Charles Stross (YGtCTO Words #38)

The Atrocity Archives

Book written by Charles Stross

New concepts are hard. No matter how innovative something first appears (to artist or audience), we all know that it has roots in deep soil. After all, people have been making art for millennia.

Even so, artists take left turns and wander into deep woods all the time. You don’t find gold in the river that already has everyone crowded around it with their pans. I’m guilty of that as much as anyone. Sometimes, artists and audiences do just want the sense of the familiar wrapped in comfort and snuggles. How else to explain the popularity of cover bands and cozy mysteries? And let’s not kid ourselves, we might admire the artists calling out to us from deep forest, but we don’t always bring them home for tea and scones.

So, what do you do if you want to make a living as an artist and you have already taken that first step toward recognizing that wider audiences are not going to flock to your experimental novel on the differences if the League of Nations had been formed by human-sized insects- written in Esperanto without adjectives, because that’s the way insects would talk?

Charles Stross

For one thing,

you could look at genres that have started feeling stale and mash them up a bit. As an aside, I think the idea of genre mash-ups may only be a recent phenomenon. Those heavy tomes by Dickens, Hardy, and all the rest, had plenty of genres included- romance story lines intertwined with mysteries and humor and tragedy. Sometimes they never even met up by the end. They just resolved on their own as if they occurred in a separate book. For that matter, I have to wonder if readers even thought of genres- they were simply books of varying quality and edification.

Spy books have struggled since Ian Fleming shuffled off the mortal coil. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu’s vision struggles to draw in the wider masses to the actual stories. Perhaps each could do the other a favor? Thus, we have Bob Howard working for the Laundry, facing things that man would be better off not thinking about.

Jim Butcher, Simon Green, Paul Cornell, and many others have walked similar territory in recent years. If you lean more toward police procedural or PI stories, then you will find someone somewhere mixing in supernatural elements.

For me, Stross provided the neatest surprise. His main character is far from hard-bitten and that serves the existential horror better than cynicism. His growing knowledge over the series of books is hard won, but his marvels at his experience play closer to real experience than sarcasm could. In essence, Bob Howard is a three-dimensional character and not an archetype. And he has been dropped into a world that could play in only two dimensions. His vitality brings the whole place to life.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 187 more to go.

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