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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Supra-doings genre review 3 — “In Dark Service”

Sometime ago I detected the increasing popularity of a comparatively new genre in the fantasy/SciFi field. I referred to it, somewhat unimaginatively, as ‘Supra-doings in the real world’.  It isn’t really, After all it is fiction, which by definition isn’t real, but it isn’t Batman & Robin novelized either.

This book doesn’t really qualify as supra-doings so much as derring-doings but it’s by a writer I’ve enjoyed previously. Comments welcome, even if you haven’t read the book.

In Dark ServiceIn Dark Service by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m tempted to use words like trope, nous or meme in this review but then I’d have to look them up. Yes, it’s British, although Hunt was born in Canada and does the occasional con north of the 49th. I haven’t met him but I have read his steampunk novels set in the Kingdom of Jackals. This isn’t on a par with any of them but it’s not bad.
Arguments could be made that is one of the most cynical fantasies ever. And there are apparently two more to come in this series. It’s like he sat down with his agent or Gollancz, his latest publisher, and together they drew up a list of semi-standard characters, hooks and motifs, chose a few that haven’t been totally overused, at least in their minds, and then went to town on them.
Funnily enough it mostly works. Unless, that is, it was just summer and a bench off the beach suited the material. It is massive, however, and there are some massive bloopers that almost spoil the read. They aren’t an abundance of the usual typos either. No, these are characters’ names getting mixed up or, in no less than (at least) three cases, changing in mid book. Plus, the badge or bible in the breast pocket, which a master marksman couldn’t help but hit because he always aims for the heart, was a mite much, I have to say.
Do a few Jakelians prior to picking up “In Dark Service” is my best advice. But keep in mind next time a beach read beckons.

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Supra-doings genre review 2 – “Necessary Evil”

Jim McPherson reviews the other book he mentioned in the Mixed Swag post back in July (, point 2). Straight copy from Goodreads. Lynx to more on bottom, though might have to be a member in order to read.

Comments welcome here on pHantaBlog at bottom.

Necessary Evil (Milkweed Triptych, #3)Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be warned. Features time travel. Also at least partially written in the first person. Note the ‘at least partially’ proviso. Note also that the time travel is a onetime thing, not an ‘if at first you don’t succeed in killing Hitler simply go back and try again’ ridiculousness.
Despite two personal no-nos and a couple of other strong reservations I’m recommending it — and not just because I liked the first two books and pretty much had to like the finale or acknowledge wasting time reading the series.
“Necessary Evil” does have a precognitive character in a major role. That’s one reservation. Fortunately, she isn’t perfect, otherwise there would have been no book to write. The other major reservation are some near-omnipotent characters known as Eidola (plural of ‘edolon’, meaning an insubstantial phantom — my Phantacea Mythos has eidola too, only they’re very much substantial).
I’m always wary of the all-powerful but in this case both the precog and the eidola are, um, necessary evils. Wouldn’t have a series without them. And it is a good book, a fitting end to a good series.
The writer, an American to judge from where he lives, sets the action in World War II England and Europe. He’s done some research, so handles the time and place aspects nicely. He deals with that old bugaboo, ‘characterization’, unobtrusively; thankfully manages to avoid triteness, over-familiarity, which is a definite plus given the genre.
Superheroes in the real world is the easy way of identifying the type. As a genre it’s becoming increasingly popular in books as well as on the screen. It’s not really comic book stuff either. Despite the first person narration there is a sense of menace and threat. There are also a couple of really effective set pieces.
We’re not talking about Superman or Batman, there are no costumes, there are no bullet proof guys and gals, and the amazing escapes are not altogether due to gals and guys who can’t shoot straight. Maybe the fact that it works is what make this series worth reading.

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