The novel at the heart of The Atrocity Archives: Book 1 in The Laundry Files by Charles Stross comes with three add-ons – a subsequent short story, featuring the same main characters and fictional universe, an afterword also by Charles Stross about his attitudes to writing science fiction and its similarities to horror fiction, and an introduction by a friend of his.
That introduction is, as you might expect, a very friendly and warm introduction but also one that gives the reader fair warning of what the novel is going to be like. As it says, Stross’s first novel is “unpublished – great concept shaky execution” and “the novels kept getting better”. No surprises then that this – Stross’s first published novel – shows much of the talent and skill for predicting technology which makes Halting State such an excellent book, yet also at times has the rather clunky over-eager sentences of a novice writer trying a little too hard to amaze the reader.
The novel (and the short story) is science fiction, set in the present with a strong alternative history taste, plenty of technology speak and a touch of the horror novel thrown in. If you’re not a fan of the latter, don’t let that put you off. I’m not either yet enjoyed the book, for here the horror does not dominate and indeed adds an appropriate emotional strength to the deaths recounted in the book. It’s not just an emotionless pile of dead bodies that accumulate through the plot’s progress.
A bit of knowledge of IT, physics or maths helps to explain some of the jokes. Although as much of the humour is about management and bureaucracy, it is funny even without such knowledge.