First, The Confusion. I’ve been a Neal Stephenson fan since college, when I first read Snow Crash. The Confusion is the third book in his latest set, following Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver, and continues on where Quicksilver left off, following the Waterhouses and Shaftoes from around 1690 to 1702. Like his previous two books, The Confusion is largely the tale of money and finance, and how our current financial system came about. It’s also a fascinating tale of English and French history, and occasionally filled with swashbuckling pirates. It was an enjoyable read, but it was also a long, dense book, and it ended with a totally unexpected twist. Once the fourth volume, The System of the World comes out in September, the entire set will stretch from the 1660s to the present day and cover over 3,500 pages. They’re good books, but you’ll want to block out a month or two to read them all, and then re-read them to figure out what the heck was going on the whole time.
The Atrocity Archives is a bit different–it’s set in the modern era, and the main story is only 178 pages long, although there’s an excellent novella tacked on at the end the carries the characters on a bit further. In Hollywood-speak, it’s probably best described as H.P. Lovecraft meets Simon Travaglia. It’s basically a spy story. Our hero works for The Laundry, a branch of the British government charged with suppressing dangerous knowledge and preventing disasters. In the world of the novel, there are things that go bump in the night, and the right incantation (or the right software) can trigger things that science is still laboring (in secret) to understand. If you’ve seen Hellboy or any of a thousand similar movies, then you understand the setting. The really enjoyable part of The Atrocity Archives is the story itself and the writing. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy. You may also wish to read A Colder War, one of the author’s short stories, although the short story is a lot creepier and less enjoyable then the novel.
Update: Found an excerpt.