Book Review -The Atrocity Files
by Charles Stross
To Begin – Non-Review Navel Gazing
I’m late to the party, but I don’t let that bother me. I’m reading fiction from the 70’s and loving it. So it should come as no surprise to me that I am behind the curve on a lot of fiction. Two good friends of mine have an entire floor of their house devoted to their library of books. Forty or so years of scifi, fantasy, and mystery line the walls. They are graceful enough to let me come visit and often crash in that library (mostly because that’s where the sofa bed is). These friends, or at least one of the pair, introduced me to The Laundry, the series of which The Atrocity Files is the first.
The novel was written in the early naughts. That makes it ancient in the world of computers. Computer years put dog years to shame. This made a couple of the references to high-end computers really funny. It also tells you that I have a gap in my education that started at my current employment (which I realize I cannot rectify, considering the rate of new, good fiction coming out all the time). I read a couple of passages about Windows NT that were downright laughable, but that’s frankly OK. My bad. Though it does make me wonder whether actually describing computer specs in a novel will forever date and obsolete a novel. Perhaps this is a discussion for another day.
More Review-ish Comments
Hat’s off to Mr. Stross on the ideas. The man writes to my core, that is to say idea-oriented science fiction. In this case, the ancient knowledge that unlocks doors to parallel universes is not arcane texts in dead languages, but rather obscure computer algorithms. Stross is great at both introducing the character, essentially a brilliant and underachieving millennial, and introducing the concept, that he works for a division of British Intelligence that is beyond James Bond.
The story itself could easily have been an espionage thriller. There was a girl, a bad guy, a mystery. In that, it was not ground breaking. I needed these elements to hold the story together (though the love interest was painted in pretty broad strokes). But the interesting part was the revelation of the key concepts mentioned above. I found myself saying Wow more than I am used to. And then there is humor. The government bureaucracy makes its way into even the men in black that keep Britain, and indeed the world, safe from the Cthulu, Frost Giants, and Necromantic Nazis. Did you fill out your form D Zed Stroke 015? What’s not to like?
There were two things that could have been managed better. The first was that the novel itself was not the entire book. I should have been happy that I had been given some bonus material in the form of a short novella in addition to the novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience it that way. The novel ended at 215 pages, and then there was another 100 pages of novella that was tangentially related to the original novel. The novella, The Concrete Jungle, needed editing. It wandered and repeated itself (while the concept was very cool). The original novel needed a little more story, like the relationship with the love interest, which would have made the character more than a love interest and actually a character.
Still, parallel worlds, Nazis from beyond the grave, Frost Giants that will consume our universe, all from a computer algorithm? I’m loving it.