Reviews: Singularity Sky and The Atrocity Archives

Something old, something new … and something completely different

Two Reviews by Steve Nagy
Our Favorite Quantum Puzzle

Ace Books
Hardcover — August 2003

Four out of Five BLINGS

Call this book the “Little Engine That Could” because it starts simply and finishes like the Super Chief.
Rochard’s World is the newest colony of the New Republic, a fledgling empire that favors the older sensibilities of lord and serf and keeps its distance from the equalizing technology available in a universe with faster-than-light travel, artificial intelligences, and revolutionary turmoil.
While that description might seem complicated, it’s just the starting point for Singularity Sky as an information plague that calls itself The Festival attacks the New Republic’s self-imposed isolation, forcing the rulers and the ruled, the spies and the bystanders, to examine their part in mankind’s future.
If you’re a fan of his stories about the Macx family and life during and after a Vingean Singularity, which started with the acclaimed “Lobsters” and includes current Hugo nominee “Halo” then you’ll enjoy the ride here as much because he mixes cutting edge ideas with real characters, weaving a story accessible to a broad range of readers. Are you a fan of military SF? There’s FTL space warfare. Or do you prefer alien cultures where it’s possible to immerse yourself in a sense of “other”? There are familiar environments here, but keep a seatbelt handy because familiar landmarks could hide post-human intelligences. Intrigue between spies, counterspies and their masters ratchet the tension even further. The only problem with a novel packed with as many ideas as Singularity Sky is that too many details could spoil the ride for interested readers. Pick up a copy, find out for yourself, and enjoy the story.

Golden Gryphon Press
May 2004

Four out of Five BLINGS

SF writer Ken MacLeod introduces Charles Stross and the novel The Atrocity Archive by calling the work science fiction. Taken with its companion novella “The Concrete Jungle” in an edition titled The Atrocity Archives by Golden Gryphon Press, that’s a fair description. Both follow Bob Howard, who works in the Information Technology department of The Laundry, a secret intelligence agency of the British government battling demons Lovecraft might only envision in his worst nightmares.
Because Lovecraft almost got things right in the world in which Bob lives, except the occult is a function of higher math and computer programming. Software glitches might indicate a virus in your network — or a need for a tech who did more than browse through computational demonology for dummies.
Unless you’re versed in the latest computer technology, some of the terms and descriptions Stross rattles off with ease will seem as arcane as any consonant-twisting Cthulhu invocation. It’s the comfort Stross displays drawing on his personal experience in the Information Technology industry that makes the novel and novella into page-turning yarns. The Cold War exposed in The Atrocity Archives isn’t between East and West; it’s a war pitting reality against unreality. Middle East technomancers, a damsel in distress, possessions, all-too-real horrors from the last century, and technology for the next gone awry, come right one after the other, faster than the best T1 connection to the Internet.
Stross credits the inspiration and example of Len Deighton and H.P. Lovecraft in his afterword, swapping their roles as pioneers of supernatural and spy thrillers. There’s a scary logic to that switch, just as there’s a reasonable tone to his own tales. That plausibility places Stross and this secret history in the same league as Tim Powers’ Declare, another tale exposing the “truth” behind the Cold War. Declare tied for the World Fantasy Award, and The Atrocity Archives could go as far.

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