The Reality Dysfunction – Patience Is A Virtue

51uakgft9jl._sx323_bo1204203200_The writers of The Quill to Live are undertaking a small project this year – we are reading a book series as a group and recording an audio discussion for each installment. The series in question is The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton. The books, starting with The Reality Dysfunction, are absolutely massive, clocking in at over 1200 pages of dense reading apiece. As such, there is a ton to unpack and discuss, especially given that our reviewers did not agree on how we felt about the book. Expect to see that audio discussion sometime this month, but if you would prefer to just read a short review of the first book, we have you covered. Please keep in mind that these are just my (Andrew’s) opinions, and the other site reviewers do not necessarily agree with my review (as you will hear in the coming discussion).

So what is The Reality Dysfunction? To begin with, it is Peter Hamilton’s first book – and as someone who has read most of the larger body of his work, it is interesting to see how far he has come as a writer. Hamilton is one of my favorite science fiction writers, though I think some of his books are definitely better than others. In particular, I am a massive fan of his Pandora’s Star duology. Hamilton brings a degree of anthropology to his books and likes to explore how new technology and information permeates society and how it changes the human experience.

The Reality Dysfunction takes place in a future human confederacy. Our race has spread to the stars, colonized a number of new planets, invented a number of new technologies and cultures, and met a few alien species. We are happily spreading among the stars until an unlucky group of colonists essentially accidentally starts a spiritual plague. People begin to become possed by otherworldly beings and sit spreads across humanity like a strange plague. We view these events through a wide and diverse cast of characters. The lead, if there was one, is Joshua Calvert – a young space captain, and notorious sex fiend (we will come back to this). There are also a number of other scientists, leaders, colonists, criminals, and blue-collar workers spread across a number of worlds. Each of these POVs gives you insight into different parts of Hamilton’s world and comes together to build a massive holistic experience.

Reviewing The Reality Dysfunction was hard because while I really enjoyed the book overall, I had a mixed experience with each element of Hamilton’s storytelling. For example, the worldbuilding was incredible. Hamilton, over hundreds and hundreds of pages, slowly and beautifully pieces together a massive human empire that feels like a complex living machine. He does this through insane attention to detail when it comes to economies, environments, cultures, and people to paint what feels like a possible future for our species. On the other hand, Hamilton says the Confederacy is a collection of hundreds of worlds, but we only find ourselves hearing about five – which made the universe feel a bit empty (especially compared to his other books where the galaxy feels a lot more vibrant).

Then we have the plot. The book begins with almost twenty unrelated POVs that take place across the galaxy. As the book progresses, Hamilton hooks you with more than ten exciting subplots that had me coming back for more. At about the midway point in book one, the spirits make an entrance and we start to see how the different subplots are related. I think the biggest sin that Hamilton commits in this book is that the subplots were more interesting than the major possession plotline. That is not to say the possession story is bad, it is just that I was insanely invested in these smaller stories and it almost felt like the possession story was unnecessary. There is A LOT going on in this book (which is unsurprising at page count over 1200). I just wish that Hamilton had done a little more with the main plot to make it feel more integral to the characters’ stories.

Next, we have the characters, which are a little uneven. I called Joshua the theoretical protagonist, but that is only because he is clearly Hamilton’s favorite. Joshua is a walking cyclone of Gary Sue-ness, and the reviewers and I collectively started referring to him as Joshua Hard Penis (JHP), as he fucked literally everything with an orifice in this book. The characters collectively were a wonderful, diverse, and complex cast. However, I feel it could be argued that there might have been some subtle sexism in Hamilton’s writing. The female cast often feels a little less capable and more focused on being sex objects. That being said, I’ve read my fair share of Hamilton and never once felt his writing was sexist. This being his first book, it’s apparent he had yet to work out the sexual kinks.

Following up on this, one of Hamilton’s strongest abilities as a writer is that everything he does is visceral and intense. His descriptions suck you in and make you feel like you are there, his action gives you an adrenaline rush, his torture haunts you for days after you read it, and his sex scenes make you feel like you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be reading what feels like erotica on your subway ride. His writing is extremely evocative and it gives his novels a deep and lasting impression and helps you immerse yourself in his worlds. Most of his books have a respectable amount of sex, but it was super clear that Hamilton was trying to use smut to sell his debut novel. There is so much god damn sex in this book. We are talking anti-gravity sex cages, weird astral projection orgies, and super genetically enhanced genitals. If you really like your sci-fi to have a lot of steamy sex, this book might be your fetish. But, for a lot of people, I suspect that there is simply a little too much sex in this book. All of his later work is a lot more toned down in this area, and I am hoping it will level out in the second book in the series.

The Reality Dysfunction takes a little patience to read, but I think it is worth it. I loved this book, but I do think it is slightly bogged down by first-novel jitters. Having read his later work it is clear that he grew a lot after writing this first book – but The Reality Dysfunction is still a very solid science-fiction novel that will delight most readers. Its biggest hold up is honestly probably its prohibitive size, and I suspect a number of readers will be scared away by its density. For those of you who might be holding out, Hamilton is an expert in taking you to new worlds and I highly recommend you set aside a chunk of time and dig in.

Rating: The Reality Dysfunction – 8.5/10
-Andrew

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Master Assassins – An Undiscovered Gem

51w4sn4d2bclI am always a little wary of fantasy books about assassins. You never really know what you are going to get – will it be pulse-pounding action and mystery like The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, or will it be based on politics, intrigue, and aristocratic courts like Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb? As I went into today’s book, Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick, I was expecting it to fall somewhere on the spectrum between these two options. However, Master Assassins surprised me by not actually being about assassins. Instead, this book tells the tale of two brothers running from the world and their perilous journey to escape a fate worse than death.

The book is set on a continent isolated from the wider world. Due to a plague, that our cast carries but is unaffected by, the continent is forcibly isolated and kept from interacting with outside nations. This has a profoundly negative effect on the people and land and gives rise to a religious pope-like prophet who proclaims to herald a new future for the people of this sequestered land. Almost all individuals of fighting age are drafted into the prophet’s army, and she leads them all with an iron fist with the help of her beloved sons. The plot of Master Assassins revolves around two brothers, Kan and Mek. They begin the story as loyal members of the prophet’s army, but when unfortunate manslaughter-related events occur they are forced to run with an entire nation nipping at their heels. The name of the book is actually a joke perpetuated in the story. Despite the murder of the prophet’s son being an accident, Kan and Mek are considered by the wider public to be master assassins who possess untold cunning in their methods of infiltration and elimination.

The plot of the book is compelling and well paced. There is a clear sense of believable urgency in the actions of Mek and Kan as they must fight to remain a step ahead of their pursuers. Redick also does a fantastic job foreshadowing and executing on the roadblocks that the brothers must pass if they are to escape with their lives. The narration bounces between the boys running for their lives as adults, and flashbacks to their formative years to show you how they came to be the men they are now. The world itself is fascinating, exploring a number of ideas I haven’t seen before in fantasy. Redick goes into depth about the various methods that other nations have used to isolate this continent – including diverting rivers, ship blockades, and moving mountains. The details really bring Redick’s world to life and further sell the danger and difficulty that Kan and Mek face.

Speaking of the brothers, they certainly are a handful. One thing I like about all of Redick’s characters (in particular Kan and Mek) is they have large personalities. Some of them are irritating and grating, but they all feel loud and real. They have memorable identities that will stick with you long after the book is finished and I wish other authors would make casts as vibrant as this one. Through the course of their journey, the brothers meet a huge variety of people and must carefully decide who to trust. Their interactions with the people around them and the various backstories of the supporting cast, all help to bring the story to life.

As to what I didn’t like about the book – while Redick has a supreme talent for storytelling, I wasn’t overly impressed with his prose. Often times I found certain text “blocky” or awkward, and I feel that he could have done a lot to smooth out some of the dialogue and descriptives. I would find myself deeply invested as our protagonists navigated treacherous cliffs of a drained sea – only to be kicked out of my immersion by some awkward phrasing or strange comments. Additionally, while the plot of Master Assassins is captivating, and the plot takes you through a variety of different locations and vistas, I felt like the story didn’t progress enough relative to the size of the book. While the minute to minute interactions and excitement feel fast-paced, the progress towards the greater objectives in the book could feel glacial. However, my critiques are more of a personal nature than mechanical problems with the book. I am sure that many will read it and wonder how I could have found issue with any of the things I have listed here.

Masters Assassins is a delightful surprise. It marries classic tried and true fantasy storytelling techniques, like the hero’s quest, with modern themes and an excellent world and character design. The book feels both vibrant and alive with a cast of characters that leap from the pages into your room as you read it. My one hang up was personal issues with Redick’s style of prose, but this is a personal preference more than a concrete issue. Master Assassins is the first book in The Fire Sacraments series, and we cannot wait to get our hands on the next installment.

Rating: Master Assassins – 9.0/10
-Andrew

The Ruin of Kings – Reverse Goldilocks

814jpuhpbrlHere we have one of the mega-debuts of 2019. Published by Tor, The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons has had one of the largest marketing pushes I have seen in years. I have seen advertising for this book literally everywhere, and it somehow already has a TV deal with Annapurna. As I picked it up it felt too big to fail, and I was extremely curious to see if this massive first entry would live up to the hype or fall short. After reading it, I feel like it surprisingly somehow managed to do both.

The Ruin of Kings is about Kihrin, a thief (sorta) with a destiny to bring ruin to kings (hence the title). Our story follows Kihrin in two timelines that alternate each chapter. In the first, we read about Kihrin’s present life as a slave and his attempts to escape bondage and death while pursuing his destiny with a mysterious order of magic users. The other timeline tells Kihrin’s backstory and explains how he ended up in his current predicament. The alternation of the timelines is one of the novel’s largest strengths, and I think Lyons did a very good job matching the two stories to feel relevant to each other at all times while evenly disseminating information about the world, characters, and plot. This is not an easy thing to do, and Lyons managed to instill a great deal of urgency in both timelines that make the book a fast read despite its 800+ page length.

The problem with the book is that despite its even storytelling, neither timeline has enough story, world, or character building to be satisfactory. The pacing of the book is extremely fast, often to the story’s detriment. Lyons moves Kihrin through the world at a breakneck pace, and I constantly felt like I didn’t spend enough time with any location or character to fully understand them. For example, we start the book in an interesting city with a famous slave market that Lyons builds up to be compelling and mysterious. Then before we can learn more about it, she ejects Kihrin via a metaphorical cannon into the surrounding ocean. Once there, he enters a giant maelstrom filled with enormous sea creatures that hunt him. We learn enough that I want to know more, but then quickly move past and never revisit. In the other timeline, we learn that Kihrin is part of an esteemed thieves guild, and get to see him go on a regular heist. However, we never get a sense that there is anyone other than him and one or two other members in this “giant” thieves guild before it is metaphorically burned down and Lyons moves on to a new plot point.

Lyons moves between ideas so fast that you never really get to sit with them long enough. The shame is I really like her ideas. Almost all the places and things she shows the reader are awesome. I just needed another 400 pages to slow the pacing down and learn more about these small pockets of the world. However, this segues into the other major issue that plagued me in this book: I really don’t like Kihrin. He is a spoiled, melodramatic, Gary Sue who whines so god damn much it is unbelievable. Look, I understand that this is supposed to be a coming of age story and that he grows into a better person, but 800 pages is a reallllly long time to put up with his annoying tendencies. He definitely improves by the end of the book, but I feel like there is still a lot of work to go.

I am actually glad that The Ruin of Kings is becoming a TV show because I think it has a fantastic setting that will do well in a visual medium. However, despite the river of creativity that Lyons has put to paper, the original source material leaves a little bit to be desired. I suspect that less picky readers will enjoy this book a whole lot more than me, so if it sounds interesting to you definitely give it a shot. As for me, I am disappointed that The Ruin of Kings’ fast pacing and exhaustive length greatly hampered my reading experience.

Rating: The Ruin of Kings – 6.5/10
-Andrew

There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – A Satisfying Quickie

Seamen on the Poop-DeckThe day I discovered There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck!, a glamorously dressed pirate approached me in the aisles of Chicago’s Wizard World comic convention. He burst full force into a tirade of sexual puns and hilarious phrasing as he declared his own book a can’t-miss gay pirate adventure. I was sold. In fact, I bought the first four books in The Seamen Sexology. After all, it was banned by the Texas Renaissance Festival…who’s to say when it will be banned everywhere and declared a national treasure? Now, two years later, I mustered up the courage to read Francois le Foutre’s debut masterpiece.

This second review paragraph typically hosts a quick plot summary to get you up (to speed), but if I took that route we’d all finish far too early. At 21 pages, There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck is more a short story than a novel (in the literary community, we call this a quickie). In lieu of a plot description, suffice it to say the book is a very short but intensely satisfying read. Give it a chance despite its length and you’re bound to be roused for the entire ride, captivated by le Foutre’s stiff hand and prosaic caresses.

Sure, this is a read that can be rubbed out pretty quickly, but its climax captivates, and the prose is riddled with pirate sex puns that had me screaming. Quickfire spurts of jokes keep this a steady and reliable read, even without any foreplay (aka knowing anything about the book).

Look, is this 21-page story about gay pirate sex a genre-defining literary benchmark? YES. Unequivocally yes. There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck oozes intrigue and wonder. The ocean, sweat and…uh…other things glisten under the shining light of le Foutre’s apt wordsmithery. This line from the first page says it all:

“The last time a man had tried to come on my poop without permission, the other men took it upon themselves to come all over him and beat him off.”

That quote, from the book’s second paragraph, sets the stage for a full-sail journey into a treasure (pleasure?) chest full of puns and wordplay that’s hard to achieve on its own, let alone in a sensible narrative. But, as you’ll find out, Francois does many things. And entering the punderdome to the tune of a delectable sea shanty is one of them.

There are countless other praises I could pour upon le Foutre’s work for you, but–as we all know–sometimes it’s just better if you do it yourself. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Kindle edition for free, or buy the paper copy and keep it on your toilet to spice up visits to your poop deck.

Rating: There’s Seamen on the Poop-Deck! – 9.0/10, read it if you dare.
-Cole

For The Killing Of Kings – For The Having Of A Good Time

91fi4au2qflI apparently have a thing for military orders. Or, I guess not military, but organized groups of fantasy heroes. Maybe all of us who read the genre do, as most fantasy books have them. There always seems to be some group of warriors with a cliche name like “the Night Fighters” in every fantasy book. However, every once in a while you get a series like Malazan, or Bloodsong, or even Harry Potter that does these groups of heroes justice and tell you about a club that you would give your left arm to be a part of. This is one of those times. For the Killing of Kings, by Howard Andrew Jones, is the first book in his new The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. It is a phenomenal new story, whose greatest shortcoming is that there is not more of it, and it will likely be one of my top books of 2019.

For the Killing of Kings (FtKoK) tells the story of a post-war Darassus. Through the use of the Altenari, a prestigious military order, and its army, Darassus won a major conflict again its hostile neighboring nations. However, instead of pressing their victory, the royalty sued for peace – electing instead to focus their time upon studying mysterious magical artifacts they found over the course of the conflict instead of hunting down their enemies. This choice fractured the Altenari, with some losing faith in their leaders, and others holding fast to the nation’s new direction. Although the Altenari are somewhat reduced from their former glory, it is still a highly sought after order with many aspirants pledging to try and rise to the high rank of Alten. Our story follows two individuals, Elenai – a high ranking squire in the Altenari order, and Rylin – one of the newest individuals to reach the high rank of Alten after the war. Although both of these individuals are supremely talented, they find themselves in the shadow of the “old guard” of the Altenari (those who helped win the previous war). However, in the course of their duties both of our protagonists stumble over a mystery/conspiracy that threatens Darassus and find themselves working with the old guard to save the nation.

FtKoK has all the hallmarks of a fantasy great. It has an engrossing world, a top tier cast of characters, a fast-paced plot, and smart well-written prose that explores complicated themes through a fun medium. The world has your typical fantasy backstory – six gods each sat down and made a nation and became their patron. One went crazy and tried to murder the others, and got curbed stomped. While the gods fashioning the various nations isn’t too original, there are a number of details, like that the goods seemed to have built the word in some sort of giant unstable magical dimension, that gives FtKoK a distinguishing flare. While the land of the nations is solid and fairly “normal”, the borders and space between the various realms is this shifting morass of reality that essentially looks like a kaleidoscope that was tossed into a dryer. These shifting lands are extremely unstable, and magic users have learned to essentially build a reality around them as they travel through the lands. This leads to some super cool magic and magical fights in the story and really gives the world of FtKoK a lot of character.

Although the world is cool, it doesn’t hold a candle to the characters. The entire cast is fantastic and was really the high point of the series. Starting with our protagonists, both are intelligent, relatable, kind, warm, and show growth throughout the book. While they have a ton of differences, Elenai and Rylin are similar in they are both in roles where they feel they have been promoted above their station. Although they technically share ranks (or a rank below) with the rest of the Alten, they are new additions to this prestigious order and feel they still have a lot to do to live up to their ranks. They both have a level of self-awareness that is refreshing and speaks a lot to the virtues of responsibility and sacrifice. And speaking of the old guard, the most established Alten are all brilliantly written characters. Each of them is distinct, engrossing to read about, and improve the enjoyment of the book by their very presence. I love these characters and I want to read more about them.

The plot is also no slouch, and I found myself throwing out my regimented free time schedule in order to spend more time with this book. The mysteries in the story are well presented, and Jones has a real talent for teasing out clues and leads to build a larger picture. However, while I have a boatload of positive things to say about FtKoK, there were some places that could be improved. First, the book is too short and ends on an outrageously suspenseful cliffhanger. I feel like Jones couldn’t decide where to break up books one and two and just picked a place at random. I only finished the book last night and I am already dying for the sequel. Along a similar line, the pacing sometimes felt too quick. There were fights, dialogues, and expositions that felt a little rushed and I wish Jones took a little more time fleshing out and exploring. I really, really, liked this book and I didn’t like that I sometimes felt that I was being “rushed out the door”. At only 350 pages, I felt that FtKoK could have easily been 600 (a lot happens) and told the same story at a more luxurious pace.

At the end of the day, if the worst thing you can say about a book is that you wish it was twice as long it means you obviously loved it. For the Killing of Kings has raised the Altenari to one of my favorite fantasy orders in a single book, a feat that is no small accomplishment. With its brilliant cast of characters, smart explorations of the burdens of responsibility, and nebulous world and plot – For the Killing of Kings is sure to be one of the best books of 2019 and I recommend you check it out as soon as possible.

Rating: For the Killing of Kings – 9.0/10
-Andrew

Umbrella Academy – A Blunderous Bumbershoot

UmbrellaThe Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite, created by My Chemical Romance frontrunner Gerard Way and brought to artistic life by Gabriel Ba, sits at a unique crossroads both within the current cultural zeitgeist and on my bookshelf. With the Netflix adaptation premiering tomorrow as of this writing, I can only imagine the book’s sales have received a positive bump as readers and superhero-loving viewers flock to read the source material if only to tell their friends watching the series “Well, that was different in the graphic novel” with an upturned nose.

That motivation fuelled my own reading of Umbrella Academy, but the timing also placed it just a few books after my glowing review of Lights’ Skin&Earth. The similarities end at “A talented musician wrote a graphic novel,” but the two books’ origins keep them locked in battle in my mind as I try to separate the best from the meh-st. Gerard Way’s brainchild falls heavily into the latter bucket.

Apocalypse Suite collects six issues that form one narrative arc for the titular Umbrella Academy band of superpowered humans. 43 children are born to women who showed no signs of pregnancy, and nearly all of them display remarkable powers. Reginald Hargreeves, a monocled philanthropist and mysterious douchebag, vows to adopt as many of the children as he can to “nurture” them and teach them to harness their powers. Many draw parallels to the X-Men franchise and Professor X, a fine and fitting way to frame the narrative to someone who hasn’t heard of Umbrella Academy. Hargreeves successfully adopts seven of the children, and they save the world from a hilariously zombified Gustav Eiffel as he weaponizes his Parisian architectural wonder.

And that brings us to page 10.

The beefiest portion of story occurs after Hargreeves’ death (again we’re only at page 10, so no major spoilers) brings the remaining six children together after many years of being disbanded.

Enter, as I see it, the story’s crowning fault: utter disregard for pacing. After the initial 10 pages, which are downright fantastic and lay the groundwork for what could be an incredible tale, the story veers off wildly into countless directions, exploring the past, the present, and the future while giving readers virtually nothing to sink their teeth into. Newspaper clippings in the background of a few panels tell us one of the children has died, and others tell us that Spaceboy, the leader of the bunch, was involved in an accident and Hargreeves saved him by implanting his head onto the cyborgian body of a Martian gorilla. What follows is a cavalcade of mixed messages and family drama that just doesn’t click. Each 22-page chapter tries to cover so much ground that Apocalypse Suite reads like a hapless smattering of beginnings and ends with no middle–there’s little meat on these otherwise sturdy narrative bones.

The pacing issue goes hand-in-hand with Way’s treatment of the characters. Each of the Umbrella Academy’s members reads like a blurry reflection of a character who could be fantastic if given more space. It’s obvious that Gerard Way has deeply explored each character, but the problem lies in volume. There are six living Umbrella Academy children plus a few side characters and a few villains. To explore the faults, flaws, strengths, powers, and psyches of each would require triple the real estate.

A prime offender here is Rumor, one of the six remaining members. Her power is bringing rumors to life by speaking them into existence: “I heard a rumor that Patrick Rothfuss published his third Kingkiller novel,” for example, would bring that truth to life (not to mention lock a bunch of nerds in their rooms for 24 hours head-down in a book). Way explores this power for maybe two panels, and Rumor’s siblings are treated with equal disregard in terms of characterization. To drive this point home, consider this: I’ve stared at my screen for a full five minutes thinking of what else I can say about the characters in this book, but I’m coming up short. Call it a product of limited space or faulty writing–either way, I think Umbrella Academy misses the mark here.

On the flip side, Apocalypse Suite shines when it lends ample time to creating a villain. Vanya, the seventh sibling who has no noticeable powers, is essentially disowned by her family following Hargreeves’ death. Her arc is painful, haunting, tragic, and intensely gripping, playing beautifully into Gerard Way’s hand as a musician-turned-author and fortified by Gabriel Ba’s artistic vision. Her narrative reveals the sharp edges and dark corners of the Umbrella Academy’s collective upbringing, and this story makes the book worthwhile. If Vanya had been absent or replaced by a different villain, I’d have written this series off completely.

Despite everything, though, there’s something here, call it an X factor, keeping me intrigued by this quirky, dark series. Even with an ending that wraps things up all-too-quickly and characters that leave a hell of a lot to be desired, I’m willing to venture boldly into the second book. In a way, it feels like Apocalypse Suite is a shaky pilot that births a seminal show. In fact, I think Netflix is the perfect platform to right the narrative shortcomings of the graphic novel, and I’m excited to see a more fleshed out version of a story that couldn’t quite reach its potential as a book.

Of course, if you’re looking for a cream of the crop graphic novel written by a famous musician, there’s always Skin&Earth.

Rating: Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite – 5.0/10
-Cole

The Atrocity Archives – If You Gaze Long Into IT, The IT Also Gazes Into You

51zhglnwgul._sx308_bo1204203200_Show of hands, how many of you out there have worked for a large corporation before? For those of you sitting at your desk with a hand raised, likely sipping a lukewarm coffee that may or may not have been the last cup before the carafe needed to be refilled (you think we don’t know?), put your hand down. You look ridiculous and your colleagues are beginning to talk. Those of you who had your hands raised, and are now feeling a little self-conscious, The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross, is going to make sense to you. It shouldn’t, because the contents are mind-warping, strange, and surreal, but it will. I’m sorry.

As I was saying, today’s review is The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, a book that is actually a long novella and a short story combined into one printing and kicks off the Laundry Files series. As of the writing of this review, there are 9 fully numbered entries in the series, so there’s clearly a readership. Considering it’s essentially about an IT guy who’s really good at math trying to contain gibbering extra-dimensional entities it seems like I may be the kind of person who’s a member of that readership. Review spoiler, as is tradition, I am.

The Atrocity Archives is written from the POV of Bob Howard, who starts the series as a low level IT guy working for Capital Laundry Services, the UK’s secret agency for all that goes bump in the night. The back blurb gives away that he quickly “gets noticed” and is bumped up to being a field agent. He subsequently goes on a few adventures, sees some scary stuff, and is generally annoyed by the proceedings. His first few (mis)adventures are told with an interesting but slightly repetitive window-dressing, in that about halfway through the action we fade to him in a staff meeting briefing his superiors on what happened next. I thought that it was funny the first time, but I think it wears a little thin on repeated use. Luckily this disappears for the most part as the story goes on, but it did stick out to me.

I don’t really hold it against the book overall, though, as one of the main selling points of the story is the way it examines and takes apart the day-to-day trappings of working for a soulless (maybe literally in this case) bureaucracy. Bob’s life as a secret government field agent who is licensed to use deadly and high-grade occult weaponry is mainly occupied by staff meetings, corporate liability training, and other equally terrifying drudgery. Bob’s inner monologue as he sits through yet another staff training exercise he’s overqualified for but had to attend because his office had the budget to send someone is dry, funny, and will spring to mind during my next conference call.

I was also very impressed by Stross’s handling of the actual horror scenes in the book. A great many crossover horror books tend to actually be a fantasy or sci-fi book with a little bit of lip service to horror in the form of a mention of Nyarlathotep or some gore and flickering lights. I can honestly say that there were multiple scenes in The Atrocity Archives where I was truly unsettled. I really can’t get across, without spoiling specifics, how effective Stross managed to be with his horror.

One thing that stuck out to me in a less-than-positive way was how juvenile the hacker culture aspects of the book were. I’ve waffled from one perspective to the other on this, and since I read this book rather than listened on the audiobook, I can only infer what Bob sounded like when he used terms like “pwnz0r3d” in casual conversation, and since I enjoyed all the other aspects of the book so much I’m choosing on a personal level to believe that Bob is so unremittingly sarcastic that he’s joking when he says it. In the interest of fairness and honesty I have to inform you that in choosing to believe this I’m ignoring some other questionable evidence (e.g. his roommates names being “Pinky” and “Brains”, though again this may just be another in-universe joke for them, it was hard for me to tell).

I liked the book. I liked the book so much I immediately bought the second and read seven chapters before reminding myself I have other books on my schedule and it can wait. That being said, I think that the writing itself is pretty much just okay, and my enjoyment of it was heavily influenced by the fact that it was written for someone with almost exactly my interests and history of media consumption. I don’t really think this is a “recommend this to anyone and they’ll love it” book, I don’t even think it’s really a “recommend this to anyone and they’ll finish it and still have faith in your recommendations, at least” book. If you have a good grounding in the Cthulhu mythos, but really wanted to experience it from the perspective of a late-twenties British IT guy who’s pretty funny most of the time I’d recommend you pick it up.

General Audience Rating: The Atrocity Archives – 6.5/10
Will Audience Rating: The Atrocity Archives – 9.5/10
-Will