Tuesday, November 05, 2019


THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (2004) by Charles Stross

This edition also includes the novella THE CONCRETE JUNGLE.

I'm involved in a reading circle. Last month we discussed THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES. We had an interesting chat, some issues came up, but in the end the book didn't make a deep or lasting impression on me.

Basically, it's a mash-up of Len Deighton's Cold War spy thrillers and H.P.Lovecraft's nightmarish fantasies.

A hacker/sysadmin is hired by super-secret British agency "The Laundry" to fight Monsters From Beyond... while he also fights the bureaucracy and middle-management in his own workplace. Instead of preventing World War III, The Laundry tries to prevent a supernatural Judgment Day.

I see why this book might be a hit with IT industry people. It could easily be the wish-fulfilment fantasy of a downtrodden office worker, longing to escape the boredom and exploitation. And if that's what you want, the book delivers.

I also appreciate the refreshing deadpan humor of the protagonist living in unglamorous squalor, wrestling with petty bureaucracy, while desperately trying to save the world. (You won't find any such laughs -- or any laughs at all -- in a typical H.P. Lovecraft story.)

But is THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES more than just a playful genre mix? Does it have something to say? Well... I couldn't find it.

There are references to Nazi atrocities as part of an occult plot to awaken those Monsters From Beyond... and that's where the whole premise fails to really grab me.

See, once you get the reader thinking about Hitler and the Holocaust, while you try to paint such real-life horrors as plot points to support an imaginary (and flimsy) Lovecraftian bogeyman, there's a clash between real and fictional monsters.

Since real Nazis are much worse than non-existent Shoggoths or Cthulhus, reality beats fiction hands down.

The book's frequent references to the Cold War create the same jarring clash between real fears and fictional ones. No tentacled monster can scare me like the threat of World War III actually did -- not because the author isn't trying hard enough! -- but because it's a whole different weight class.

Perhaps the story would work for me if I didn't read history books, or hadn't grown up during the Cold War?

Recommended as light (nerdy) entertainment for fans of mash-ups.


FOOTNOTE: Many of Charles Stross's short stories have been made available for free online reading by the author. They are listed HERE:

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