Ace Books, 2004, 345 pages
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.
The Atrocity Archives is the first book in the Laundry series, about a super-secret British intelligence agency dedicated to saving the world from chthonian horrors while keeping said horrors secret even from the rest of the government. What distinguishes it from the many series based on similar premises is that it's thick with satire: this is a series not so much for fans of Lovecraft, but fans of taking the piss out of Lovecraft, as well as fans of The Office (especially the British version).
Bob, our hacker protagonist, is the nerd answer to James Bond. Think Chuck vs. Cthulhu. Except Bob isn't as hapless as Chuck — while he's no physical specimen, he's a clever lad (which is how he wound up being drafted into the Laundry in the first place) who manages the save the day repeatedly, and score women miles out of his league.
Between hunting down basilisks in Milton Keynes and accompanying an SAS team to Pluto to stop undead Nazis from raising an eldritch horror who will consume the sun, Bob has to try to keep his autocratic supervisor placated with all the paperwork required of a British civil servant. The satire comes mostly in the form of an agency that literally saves the world from destruction on a regular basis having to justify its office supply budget to Parliament and reprimanding its agents for logging unauthorized overtime.
There is also a lot of technogeek humor which will go over the heads of most of those who do not have computer science degrees.
I liked this book better than Stross's space operas, though it was not genius like Accelerando. You will probably like this book to the degree that you like Dilbert and User Friendly comic strips, British humor, and Lovecraft, in that order.
Verdict: Fun and funny, The Atrocity Archives is a satirical spoof of spy agencies and chthonian horror, loaded with nerd humor. I'll probably read more Laundry novels, but this is a series most appreciated by those who can feel clever for getting the in-jokes. 7/10.
Also by Charles Stross: My reviews of Accelerando, Saturn's Children, Neptune's Brood, and Equoid.
My complete list of book reviews.