Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a supersecret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, he’s under a desk restoring lost data. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got noticed.
Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping Nazi’s, Middle-Eastern terrorists, Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: It will take more than Control-Alt-Delete to sort this mess out…
I first encountered Charles Stross and Bob after winning the Fuller Memorandum – review here – in a giveaway from Graeme at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review. I completely adored it and it was laugh-out-loud funny. While that one was very readable without having read the previous books, I had to check out the other ones too.
The Atrocity Archives are pretty much where it all starts for Bob. We witness his first gigs as an active field agent, we find out how he got on Angleton’s team, why he actually became part of the Laundry and how he meets Mo. It was fun to see a much younger, more akward Bob, who is still living with two of his buddies, Pinky and Brains, in a Laundry-warded house in London, instead of the older, more mature (ahem) Bob we meet in The Fuller Memorandum. However, having seen ‘the future’ in book three, some of the elements can be a bit confusing. Mostly these are of the type that are logically explained by apparently that is a skill they pick up later, such as Mo’s violin playing, but at times you just had to go with the flow.
What is striking is how much of Bob’s world seems plausible. The overt magical elements of course aren’t, but many of the more political elements are. Stross’ Afterword even says he had to change the name of the terrorist organisation Bob encounters in California, after 9/11. Which actually makes the weirder stuff more believable. Even a secret enclave of Nazi’s doesn’t seem implausible, only the fact that they live in a different dimension. Speaking of said different dimension, the scenes there were fantastic and the ‘far-side of the moon’-gag was priceless.
I really like Bob. He isn’t a Mary-Sue, but he does allow us to learn about his world, either through his explaining it or learning at the same time as we do. And that is how the story is mostly told, as if you’re sitting down with Bob, who is telling you his story over a pint. Which doesn’t actually make much sense, as The Laundry is supposed to be super secret, but it does make for a pleasant narrative, as Bob sometimes manages to break the fourth wall.
My one complaint would be that the novel is rather short, clocking in at 336 pages and that is including a foreword, a novella and an afterword. Now, there is nothing wrong with short novels, but in this case some extra space could have been devoted to developing the relationship between Bob and Mo and Bob and his sort-of ex-girlfriend, Mhari. The ex-girlfriend keeps popping up, but doesn’t really seem to serve any purpose in the novel and while Bob and Mo aren’t a case of the dreaded insta-love connection, things do seem to move along at a fair clip.
The Concrete Jungle, the novella included in the book, was fun and gives a whole different meaning to cow tipping. I like that we get to see how someone could get pulled into working for The Laundry without ever even knowing they existed. It’s a fun story, but also one to give you chills, as there is just a hint of Big Brother and what he could do to you in it.
The Atrocity Archives is a great start to The Laundry series and funny as heck. The novel and novella are great, but Stross’ Afterword really finishes off the book in style, funny, informative and sneakily erudite—the former literature student in me truly enjoyed it. If you like near future stuff, spy thrillers and a bit of Lovecraftian horror, you shouldn’t miss this one.