THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (2004) by Charles Stross
This edition also includes the novella THE CONCRETE JUNGLE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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