The Atrocity Archives
by Charles Stross
Review by George Shaner
Ace Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0441013651
Date: 03 January, 2006 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
What's a hacker of dark forces to do? Your flat mates irritate the hell out of you. Your whack-job last girl friend won't admit that it's over. Your line manager holds you in total contempt, and is trying to terminate your mediocre career with extreme prejudice. Oh yes, did I mention that you also have this probably misplaced sense of duty? This is the world of Bob Howard and welcome to it. Any resemblances to the worlds of Len Deighton, H.P. Lovecraft, or Neil Stephenson are very intentional.
Set in a reality that is possibly ours, but is probably some other poor schmuck's, Stross gives you the story of one battle against other-dimensional horror that is Lovecraftian in its scope and Weberian (as in the German sociologist) in its constraints. And just because you're trying to save people from knowledge that really is too dangerous to know that doesn't mean that you can skip out on getting your time sheet signed off on.
So what's really the attraction here? The plot is largely straight-forward (guy saves world from destruction and gets the girl), the enemies you've seen before (Nazis, and Arab terrorists, and nameless horrors, oh my), and the cyber-punk thing lost its new-car smell a decade ago. What Stross really has going for him is character and setting. Bob Howard is a guy that you wouldn't mind having a few pints with, though he probably would have to kill you for knowing too much, or at least make you an offer you can't refuse. Besides that this world is very lived-in, and that plays off well against the fantastic elements that Stross deploys in his thriller. Speaking of thrillers, the pace of the book seems relatively languid and may put off those looking for a page-turning adrenaline rush.
I'm not really a fan of espionage fiction, or horror, but Stross does a fine job of making those genres fresh with his attention to personality and believable human interaction. Not to mention that the Nazis are still really cool villains if you apply the right slant to the story. If Himmler's Ahnenerbe fires your imagination you need to read this book.
Apart from the main story ("The Atrocity Archives"), the book includes another tale of the travails of Bob Howard called "The Concrete Jungle." This story plays up the bureaucratic warfare side of this milieu, with very unfortunate results being depicted for the losers of the office coup.