What a good recommendation that was. Essentially a collection of consecutive novellas, The Atrocity Archives is an amalgam of spy thriller and supernatural horror, all wrapped up with an early cyberpunk feel. This is the first of three books following tech-occultist Bob Howard as he begins field work for “The Laundry”, a UK intelligence organisation focusing on the suppression of certain occult threats to our world.
The world Stross portrays is very similar to our own, only with an emphasis on a link between science and magick; mathematics and physics being directly accountable for occult events. We find entities used in The Laundry’s phone system, zombies controlled as security guards and a variety of interesting field items. The Laundry is kept busy by the natural re-discoveries of dangerous occult memes by everyday techies/occultists like you or I. Whilst the people of the past may summon an entity by means of animal sacrifice, the same effect can be achieved by means of a accurately positioned laser grid or with the correct application of capacitance. It’s interesting to see how Stross’s ideas could fit so easily into contemporary occult practice.
Stross manages to merge the shadowy worlds of espionage and Lovecraftian horror in a way that impresses me more than other similar works. I think my experience on IT help-desks makes me more sympathetic to the world that Bob Howard protects; that and Bob’s lack of any superhuman ability. The Laundry is far more convoluted and bureaucratic than Brian Lumley‘s E-Branch (don’t get me wrong, I love Lumley’s work – E-Branch especially) and Stross’s tale is far more relevant to today than Robert R. McCammon‘s The Wolf’s Hour or The Night Boat (again, both excellent works).
The horror in The Atrocity Archives is not limited to themes of eldritch magicks and foul tentacled elder gods. We also find horror in the descriptions of our own world’s history; Nazi atrocities, modern day acts of terrorism and the hopelessness of a bureaucratic workplace. There is humour too, the kind of dry, quotable humour that many tech geeks would appreciate.