At the current state of science fiction’s evolution, the grab bag of familiar science fiction tropes is as large as it ever has been. This paves the way for one type of ‘originality’: test the limits by combining as many as you can. Published in 2004, Charles Stross’ novella The Concrete Jungle is a posterizable example. Anything (familiar) goes in its roughly 100 pages: zombies, alternate history, androids, Greek myth, 21st century corporate life, threats of alien invasion, Big Brother conspiracies, the occult, emotion detectors, invisibility shields, and all not to mention humor involving lesbian sheep and jokes having “don’t have a cow” as the punchline. Whether this is too much for 100 pages will depend on what expectations the reader brings to the table.
Bob Howard is a mild mannered, unassuming agent for the Laundry Arcana Analysis Section of British Intelligence. Woken in the dead of the night, he is called to the office on a code blue alert and given a folder of top secret files to review en route to a site the Section wants answers regarding. The files detailing a century’s research into gorgonism, i.e. the ability to burn to cinders anything carbon-based with the power of sight, Howard prepares himself with heat goggles approaching the scene. The charred corpse of a domestic animal lying in the middle of a traffic circle, where the investigation leads is only more bizarre.