San Francisco Chronicle Review

Bureaucratic in-fighting . . . serves as a springboard for The Atrocity Archives (Golden Gryphon; 274 pages; $24.95) by Edinburgh writer Charles Stross. Stross, the author of Singularity Sky, deftly mixes the sensibility of Len Deighton's mid-'60s spy thrillers with H.P. Lovecraft's shambling horrors from beyond space and time.

Bob Howard, the sardonic narrator of "The Atrocity Archive," is a hacker, conversant not only with computer operating systems but inter-dimensional magic and demonology to boot. He works for "The Laundry," a super-secret British intelligence organization charged not with monitoring the activities of suspicious foreign nationals, but with keeping the malevolent Elder Gods at bay.

Sent to Santa Cruz to check up on a professor of philosophy whose theories have brought her too close to the true nature of reality, Howard runs afoul of a group of kidnappers who want to use the woman as a human sacrifice. Later, back in London, the professor is pulled through a gateway to another world, one where escaped SS officers from the Third Reich set up camp before the end of World War II. It's poor Bob Howard's job to go after her.

Although its title makes it sound dreadfully depressing, "The Atrocity Archive" is actually the most droll horror novel in a long time. Much of the action is completely nuts, but Stross manages to ground it in believability through his protagonist's deadpan reactions to both insane office politics and supernatural mayhem.

The book also features "The Concrete Jungle," a novella that doesn't quite match its predecessor's ingenuity but provides a diverting means of bringing the volume to a satisfying bulk. The Atrocity Archives won't be to everyone's taste, but it's still science fiction's more pleasant surprise of the year so far.

— Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, May 23, 2004

© 2004 San Francisco Chronicle
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