Friday, September 14, 2007

Charles Stross – The Atrocity Archives

This is a remarkably strange SF&F novel. I should clarify that I mean this in a good way. The world of the Atrocity Archives is one where magic is real. Demons can be summoned, the paraphernalia of which-craft is real and secret government organisations battle to save the world from monsters from other dimensions.

What makes the novel clever is that this is all part of our normal world. The secret government institutions battle for cash from a stingy treasury and their agents fight bureaucracy. Our hero is a normal IT techy, promoted to active duty instead of his normal work fixing file servers and lost data.

There are also terrorists (as there always must be these days) who in an attempt to commit some terrible crime, come close to summoning a “Lovecraftian” horror from another dimension. To complete Charles Stross’ checking of every available cliché, there are also fugitive Nazis, living on an alternate Earth in a different universe (accessed through a gate opened in a dodgy hotel in Amsterdam).

Now, if this was a plot by Robert Heinlein, you would, loyal readers, expect me to scoff and mock his immature storylines. Instead I must praise Stross for making all this nonsense extremely readable, funny and firmly tongue in cheek. Fantasy writers have to be able to take a few mocking words from readers who don’t care about dragons. Stross shows here that he is prepared to be laughed at by a few reviewers because he knows that many other people will laugh with him. There are dozens of in-jokes about mathematics, physics and computer science – more than enough to entertain the extreme geeks out there.

If I have one criticism about this book, it’s that bundled with it, is a short story set in the same world, with the same heroes. It’s great fun too, but I wasn’t expecting it and you don’t get the impression from the cover of the book that it’s there. It meant that the main story finished about 80 pages before I expected it to.

This is of course not a real moan about what is fabulously entertaining fantasy. A Resolute Reader Recommended Read!

Related Reviews

Stross - Iron Sunrise
Stross - Singularity Sky

1 comment:

Frank Partisan said...

I like scifi best, when it doesn't get to far into fantasy. It needs a human face to relate to.

Very good blog.