The Atrocity Archives (Laundry #01) – Charles Stross (2001)
Stross’ basic mission here was to write a novel which was an amalgam of Len Deighton and HP Lovecraft. Thus we have the wonderful concept of ‘The Laundry’ in a UK where Turing discovered a theorem showing that magic was not only real but could be generated, controlled and manipulated by computer programmes.
The Laundry is an organisation (rather like Rowling’s Ministry of Magic) that watches over the population and prevents the general public from discovering that we may be only a few keystrokes away from opening gateways to worlds of demons and ‘Old Ones’ who can tune in on our digital nonsense.
Our hero, Bob Howard, is a fairly new recruit into this organisation, but soon becomes embroiled in a plot by a Lovecraftian Cthulhu horror beastie to open a gateway into our universe. At the same time he has to deal with his line managers, Harriet and Bridget and their Total Quality Management Procedures.
Once one gets past a certain level of geeky / techy explanations and in-jokes in the first chapter or two, the book gets very enjoyable. Stross takes hefty swipes at British Corporate business procedures, such as TQM systems and all that arcane ridiculousness.
Stross is a very funny man when he wants to be and there are some smart, slick elements of humour dabbed liberally throughout.
The one thing that didn’t quite ring true was Bob’s expertise since, for a fairly recent recruit into the Laundry Service, he seems to deploy an amazing set of skills and techniques when called upon to deal with paranormal shenanigans.
In the Kindle version at least there is a bonus tale ‘The Concrete Jungle’ in which a magical terrorist has managed to upload Gorgon software into the Milton Keynes CCTV network, turning at least one real cow into stone.
Those of you who know Milton Keynes will appreciate the concept.