Review: “The Atrocity Archives,” Charles Stross

Rating: 5 out of 5

I heard about Charles Stross on a certain facebook horror books group, and when I checked out The Atrocity Archives (A Laundry Files Novel), I had to give it a try. It’s a brilliant blend of comedy and horror. The Capital Laundry Services is the front for a super-secret British government agency. Their mission? To protect humanity from all the horrors they’re unaware of. Like most government projects they run on paperwork and back-stabbing. Bob is our erstwhile hero. He’s tech support, but he really wants to be a field agent. Be careful what you wish for, Bob! While trying to dodge the manipulations of his direct colleagues and superiors, he ends up roped into a higher-up’s attempts to keep people safe from the unknown.

This is a world in which math can destroy the universe, and Bob’s first, miserable field agent assignment is to break into an office and destroy a math paper. (“If he goes public and reproduces [the paper] we could be facing a Level One reality excursion within weeks.”) This is a book that drops gems like “the Turing-Lovecraft theorem.” You don’t need to be able to understand the magic-babble in order to have a lot of fun reading about it! I expect that a reader versed in math or physics, however, probably would get more out of it than I did. There are other universes, and creatures from those universes who, for one reason or another, would like to find their way into ours. This is what Bob and his colleagues are meant to prevent from happening.

Bob is an entertaining guy. He’s pretty normal, all things considered, despite the situation he finds himself in. He has roommates (Pinky and Brains, both of whom also work for the Laundry), he has a psycho quasi-ex girlfriend (honestly, not fond of that character even though we don’t see her much–she’s an unfortunate stereotype), and he’s taking courses at work that are basically “computational demonology for dummies.”

I’m so-so on the female characters, at least at first. Bob’s colleagues and psycho ex are stereotypes. But a couple of late-arriving women are much more interesting. One of them needs to be rescued a lot, though.

It was confusing that the story I was reading basically ended two-thirds of the way through, and then the last third is a separate story involving most of the same characters and through-plots and taking place after the first story. I was kind of expecting one full tale. A few details in the second story confused me a bit, but I hung on by my fingernails and enjoyed the ride.

Content note for death, monsters, and Nazis, but this isn’t a gross-out horror novel.

When we carry out a computation it has side effects that leak through some kind of channel underlying the structure of the Cosmos.

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