Interzone Review

The Atrocity Archives
Charles Stross

Golden Gryphon, 274pp, $24.95

The Atrocity Archives sounds pretty gruesome, but it's not the horror show the title suggests. It includes the short novel "The Atrocity Archive," originally serialized in Spectrum SF, an additional brand-new novella ("The Concrete Jungle"), an introduction by Ken MacLeod ("Charlie's Demons"), an afterword by Charles Stross ("Inside the Fear Factory") and a multi-page "Glossary of Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Organizations." The book does live up to the plurality of its title. But The Atrocity Archives turn out to be more fun than the grim moniker might suggest.

In "The Atrocity Archive," Bob Howard is the prototypical desk-jockey who just wants a shot at active duty. Up until recently, he was the Laundry's tech guy. This Laundry doesn't whitewash clothes; it cleanses reality itself, of those pesky demons and Lovecraftian entities that try to break through into everyday life, using the specialized math that collapses the barriers between parallel universes. Bob's first job has him clambering around piles of floppy disks and reformatting hard drives. His next job sends him to California to interview a British scientist working in the States who may have stumbled on to some of those hazardous equations.

"The Concrete Jungle" finds Bob assigned to a case that appears at first glance to be an obscure prank. But as he goes through a series of very cleverly told stories found in (what did you expect?) the archives, he finds there's quite literally much more than meets the eye. Starting out in the Greek myths and ending up in the computerized surveillance of the twenty-first century, "The Concrete Jungle" kicks bureaucratic butt with a ripping yarn of spy tradecraft and top-notch hacking.

In his entertaining afterword, Stross talks about the two poles between which this electrical storm of language arcs. On one hand, he claims that he's rewriting Len Deighton as if Cold War spy tales were existential horror. And on the other hand, he claims that he's rewriting Lovecraft as if Lovecraft's extra-dimensional terrors were nothing more than accurate intelligence. In reality, Stross is a true original, and what holds this Rube-Goldberg concoction together is his lively, humorous prose.

Buttressing the comedic monologue are high-quality, deep-thought science fictional conceptualizations. "The Atrocity Archive" and "The Concrete Jungle" are thick with intellectual riffs. Golden Gryphon have put all this in a lovely package that's built to last. Readers who have encountered Stross in Singularity Sky will find a similar sensibility at work here in an entirely different arena. The humor and the voice remain the same. But the literary intent and background are delightfully different. It leaves the reader looking forward to more and different fictions and forms from the same smart voice.

— Rick Kleffel, Interzone 195, November/December 2004


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