He goes somewhat light on the description of the vile forces waiting for us in the universes beyond, but whenever you have a book that has any relation to the Lovecraft oeuvre, it can get a little gory. So those with vivid imaginations and easily unsettled stomachs should beware. However, this isn’t really a horror book, and the author’s afterword gives a nicely insightful analysis of the antecedents across multiple genres that inspired the story overall. There’s nothing earth-shaking here, and the hero does get the girl in the end, so if you’d just like your speculative fiction spiced up with something out of the ordinary, this is the book for you.