I have a feeling Charles Stross ' Laundry files series, of which The Atrocity Archives collects the first two stories, could a be new guilty pleasure. Or, actually, I don't know why I should feel guilty… The tales of Bob Howard fights against horrors of both the Lovecraftian and Human Resourcian kind are smart, funny, and filled with just enough mythos-like horror to keep me (who normally does not read much scary fiction) fascinated.
The premise is clever: magic is kind of real, but a branch of applied mathematics; algorithms describing computations that when performed opens up gates to other universes and realities and let the user draw power from them. It also opens up doors for older beings living between the universes to enter our reality (roll for sanity…) and so the public must never know. Et c.
Now, in our modern world we have computers, machines purposely built to run complex algorithms… yes, you can see where this goes. So, the world has organizations taking care of the problems, very secret organizations. The British one is called the Laundry and was formed in the last days of World War II. As all governmental agencies it is of course bureaucratic to the bitter end with in-boxes, rules, and meetings, meetings, and meetings. Stuck in this is Bob Howard, computer scientist, engineer, and sys-admin, 'recruited' to the Laundry after discovering some forbidden fractals and almost destroying parts of Britain during his graduate studies. Bob is more or less stuck at the Laundry because he has glimpsed the greater reality. This means a more ore less worthless existence slaving for middle managers in a gigantic administration. He has however recently applied for active service… and that is where the first story takes off.
I liked this book, it is a quick read full of humor. Much of it especially pleasing to software engineers I guess. Perhaps the book is a bit rough around the edges, but it is the first one in the series after all. I got to it via some Laundry-files short stories over at tor.com, and the later fiction feels more polished. This is not meant as a critique towards Stross who is indeed a very good and funny writer. Reading The Atrocity Archives made me curious about his other science fiction as well (which people keep telling me to read).