- "Stross has admitted 'A Colder War' is directly inspired by Lovecraft's novel 'At The Mountains of Madness'." --"Review of A Colder War by Charles Stross"
- "Back in 1997 when I began to explore this area, I started with a novelette titled "A Colder War", which made it pretty explicit. ACW was set in the future of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" – a future in which Nazi Germany, the USSR, and the USA had all found their uses for the ancient alien technologies found by the Pabodie expedition to Antarctica. It all ends in tears (and a fate worse than global thermonuclear annihilation – the point of that story was to inject some horror back into Lovecraftiana by linking it implicitly to something truly horrifying, to anyone who grew up during the Cold War), but not before a Senator in a congressional hearing gets to utter the words, “Mister President, we cannot allow a Shoggoth Gap to emerge.”" "Ian Tregillis in conversation with Charlie Stross on The Laundry Files"
Although the story has similarity to the later Stross novel The Atrocity Archives, they are set in different universes.
- "The online story "A Colder War" is not part of the Bob Howard/Laundry series, but is an earlier short story along a similar vein, but far more serious (and deadly); there is no humor at all in this shorter story." From Marty Halper, Stross' editor on the relevant stories,
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden describes the story on Making Light as "It's the Oliver North/Guns for Hostages scandal, seen from the viewpoint of a CIA bureaucrat, in a universe in which the entire Cthulhu Mythos is real."
It was one of Locus Online's 2000 'Recommended Reading' novelettes.
The story originally appeared in Spectrum SF No. 3 in 2000, being later reprinted in Gardner Dozois's "The Year's Best Science Fiction" and in Stross' collections Toast: And Other Rusted Futures (in 2002) and Wireless: The Essential Charles Stross (2009). In late 2011 it appeared in two Cthulhu-themed anthologies: The Book of Cthulhu by Night Shade Books.
The Soviet Union has developed a superweapon called Project Koschei; (Koschei, called the Deathless, is the name of an evil immortal in Slavic mythology.); for use against NATO. Located at Chernobyl, Koschei is based on captured Nazi German research into an underwater city in the Baltic Sea. The Soviets have also deployed smaller weapons called servitors, as found in the Kitab Al-Azif, in their occupation of Afghanistan.
Doing so violates the Dresden Agreement, a secret multinational treaty signed in 1931 after an expedition to a strange Antarctic plateau that appears on no maps. Even Adolf Hitler adhered to the treaty, which hides the existence of the supernatural entities from the public and prohibits their use in war.
The United States' countermeasures for Koschei include Project Pluto and a continuity of government base hundreds of light years from Earth. American research also indicates that all intelligent species that experiment with the entities exterminate themselves. Other nations emulate the superpowers; Iran and Israel plan a nuclear defense against Ba'athist Iraq's attempts to open a gate to the stars.
As a Congressional committee examines the Iran-Contra affair, the Soviets and their leader Yegor Ligachev unexpectedly over-react to a joke by President Reagan, with dire results: Saddam Hussein stabilises the gate of Yog-Sothoth, destroying all opposing tribes in Iraq, which the Iranians respond by nuking Baghdad; in retaliation, an unknown Russian general launches the entire Russian arsenal aimed at Middle East; when discussing it with a CIA agent, Oliver North remarks, "Scratch the Middle East, period—everything from the Nile to the Khyber Pass is toast."
The increasing nuclear exchange eventually wakes Cthulhu (which is the actual entity behind Project Koschei), which shrugs off the entire nuclear arsenal aimed at it and proceeds towards the U.S, annihilating all of Europe in the progress. Information flow across NATO grinds to a halt, as Cthulhu's influence silences and warps all communications. The remaining U.S personnel retreat to a hidden constructed colony on a distant planet, codenamed XK Masada, but are unsure whether they really escaped or are simply enacting a simulation within Cthulhu's mind.