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Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross Charles Stross is an author I want to like. I like his blogs, I like his personality and honesty (in so far as one can gauge such things based on the author's writings, interviews and such). The only snag is I am somewhat ambivalent about his fiction. I don't doubt that he is a talented writer of science fiction. He comes up with some great ideas and is quite popular within his chosen genre. Unfortunately from the three books I have read so far there is something about his fiction writing style that does not appeal to me. His prose style comes across as cocky, hip and chaotic. He often switches to infodump mode in the middle of his narrative, filling them with scientific terms, jargons, geekspeak, neologisms and general techno-babble. I often find it hard to distinguish the real and the imagined terms among them. Generally I find that his writing is lacking in clarity, often veering between flippant and technical and back, and this plays hell with his narrative. Yes, I imagine a lot of people find his writing clear as a bell, I can only speak for myself.

From the synopsis The Atrocity Archives should have been more fun than it turned out to be. Basically this is a spy thriller-sci-fi-supernatural horror hybrid, sort of a cross between le Carré spy fiction, The X-Files and Cthulhu Mythos. It is centered on a super secret British spy organization called The Laundry that "clean up" and protect the country from ghastly supernatural incursions from other dimensions. The edition of the book that I read contain two distinct stories the original short novel "The Atrocity Archives" and the novella "The Concrete Jungle", the later is more entertaining and tightly written than the former. There are multiple instances of excessive exposition in this book (TMI!), some of these infodumps are more interesting and comprehensible than others. Although the book is a mashup of several genres it reads more like sci-fi than anything else, all the supernatural elements have a scientific or pseudo-scientific basis. I like his little infodump about plutonium and nuclear bombs, learning something from fiction is always a bonus. His witticisms and sense of humour provide the element of levity I expected but this is less prominent than I thought it would be. I love the fun twist on the "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" idiom, and the satire of bureaucratic red tape in an office.
"In the Laundry we supposedly pride ourselves on our procedures. We’ve got procedures for breaking and entering offices, procedures for reporting a shortage of paper clips, procedures for summoning demons from the vasty deeps, and procedures for writing procedures. We may actually be on track to be the world’s first ISO-9000 total-quality-certified intelligence agency."

That stuff is gold! Extra points also for a Monty Python reference elsewhere in the book. For some reason the book is written in first person present tense, I imagine this is supposed to make the story seems more immediate and unpredictable, it does no harm I guess but does not really enhance the story for me. Characterization is on the flat side as the protagonist/narrator spends more time explaining technical details than expressing his feelings, some of the other characters are interesting but basically they are just there to move the plot along.

Previously I have read Stross' famous [b:Accelerando|17863|Accelerando|Charles Stross|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388240687s/17863.jpg|930555] which required two attempts, I could not follow much of the tech and became annoyed with it (and myself), then I read [b:Singularity Sky|81992|Singularity Sky (Eschaton, #1)|Charles Stross|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386924988s/81992.jpg|1192005] which I quite enjoyed and found the prose to be more readable, sometime after that I read his [b: Glasshouse|17866|Glasshouse|Charles Stross|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1433594992s/17866.jpg|930588] which is brilliant and very readable, vastly superior to his other books that I have read so far.

I rate The Atrocity Archives 3.5 stars (4 stars for "The Concrete Jungle" novella).