Charlie Stross is nominated for a 2005 Hugo Award for best novel. The weekend the nominees were announced I happened to pick up The Atrocity Archives. It must be nothing like his Hugo-nominated novel, Iron Sunrise (Blogcritics review here), which is a sequel to Singularity Sky, a SF space opera which was itself a 2004 Hugo nominee.
The Atrocity Archives almost beggars description. Mix some H.P. Lovecraft with some Len Deighton (Stross pays an interesting tribute to both in an afterword) and some William Gibson and you start coming close. The hero is a novice agent for a British spy agency (“The Laundry”) tasked with fighting bad guys (including Saddam Hussein and Nazis) with and against monsters, demons and similar creations from alternative universes accessed by magic generated largely by advanced mathematics and technology. In others words, it’s your traditional horror cyberpunk spy novel.
The Laundry is a survivor of internicine struggles in the British intelligence community. That survival is in large part attributable to the fact it controls the government’s biggest secret — the ability to open the “gates” into the alternative universes. This ability is based on Alan Turing completing a theorerm Stross calls the “Phase Conjugate Grammars for Extra-dimensional Summoning.” The Laundry seems to get most of its “recruits” from enterprising academics and computer geeks who have stumbled across The Laundry’s secret. Their choice is simple: join The Laundry or else. That is what brings the hero, an easy go lucky hacker/sytems guy, into the world of occult spycraft.
The book is a compilation of a short novel (the title piece) originally serialized in 2000 and 2001 and a sequel novella, The Concrete Jungle, itself nominated for a 2005 Hugo for Best Novella following its publication in this work. The Atrocity Archives is certainly innovative and different. I don’t know that I could handle a steady diet of it, though.