Bob Howard is a computer-hacker desk jockey, who has more than enough trouble keeping up with the endless paperwork he has to do on a daily basis. He should never be called on to do anything remotely heroic. But for some reason, he is.
©2004 Charles Stross; (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"In Atrocity, Bob, a low-level computer fix-it guy for the Laundry, a supersecret British agency that defends the world from occult happenings, finds himself promoted to fieldwork after he bravely saves the day during a routine demonstration gone awry. With his Palm, aka his Hand of Glory (a severed hand that, when ignited, renders the holder invisible), and his smarts, he saves the world from a powerful external force seeking to enter our universe to suck it dry....With often hilarious results, the author mixes the occult and the mundane, the truly weird and the petty." (Publishers Weekly)
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
Charlie Stross writes great-to-excellent science fiction/fantasy in many sub-genres, but this novel (and its two sequels) is probably his most original. Its hero is an IT support expert turned secret agent fighting against supernatural horror and organizational bureaucracy. The book is by turns satirical, scary, and action-packed, and generally succeeds admirably, especially for its target audience, for whom it is likely to be a home-run.
And boy does the target audience matter: the book is full of allusions and in-jokes, as well as many quickly listed references. You can (and will) miss a few, but if you aren't a nerd, that is, you aren't into IT and Lovecraft, then you may not be the target audience for this book, and may miss most of its cleverness. For example, expect quick, but important references to: Alan Turing, gorgons, Forward-Looking Infrared Scanners, Windows software licensing terms, Cthulu, John Dee, Mandelbrot Sets, The Great Old Ones, and much more. If the list intrigues you, definitely, definitely get this book. If it baffles you, this might still be a good listen, but will be confusing as well.
As for me, nerd that I am, I loved it, and look forward to seeing the sequel, and the new book coming out in July 2010. The reader, by the way, does a great job.
Overall this is an easy listen with a great reader/author combination. The second story drags at points (hence the star taken away from story and overall) but the first story carries it magnificently. Highly recommended if you liked the Dresden Files.
The author is a fan of the Dresden Files, and it shows in his writing. He translates the same quick wit, heavy action, and light mystery of the Dresden Files across the Atlantic to a tech geek in England. The magic has a comp sci/math twist that adds a whole new level of geekiness. Gideon Emery's amazing performance rivals James Marsters' performance of the Dresden Files. Get it and thank me later.
Gideon Emery narration is absolutely perfect in this entire series. Right from the first chapter of this book, Bob Howard is brought to life by Emery's subtle inflections and understanding of this character.
The story itself is about as clever as anything I've listened to so far. Having spent over 20 years in the IT industry, I found myself chuckling at the anecdotes that were spot-on in the IT world. Aside from this pleasant diversion, the actual story and characters are outstanding. However, if you're not overly familiar with the IT universe, several of the "inside jokes" might be lost on you. My wife found a lot of the technical references in the book to be annoying, but still enjoyed the book.
The story had promise - a computer geek who battles the forces of evil using his technology expertise.
Unfortunately, the author's attempt to meld science and the supernatural fell flat. Much of the dialogue consisted of inscrutable acronyms and quasi-digital gobbledigook punctuated by phrases like "and this will prevent zombies from eating our brains" or "because if we don't upgrade the capacitor to 7 ohms, the demons from the planet Zoob will destroy earth." That schtick might work as the frosting on a well-conceived story, but it cannot stand on its own... and certainly not in such large quantities. [By the way, I have worked in the tech field for 20 years. I understood a good deal of the tech stuff -- but a lot of it was made up.]
This book, and indeed this series, deeply explores the depths of two different neighborhoods of geekdom. You're going to need passing familiarity with one of them and fluency in the other to really enjoy the series. (It doesn't matter which one you're fluent in.) The first neighborhood is technology, especially programming. The second neighborhood is bureaucracy, especially business bureaucracy. If you work in an organization or industry has been bushwhacked by six Sigma or lean whatever-your-process-happens-to-be and other trendy efficiency systems that really should only apply manufacturing, you're going to think this is pretty funny. if you can also tell the difference between the different tech specs on a basic computer spec sheet without the row headers, and can distinguish between what the parts are (e.g. that's a graphic card that's the hard drive etc) based on the description, then you know enough to find this completely hilarious. Bonus laughs will be granted at various points for: Edward Tufte geeks, literature analysis geeks & Anglophiles.
Gideon Emery's performance is so perfect that you hardly notice that it's there because you're so immersed in the story. In fact, I enjoyed the first three books in this series so much that after I finished listening to the three of them back-to-back the first time, I immediately started the series over again. I knew I had missed some of the brilliant details on the first go around and it held up really well to relistening.
The long, incredibly technical explanations for the phenomena and science utilized in the book. The author sometimes goes on for what seems like two to three paragraphs about things that make no sense and little or no effort is made to explain or include the reader in to the physics of this universe. Late in a series I could forgive this, but as the opener, it's a poor choice. Also, the book is written in present tense, which I find an unusual narrative choice. I got used to it, but it was a little jarring at first.
Probably not, for reasons mentioned above. The "magic" in this book is incredibly hard to make sense of and the author either designed it that way or assumed readers would already know what he was talking about.
I did enjoy the narrator. Especially when handling the love interest's Scottish accents.
I normally don't use a credit on a book less than 10 hours and I thought I was in the clear on this one. However, the book wrapped up at just over 8 hours and what follows is a nearly 2 hour preview of the next book. I felt a little bit cheated.
I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)
I really should like this book more than I do, but I don't find it as funny as I think it's trying to be.
The first 1/2 of it was so slow that I wanted to put it down - several times - but kept telling myself that it would get better; it HAD to get better because there are so many good reviews of this book. That, and I had already paid good money for it and, by golly, I'm going to finish reading it.
But, man, it was hard. I liked the concept behind it - using mathematics as the underpinning/justification for "magic" is very original. And the theory behind it was so nicely explained (albeit in terms I didn't understand) that it had the feel that it could really be possible to use math (a.k.a magic) to open portals to other dimensions. This is the component of the story that I liked.
What I didn't like was all the... silliness... regarding his "real" job as a public servant, living with Pinkie and the Brain, and etc. I guess, looking back, it was the "humorous" parts of the book that I didn't like. Not my kind of humor - too slap-stick and not nearly dark and witty enough for me. The parts I did like were the sci-fi parts - where they make an excursion to an alternate dimension, the explanation of fictional scientific theories, etc.
I will probably read more books in the laundry series, but they're not a priority. The narration was good.
but I just barely made it through the first book because the plot structure is disorganized and a bit hard to swallow at times. I feel like the writer can't decide whether to write this as an all out spoof of magical horror stories, or try to just barely keep it serious. I like the narrator a lot and the characters are fun, but it just never makes the jump to really keeping my interest for more than 30 minutes. I am still going to purchase the next book in the series, because it has a ton of promise and it is just so close to being really good that I have to give it another shot.
Everything about this book should have appealed to me. It had lots of fantasy, Cthulhu and computer programming jokes, was fast paced and action packed, and you were never left scratching your heading trying to figure out what the author was trying to get you to realize.
But it didn't do it for me. I'm not sure if it's because the characters didn't take themselves seriously enough, or too seriously. If the plot wasn't serious enough, or too serious. But somehow it didn't connect to me.
After reading reviews and summaries for other books by Stross I don't think I'll be reading anymore of his. They seem fun and good natured but not in a way I appreciate. Which is a shame, because at first brush all his ideas are interesting and comical, yet are just executed wrong somehow.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Atrocity Archives contains the first two novellas in Charles Stross’ THE LAUNDRY FILES: The Atrocity Archive and The Concrete Jungle. The series is based on the premise that, before he died, Alan Turing solved a theorem that proved that mathematics could be used to gain access to other space-time dimensions. Unfortunately, what’s out there is exactly what H.P. Lovecraft said there was — sleeping tentacled horrors that might be inclined to enter our universe if gateways were opened. To avoid mass panic, this has been kept secret from most humans. The ones who accidently find out are scooped up and brought into a secret organization where they are paid to help keep the world safe. In England, that organization is a government agency known as The Laundry.
Bob Howard is a computer geek who was brought into The Laundry after he accidentally hacked into another dimension while generating some new fractals. Because he was previously in IT, Bob has been given a sysadmin role at The Laundry. He spends his days dealing with all the usual sysadmin and IT issues such as helping his inept colleagues who don’t know how to solve their own computer problems or who manage to screw up the computers they’ve been given. Occasionally Bob is asked to help with a mission, but so far only when they need him to hack into a computer or steal files or something else geeky.
In The Atrocity Archive, Bob manages to impress his superiors with his quick thinking when he stops an otherworldy being from entering our world during a demonstration he was asked to attend. Now Bob has been given his first field assignment — to protect a beautiful and brilliant young Irish physicist who works in Santa Cruz, California. She’s attracted the attention of governments and terrorists but neither she nor Bob knows why until they get sucked into a dimension inhabited by Nazi necromancers.
In The Concrete Jungle, which is shorter, Bob is asked to discover what caused the strange death of a cow in Bancroft Park. He teams up with a tough cop named Josephine to uncover a dastardly world-threatening plot which involves basilisks, Gorgons, zombies, brain tumors, DRM, and more Nazis.
The Atrocity Archives pushed all the right buttons for me. I loved the mix of computing, math, physics, neuroscience, history, technology, and Lovecraftian horror. It’s a real geek fest. I loved Bob and his cynical sense of humor as he dealt with a nosey supervisor, nasty office politics, a crazy girlfriend, a couple of strange mechanically-inclined homosexual roommates who he affectionately calls “Pinky and the Brain,” and all the bureaucratic nonsense involved in working for a government agency… not to mention Nazis and zombies. I enjoyed every moment of The Atrocity Archives; even the long info dumps didn’t bother me because I found them so interesting. I can’t wait to read more of Bob’s adventures.
Gideon Emery narrates the audio version of The Atrocity Archives which is 11 hours long and produced by Recorded Books. His voice is perfect for Bob Howard and I love the way he interprets the story. I’ll be choosing this format for the rest of the books in the series.
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