Monday, December 06, 2004

The Atrocity Archives

No I'm not talking about Rummy's file cabinet(although I'm sure it would qualify).
It's a new book by one of my current favorite authors, Charles Stross.

I REALLY liked this book. I was thinking about what to tell you about this book: Envision "Hellboy meets Office Space."

You have all the scary occult Nazi weirdness of Hellboy combined with the cult humor of the software developers from Initech.

Charles comes from the computer IT world and for those in the know, there are a bunch of inside jokes that might go over the heads of non-computer savvy players. How 'bout Business Software Alliance as a front for real evil doers. Not that far from the truth!

What was especially nice was a hero who had to deal with the day to day stupid bureaucratic stuff while fighting demons from another realm.

And instead of going the fantasy route as the source of the demons, Stross uses high-level mathematics, quantum physics and theories about multiple universes as his way into the realm of strange characters. I just finished reading the book The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force
which addressed the whole issue of how the observer can collapse a probability wave and then BAM, Stross includes a reference to this in his book! Cool!

What if the weird monsters from the occult were in fact intelligences from parallel universes? What if at the same time our understanding of quantum physics grew and knowledge of how it works is used to make powerful weapons, we also started understanding how the occult works and we used that knowledge to make weapons? It’s a nice conceit and he pulls it off consistently.

Stross really has a great "voice". I read his book Iron Sunrise first and really enjoyed it. I didn't know that it was the second book in a series (which is VERY frustrating because now I have to wait till 2005 for the next!). I went back and read the first book,(Singularity Sky) and although it was enjoyable, I felt he had grown as an author. Either that or I just liked the characters and the plotting of the Iron Sunrise better.

I find his characters interesting, but one thing that I often find frustrating is the hyper-competence of certain characters in science fiction. His main character in The Atrocity Archives is inexperienced and makes some mistakes because of it, but is still amazingly smart. His boss's boss is almost supernaturally smart. The bureaucratic bad guys are cartoon-like in their personalities. Toning down the intelligence of the good guys and bring up the intelligence of the bad guys would make the book even more powerful and realistic (which is something that I think this kind of book needs to offset the fantastic elements). His use of his computer admin chores are so grounded in reality it adds credibility to the story when two pages later he is conjuring level 3 demons from another universe. (Of course jokes about the daemons in UNIX and the demons in other realms are such an easy pun he smartly leaves it out of this book).

One thing that struck me after reading this book was a sadness about America and a fear for our future. I think that after the recent election I don't believe that the super smart people are in control. Maybe they never were, but I had a naïve confidence that there are people who know the horrors of war and mutual assured destruction who work to keep us out of war and off the path of global annihilation. You hoped that because someone like Colin Powell had seen war up close he would make sure it was a last resort tactic and one that was well planned to ensure success. Chicken Hawks in office don’t have the sense memory of human destruction that active military have. Would George W. Bush or Dick Cheney have chosen a different course if they had seen the horrors of war? Do they see them now? Bush only sees them on his television screen. And as we know, that isn’t as powerful as first person experiences. The political bureaucrats have taken over the show and have convinced themselves that they have control over the fundamental powers of the universe because they control the media and the perceptions of 51% of the population. It's the difference between authority and leadership. Between accepting the responsibility of power because you have seen what happens when it is misused and wanting the power as your birthright because you think you know better and that history is for losers.

My favorite SF deals with current issues in another form and this one does just that, it will be interesting to see where he goes with the world of the Atrocity Archives. I would like to see more "realism" in this world. The old guard with the institutional memory dying off and the political suck ups taking over and having to bear the consequences of their lack of understanding, history, responsibility and overall hubris.

I long for that kind of justice in America, but I might not see it in my lifetime. It would be nice to see it in a science fiction book.

P.S. If Charles Stross happens to stumble on this post while he is avoiding work and Googling his own name (we all do it Charles) I just wanted you to know I love your politics too, we share a lot of the same views. Put me on your blogroll! I also enjoyed your minibook review, I'm working my way through your recommendations.

Hellboy meets

Office Space. Red Stapler! I've got one!
Don't forget to fill out your TPS reports everyone!


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