Friday, September 28, 2018

Review of The Atrocity Archive by Charles Stross (Ace, 2004)

Bob Howard works for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency that deals with incursions from alternative universes. Bob usually works as a low-level techie, keeping the agency’s computers functioning, but he has an interest in mathematics, philosophy and computing, and a proficiency to react well to odd happenings. After one such incident on a training course he is upgraded to the field and sent to the US to talk to a professor who wants to come home but the authorities will not let travel. While in California, the professor is kidnapped and there’s a serious breach that seems to involve dimension-hopping terrorists. Barely surviving, Bob heads home to serious amounts of bureaucracy, before continuing on to the atrocity archives in Amsterdam, where he’ll face his biggest challenge to date.

The Atrocity Archive is the first book in the Laundry Files series that follows the exploits of Bob Howard, a techie turned field agent for a top-secret government agency charged with stopping the Earth being obliterated by demons and assorted entities from alternative universes. In this outing, Bob is transformed from an office-bound employee to an active agent and is dropped in the deep-end to tackle the kidnapping of an attractive philosophy professor. Bob thinks that the professor is a goat to attract a malicious predator, but what’s actually at stake is the survival of the planet. The tale is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek SF tale of keeping Earth safe from incursions from other realms and British bureaucracy and institutional politics at its most excessive. There’s a fair amount of clever-sounding philosophy and science and humour in the vein of The Big Bang Theory meets James Bond, which makes for some good fun. Overall it’s an engaging read, though the story is a little uneven in its telling, and it wraps up rapidly in the aftermath of the denouement.  I suspect it might be a series that gains depth and strength as it unfolds. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping, as I intend to give the next instalment a read.


George said...

I've read all The Laundry novels. The Lovecraft elements liven up the series. The later books in the series don't feature Bob (a big mistake in my opinion) and lack the humor of the early books.

Rob Kitchin said...

I'm not sure how well this would have worked without the humour. I'll keep going with them and see how I fare.