CBR #44 — At The Mountains of Mathness

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (also includes The Concrete Jungle)

The Great Bookamajigger hath selected for me The Laundry Files by Charlie Stross.  I would describe it as thus: Dilbert meets Archer if they had to fight Lovecraft’s Elder Gods. However, let me delve further into that. Magic exists in this world but it is all arcane geometry as fused though mathematics.  So everything gets SUPER technical.  Like CAH-RAZY tech specs on stuff, to the point there are whole passages that are written in some sort of cyber-twat patois.  And it’s difficult to get through.  Also, the spy organization sort of thrives on the paperwork aspect — filling out forms, having to go through bureaucratic protocol.  Most of the action gets overcome by the hero having been knocked out, or flashing forward.

It’s still brilliant, but it might be a bit too brilliant.  Yes, they summon demons and deal with the Ahnenerbe.  Yes, there are tentacled things lurking in dimensions that would make our faces melt off.  I think this was a feeler pattern, in that Stross kind of wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with this.

I respect the hell out of science fiction.  It’s like wine for me.  People say you simply have to expand your pallet or cultivate a taste.  I can recognize that this is masterfully done.  I simply don’t enjoy it.  That’s kind of my take on science fiction.  I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.  It was scientifically masterful.  So well researched. But I didn’t care for it. I’m pretty positive I’ll feel that way about Asimov’s Foundation when I get to that.

Here, this is slightly more pop-accessible.  I respect Stross’s decision to not make his story immediately, instantly accessible.  You have to do some legwork.  And that’s fair trade to him. I dig it. And the story and his spastic lead Bob Howard are well done. I just think the end result was a bit wobbly for me.

However, I read The Concrete Jungle, which is included in the digital copy of the Atrocity Archives as a novella at the end of the book, and that was incredibly more on point.  That felt like what this series has the potential to be.  It was much more focuses, had nice twists, and took full advantage of the setup.  Still super technical, but that’s more as the gloss than the meat of the story.  And I dug it.  I’m some of the way into the second book in the series, The Jennifer Morgue, and that too feels like it’s tipping in the right direction.  So it’s not such a slog, and there’s only five books in the series, plus, a collection of shorts.  So this will be quick and pleasurable work.


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