The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross

I’m not sure how to evaluate this book. As a novel, which is what Ken MacLeod’s introduction and Stross’s afterword say it is, it’s a little disappointing. The action  builds up as paranormal secret agent Bob Howard takes his first case on “active service”, making contact with a scientist at UC Santa Cruz, known only as “Mo”, who’d like to return to her native England, but isn’t allowed to by US authorities, or by mysterious kidnappers who attempt to use her as bait in a demon summoning; and it comes to a head back in London when yet more nefarious characters kidnap the beautiful Mo and take her to an airless alternate Earth formerly inhabited by baleful Nazi demonologists, and Bob must join up with a souped-up occult military unit to rescue her. With that accomplished, everyone gets a pat on the back and heads to the pub for the beer — story over. Except we’re only two-thirds through. In the final third of the book, Bob’s troublesome ex-girlfriend Mhari disappears without a trace, and he heads off on another adventure, this time to thwart an evil plot to turn all the surveillance cameras in Britain into deadly weapons.

So what this really felt like, was three novellas (novellettes? I can’t keep those straight) stitched together to make a salable volume. A few clues on the cover and title page that The Atrocity Archive, the first 2/3 of the book, were previously released as a self-contained novel in about 2001, and that the final 1/3 was a Hugo-winning short story from 2005, completely passed me by before I read the book. As two (or three) short pieces, the book would have worked well. There’s Stross’s characteristic humor, his harassed protagonists, a tidy wrap up to each story, and always room to expand the setting with more files from the “atrocity archive”. Its good reading, but the confusing marketing made me expect a single novel and gave me wrong expectations.


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