seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

Connection Review I: Charles Stross, _The Atrocity Archives_

As some may recall, I made an actual New Year's resolution to start reading more, and to give myself a concrete goal said I would focus on reading at least one book from all the authors I see some direct connection to and who have published something since 2003, the year that I became published and my reading time pretty much dropped to zero. From this I'm also excluding people I've already read something from in that era (which is basically Eric Flint, David Weber, and burger_eater ).

Well, a very kind soul (I have lost the message but I'm pretty sure it was kithrup ?) sent me a brand spanking new copy of the first Laundry novel, The Atrocity Archives, and I finally finished it this weekend. Given that my average reading speed is over 150 pages per hour (and has exceeded 300) this shows how little time I've had. TAA isn't a very thick book, even with what I presume is the additional short story The Concrete Jungle added.

There WILL be some spoilers in these reviews. Don't read farther if you don't like spoilers.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, The Atrocity Archives takes place in a universe in which Lovecraft knew too much and science has caught up with magic. The Great Old Ones and other monstrous creatures of greater or lesser power are explained in more scientific terms, but the problem still boils down to "terrible THINGS can escape from other parts of the multiverse, or be invited in, and the Laundry is the UK government agency that has to disinvite them."

This was a quick and fairly easy read; Stross knows how to handle the language (aside from those unAmerican turns of phrase that those darn foreigners use! ;) ) and presents events clearly, fast, and with humor and energy as appropriate. It is, I will say, a MUCH lighter read than the buzz surrounding his work implied. I was prepared for Really Grim, and instead what I got was lots of cynical dialogue but actually a pretty positive outcome.

The implications of the WORLD are pretty chilling, and also the part that really strained by WSOD. Not the idea of Great and Terrible Things Beyond Human Comprehension waiting beyond the veil of this universe -- I can handle THAT in my sleep, though "aliens beyond human comprehension" is in my "clearly fiction" box. No, the part that bothered me was the discussion which implied that all these things come from various alternative realities, that in fact ALL alternatives are essentially superimposed and the right mathematical/energetic invocations can thus open gateways to them (with the closer realities actually being harder to reach). Now, THAT part wasn't a problem; what was a problem was that in the ENTIRE book, there was no sign that any such beings coming through were anything other than (A) mindless parasites, (B) predators, (C) Monstrous alien intellects bent on destroying everything that allows us to survive.

I'd think that there should be an equal ratio of "beings of light and justice whose purity is beyond human comprehension" to the "abominable horrors", and an awful lot of "maybe different ways of existing, but basically like us and worth allying with to fight the cosmic horror brigade". Why would THIS be the ONLY universe that had decent people in it?

Other than that, though, it was a fun ride. Bob, the protagonist, is of the same basic class as my own Jason Wood, and I suspect both owe part of themselves to Archie Goodwin and similar characters: technically adept, VASTLY more competent and dangerous than his own dry narration admits to. Both narrate from their own points of view and even when they're tremendously effective and successful, don't see this as anything remarkable; they focus on the mistakes they made or the places where they felt they should have done better.

Plotwise, it was actually a classic adventure romp. Boy meets girl, girl gets used by agency as bait, extradimensional horrors take girl, boy saves our universe from extradimensional horrors and rescues girl. Mixed with, of course, a lot of snark at the... efficiency of the governmental operations and the rather NOT glamorous life of a secret agent in such an agency. And in The Concrete Jungle, a lot of backbiting office politics.

I am a bit puzzled as to why SCORPION STARE would be thought useful when the Great Old Ones come; I didn't get the impression the Great Old Ones would even have to be made of matter as we understand it; the Jotun certainly wasn't. Maybe it's useful to save everyone before the Great Old Ones swallow their souls?

Still, a lot of fun and I'll certainly try the others in the series once I get through my other reading!

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