The Atrocity Archives

Cover Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The most interesting branch of applied computations is what is often called magic, at least by people not fully understanding the concept. It has turned out that certain equations and computational algorithms are very dangerous to use by any layman since they have the potential to open gates to other dimensions and other universes if applied badly. Our universe is constantly under threat from evil and powerful beings from elsewhere, and visits from those should be avoided at almost any cost in the name of public safety. This means that most governments have agencies to discourage the use of dangerous computations. For natural reasons these agencies are secret, and the agents within them are controlled by a heavy layer of bureaucracy. Paperwork is one of the best methods to cull any ambitions, especially in the area of magical misuse.

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross contains two stories (The Atrocity Archive and The Concrete Jungle) from the British side of magic control, the Q-division of the Special Operations Executive commonly called the Laundry. Bob Howard, computer specialist, has been recruited following a minor incident when he was creating new fractal algorithms. In the first story he gets his first taste of agent field work when he travels to California to contact a Scottish professor in logic who unwittingly may be too close to alter reality, and in the second story he is called in for an emergency related to the unexpected increase of concrete cows in Milton Keynes. Both stories takes unexpected turns and uncovers conspiracies of varying levels up to the complete destruction of our universe.

The book contains some action, but also quite a lot of explanations. Significant effort is made by Stross to create the world where the stories take place. For me, with some experience in nearby scientific fields, it feels that many mathematical buzzwords are introduced just to make the background sound advanced rather than plausible which is a bit annoying. On the other hand, my somewhat lighter experience in computing makes me swallow all the technobabble, although the text feels slightly dated. It is very clear that the stories were written more than 15 years by the focus on the then cutting-edge technology.

I like the world in the book, and I am fascinated by the stories. I do not particularly like the writing, and it feels like most characters in the book have more or less the same way of thinking. The last point could of course also be seen as an effect of the elements from the genres that the book combines: Spy action and cosmic horror. The book is entertaining, and that is the most important point.

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