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Literature / The Atrocity Archive

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The Atrocity Archive is the first novel in The Laundry Files by Charles Stross. The Atrocity Archives (note the plural) is a book which bundles the aforementioned novel with the Laundry short story, "The Concrete Jungle".

Bob Howard is an IT guy who stumbled across Secrets Man Is Not Yet Ready To Know. (Most such secrets turn out to involve advanced mathematics.) As a result, Bob has been recruited, willy-nilly, into the Laundry, a top-secret agency which protects the UK from occult threats. This is not as exciting as it might sound. Despite their unusual remit, the Laundry is still a government agency; bureaucratic, hide-bound, and prone to management fads. And Bob is just a mildly frustrated guy who fixes the computers. Until one day, during a routine training session which suddenly goes horribly wrong, Bob's quick thinking manages to save the lives of several fellow Laundry employees. Now Bob's long-standing application for field work has been reconsidered.

As his first real field assignment, Bob is sent to the US to meet a Professor Dominque ("Mo") O'Brian, whose philosophical studies may have been heading down a dangerous path. When Mo is kidnapped by crazies who want to sacrifice her to open a portal to another dimension, though, Bob's job suddenly gets a lot harder. The next thing Bob knows, he's up to his neck in demons, and a long-delayed Nazi plot to unleash an unspeakable evil on the world.

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    Tropes in The Atrocity Archive 
  • Alien Sky: Subverted; it turns out that it's not an alien world, but an alternate Earth and the reason the sky looks different is that the Infovore has consumed all the heat from the stars.
  • Apocalypse How/Class X4: The climax is set on an alternate world where the top-secret Nazi necromancy project used the souls of those murdered in the Holocaust to summon an Infovore, a creature living in a universe that succumbed to Entropic Heat Death aeons ago, and use it as a weapon against the Allies, wiping out all life on Earth except for the Nazis. Unfortunately for them, the Nazis didn't realize that they weren't in control of the Infovore until it was much, much too late — and after it ate the Nazis as well, it began consuming all the energy of the rest of the universe, causing it to undergo Heat Death as well. Eventually, it began sucking energy directly from the Space-Time Continuum, causing the universe to begin to collapse. Now it wants to escape to our universe.
  • Attack Backfire: Bob and the OCCULUS team following the threat through to a frozen world where the Nazis summoned a Great Old One to win WWII... and it didn't end well for them. The plan is to retrieve the hostage, then leave a nuke to blow the site, and the threat, sky high. At least, until Bob realizes that the threat feeds off of energy and entropy, meaning blowing up a nuke would give it enough strength to force its way through to our world.
  • Bad Moon Rising: Explorers in a parallel world realize something very bad must have happened there when they see that the Moon has been resculpted into Hitler's face.
  • Batman Gambit: The Jotun Infovore is nasty and manipulative. It targeted Mo to get the Laundry on its tail, then abducted her into its reality, while dropping hints that the Nazis were behind the whole thing. This forces the Laundry to pursue it in force with a nuclear weapon just to be on the safe side. That's exactly what it wants: a burst of powerful, concentrated energy like a hydrogen bomb is what it needs to open a big enough gate to our reality so it can feed on all that delicious energy in our universe.
  • Continuous Decompression: Justified. The sucking hole is a hole in reality, working on sucking Earth's entire atmosphere through an interdimensional portal to an alternate Earth where the atmosphere has frozen solid after the Jotunheimr sucked all the heat out of its home universe.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Bob mentions to Mo that the Laundry has an agreement with Donald Knuth to keep volume four of The Art of Computer Programming from being published, which is why it spent so long in Development Hell: "He doesn't publish it, and we don't render him metabolically challenged."
  • Deface of the Moon: Hitler's portrait carved into a moon in another dimension.
  • Deus ex Nukina: Played straight, more or less. A warhead is carried through a portal by a special ops team into a parallel universe to take out an Eldritch Abomination. Turns out that this was the endgame of a big Gambit Roulette by said abomination to provide it with enough energy to open a big portal to Earth and come through to eat our universe. One man has to stay behind to cause a faulty detonation to stop an actual nuclear reaction, but gets severely irradiated in the process by the critical plutonium assembly.
  • Earth All Along: A variant in which a portal to another universe leads to a frozen, atmosphere-less planet with a sky of red stars. While the protagonists naturally assume this is some alien world, it turns out it's what's left of an alternate Earth in which the Nazis summoned an Eldritch Abomination. It's nearly done eating that universe, and it's looking for a fresh buffet...
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Infovore, the only survivor of a reality where the Nazis actually managed to pull it off. Only thing is, once they unleashed "the frost giant" on the Allies, they quickly began to realize that the thing was draining the heat from... well, everything. Just sixty years later, that universe is nearing entropic heat death, and the Infovore wants out...
  • Eldritch Location: A portal to another universe is opened in which Heinrich Himmler and the Ahnenerbe SS managed to make a deal (via mass human sacrifices, natch) with Eldritch Abominations (the Ice Giants) to win WWII. Guess what happened next in that universe. While you can admire Hitler's portrait chiseled onto the moon's surface by giant hands, it just so happens that alter-earth is now frozen to near absolute zero while the universe itself has redshifted into collapse mode and has just a few hours left to go. And something wants to get back through the portal to our side. This is bad!
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Discussed Truth in Television example. Back in the day in the UK it was illegal to be gay, which meant gays working in the British intelligence community (including the Laundry) were vulnerable to blackmail (i.e. "work for me or I'll blow the whistle on you"). Nowadays the Laundry just requires you to be openly gay, the idea being that you can't be blackmailed if you aren't hiding anything. Hence Bob's Camp Gay flatmate Pinky drags his Straight Gay partner Brains out to Gay Pride once a year to maintain their security clearances.
  • Ghostapo: The book deals with the consequences of Nazi attempts to harness an Eldritch Abomination... via the Holocaust.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The book has as its villains the remnants of an alternate universe's Third Reich. They managed to turn the Holocaust into a massive necromantic working, attracting the attention of a Great Old One they got to fight on their side. Thing is, after it destroyed the Allies, it proceeded to drain everything from the universe, to the point that said universe is facing imminent heat death only 60 years later and the Great Old One itself is trying to escape ahead of the impending collapse of reality, making this a double case when the Laundry agents realize what's happening and trap it in the dying reality.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Bob's reaction to the the untimely demise of Frank in the training session. On the one hand, he feels bad about the fact that he killed the guy. On the other hand, the guy was dead already, having crossed the barrier during a practical demonstration of a summoning like an idiot. Bob's quick thinking, caving in Frank's skull with a fire extinguisher, is why only one person died, instead of a lot more.
  • Latex Space Suit: Mesh spacesuits are used by the specialist SAS team. The point is made that the suit compresses you by its own elasticity, which generally ensures that any gas in your body outside of your lungs is squeezed out of the nearest orifice. When they see the SAS team that crosses over into Another Dimension wearing these, the protagonist realises they've made such journeys before.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Extract a British national being kept inside America by the CIA's occult wing → stop an Eldritch Abomination from crossing over from a world where the Nazis won World War II.
  • Pride Parade: Bob explains to Mo that back in the day when it was against secret service policy to be homosexual because they viewed you as a security risknote , homosexuals actually ended up as one because they were vulnerable to blackmail ("do this for me or I tell your boss and you're fired"). The solution ended up being to ensure that if an employee was gay, he was openly gay, since you can't be blackmailed if you're not hiding anything. Hence, once a year Camp Gay Pinky drags Straight Gay Brains out to Gay Pride to maintain the latter's security clearance.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: Sort of inverted: Brains is devoting considerable time and energy to proving that it is possible to make an omelette without breaking eggs, but he instantly abandons this project to give moral support to Bob when their bosses drop him in it, pointing out that Bob's situation is what the phrase is actually about.
  • Someone Has to Die: At the end, someone has to stay behind to blow up the nuke manually and cause a "fizzle". At the end of the book, he's suffering the effects of radiation poisoning and the outlook is not the best, but then The Jennifer Morgue confirms he survived; he shows up again as the leader of The Cavalry after the cat dies. Lampshaded in the RPG, where Bob notes that there had to be some potent magic involved to keep him alive, and wonders just what the cost was...
  • Space Is Cold: Stross did his research. Despite the ambient temperature on the alternate Earth being roughly 40 Kelvin, the characters note that since there's no air, they can't lose heat by convection, so heat exhaustion is a potential danger.
  • Spacetime Eater: The Infovore, which feeds on quantum information and is thus actively causing the premature death of the alternate universe.
  • The Stars Are Going Out: There's an Alternate Universe where most of the stars are gone because a monster has eaten all the heat from the universe and without the energy to make it expand, the universe has been collapsing in on itself. When the crew enters the universe, the collapse has sped up to be faster than the speed of light, and somewhere in the quickly shrinking universe lurks an Ice Giant looking for a way out...
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: This is crossed with Ghostapo since "magic" is really just applied higher mathematics and physics. Part of the reason for the Holocaust was to open a gateway to an alternate universe and bring an Eldritch Abomination (an Infovore) through to destroy their enemies. Part of the action of the story takes place in an Alternate Timeline where the Nazis succeeded, then were destroyed by their own creation. After World War II, the major powers signed an occult arms-control treaty since none of the parties involved ever wanted to see mass murder used as a strategic weapon again.
  • Tap on the Head: Subverted. The protagonist is hit on the back of the head with a sap (a bag full of lead shot), knocking him out. He spends a couple of weeks recovering, and got a hairline skull fracture for his trouble.
  • Terrifying Rescuer: Mo describes being rescued from terrorists by a SWAT team:
    You ever had two guys point assault rifles at your head, so close you could see the grooves on the inside of the barrels? You just lie there very still and try very hard not to look threatening.
  • Title Drop: The Atrocity Archive is a secret archive of all the stuff the Ghostapo got up to during World War 2. And the worse stuff that they could have gotten up to. The human sacrifice section is particularly appalling.
  • That's an Order!: Overridden. Bob Howard's line manager Bridget starts grouching at him for being behind on his timesheets or something similarly insignificant, and demands that he tell her what he's been up to, calling the trope name. Bob's actual boss, Angleton, overhears.
    Angleton: Bridget, you don't have clearance. Drop it. That's an order.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Created the contents of the titular Atrocity Archives.
  • The Virus: The Infovore, along with numerous other Lovecraftian beasties. Demons in the setting spread along electrical circuits, and skin is conductive...
  • You Can't Make an Omelette...: Taken literally when Bob's flatmates Pinky and Brain try to prove that you can in fact do it, provided you inject the egg with a ferrous solution then put it in a rotating magnetic field. It doesn't quite work, but it proves a Chekhov's Lecture, eventually leading Bob to the solution to how to disarm a tactical nuke.

    Tropes in "The Concrete Jungle" 
  • Godzilla Threshold: The story shows that SCORPION STARE is supposed to be fed over every CCTV camera in Britain for use as a remote controlled defence grid called MAGINOT BLUE STARS, regardless of the potential body count when CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN comes about. It gets an image recognition upgrade in The Nightmare Stacks, designed to reduce civilian casualties. And when the Threshold is crossed and the system is activated, it fails. Disastrously.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Get sent to Milton Keynes because there are one too many concrete cows → uncover and prevent an internal coup within the Laundry.
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: a variant on the phrase is used as a joking bit of spy speak when Bob needs to identify himself to the OCCULUS team he just called in. To be fair, "is that a gun in your hand or are you just here to have a wank?" is not a phrase most people would utter when staring down the snout of a carbine.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The story interspersed with various classified reports and letters detailing the Medusa Effect and its history; one report in particular talks about how the government found a way to install it into security cameras, effectively placing a remotely-activated Death Ray onto every street corner. The report is clinical and technical; its professional tone is somewhat ruined, however, by the fact that it closes on the statement: "We remain convinced that this is the best defensive posture to adopt in order to minimize casualties when the Great Old Ones return from beyond the stars to eat our brains."

Alternative Title(s): The Atrocity Archives, The Concrete Jungle