Return of the Crazy White Ugly Ones, with Tentacles

The Atrocity Archives (Laundry Files, #1)The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Have to admit I much prefer the fantasy or historical mystery genres to science fiction. Quite frankly I distrust the “science”, or more accurately “pseudo-science”, so often presented in the genre. And that’s the main drawback of this novel and the accompanying novella, “The Concrete Jungle”.

It’s a stretch to suspend disbelief when the author strives ever so earnestly to get us to believe he isn’t writing a load of rubbish. Perhaps that’s why he writes at such a pace. Hard of get bogged down when you’re traveling at speed.

Nevertheless, while mixing the so-called hard science of nuclear physics with Lovecraft shouldn’t work, it kind of does. Even relying on Lovecraft, never a personal fave, shouldn’t appeal but it’s familiar territory so doesn’t require great swathes of back story. The crazy white ugly ones, with tentacles, are expected and even welcome.

In my view using first person narrative should have automatically disqualified the book for purchase but I heard about it from a reliable source so I succumbed — and made it to the end, of both novel and novella, with a fair amount of enjoyment. Which almost qualifies it for a fourth star. Almost, not quite.

It also purports to be Horror and in a way it is, but it doesn’t wallow in disgust by overdoing the gore and hasn’t too many stomach-churning Alien moments. No barf bucket by the bed or beach chair required.

By declaring a debt to Len Deighton, whom I haven’t read in decades, it additionally wants to fit into the Spy genre. Seems, all-in-all, an invitation to a car crash but while it does at times tip-toe along the precipice it somehow manages to avoid falling into a morass of yuck.

What contrarily saves this ambitious mishmash is the humour. It’s British, so it can get somewhat obscure — I missed a lot of the references — but the tone seems about right. Not too snarky or even overly smart-ass. Plus some truly heinous sorts get properly put paid to along the way. Almost a cheery moment.

I guess there are advantages to having a Demogorgon of the Depths type as your boss after all. So long as he’s on the side of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, that is.

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