December 28th, 2011

_Atrocity Archives_/_Concrete Jungle_, Charles Stross (kindle)

I got some books for the winter holidays. Some I bought for myself. Some I put on my wishlist. And these were given to me without prompting on my side.

The author has a significant internet presence:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/

I've run across him posting in various fora and quoted in articles, especially about publishing as an industry and transitions going on within it, especially during the Macmillan/Amazon face-off.

So it is with vast trepidation that I post a public review of anything by Stross (which I would not have chosen to read on my own, altho I seem to recall thinking about getting _The Jennifer Morgue_ in paperback, but decided against it after a bookstore sampling session). On the one hand, it's sort of entertaining when an author parachutes in after being alerted that there is another review of out there in the blogosophere. On the other hand, this is a blog overwhelmingly written to keep a circle of friends and acquaintances up to date and I bloviate here with the expectation that while my friends _will_ roll their eyes, they will do so with affection.

The positive first: the tales(s) move(s) along at a good clip. I like narrative momentum and Stross only occasionally bogs down in infodumpage. That is, most of the infodumpage feels like part of the story to me. YMMV. The physical descriptions (such as they are) are effective: the traffic circle and concrete cow installation in Milton Keynes felt really real (and I'm betting they are, altho I haven't been there and therefore don't know). The office furniture descriptions were entertainingly snappy, believable and at times almost smell-able. Stross has a story telling style that involves a bunch of confusion and foreboding on the part of the narrator, and then a blackout (either actual, if the protagonist gets hit on the head, or narrative, if the climactic bit is skipped over), followed by detailed aftermath. If you're looking for detailed descriptions of sex or violence, this is _not_ for you -- detailed descriptions of practice at the range with an automatic weapon and/or hand of glory, yes, detailed description of sack-time or battling it out with terrorists, no.

I actually kind of like the blacked-out-climax narration. It makes the narration more chess-like and less martial-arts-y, but that's not inherently less suspenseful.

I'm a lot more neutral on the pastiche/homage/quilting of references. In the after-matter, Stross specifically credits Len Deighton and others as part of what went into the Bob Howard stories, and addresses questions about some other possible sources that he didn't actually experience until after having completed this work, but leaves unmentioned (inevitably) a lot of other possible sources. On the one hand, fun spotting all the possible inspirations. On the other hand, very distracting.

It's all very po-mo, yet in the service of an anti-democratic/conservative theme (The World Must Be Kept Ignorant to Protect it and Here's How and Why), which puts this reader in a tight spot. (1) The author reified an opinion I _really_ disagree with; or, (2) I'm supposed to like people I perceive as Bad Guys. And not because they're running around killing people and covering it up, which wouldn't necessarily bother me that much. It's the expecting me to believe it's for my/our own good part that rankles; or (3) I'm supposed to enjoy reading a book about the activities of people I _don't_ like and whose approach to their project I really disagree with.

I'm just not mentally that flexible. I'm flexible enough to enjoy Disney crap (especially, but not exclusively, the theme parks), while massively disapproving of it from multiple perspectives. But I'm having some trouble with these.

Alternatively, I was just put off by the Nazi theme. It's one thing for Heinlein to put a Nazi base on the moon a few years after the war. A hideout Nazi base somewhere after the war? Absolutely. Writing science fiction so move it to the moon? Why the heck not? Feels real dated by the time 1960 or so rolls around, but whatever. But even if the Nazi thing was an homage to _Rocket Ship Galileo_ (had to look that up -- I kept coming up with _Destination Moon_), it just felt ridiculous. If I'd thought it was _supposed_ to feel ridiculous, I might have been okay with it. But ridiculous and horror don't seem like compatible emotions to me -- I'm not wired up to do that kind of campy.

I look forward to a very enjoyable conversation on the phone some time soon with the person who sent me the tales, because there's quite a lot more that I'd like to say about them and I'm looking forward to hearing what he thinks of them (horror is not my genre, and it definitely is one of his). I do not feel like they were a waste of my time. The author is competent at the basic task of fiction (that is, the story moved along and I was interested in what happened to the characters). These tales would be highly rewarding to committed fans of several genres who enjoy cross-genre pastiche -- and they'd be better positioned to produce an informed, useful review of them.

ETA: Yeesh. I only _now_ realize the Bob joke. Bob. Howard. *sigh* It's like a gigantic spot the hidden picture exercise.

ETAYA: Oh, worse. 8 cows in the book. 6 cows according to wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concrete_Cows

I suspect that anyone who lives where the stories are nominally set will have all kinds of fun with reality variances in the descriptions.