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Rule 34 Hardcover – July 5, 2011
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“The act of creation seems to come easily to Charles Stross…[He] is peerless at dreaming up devices that could conceivably exist in 6, 60 or 600 years’ time.”
The New York Times
“One of the most intelligently and philosophically detailed near futures ever conceived. Dazzling, chilling, and brilliant.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“A savvy, funny, viciously inventive science fiction novel.” Cory Doctorow, author of For The Win
"Entertaining and propulsive storytelling." Locus
About the Author
Charles Stross was born in Leeds, England in 1964. He holds degrees in pharmacy and computer science, and has worked in a variety of jobs including pharmacist, technical author, software engineer, and freelance journalist. He is now a full-time writer.
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Although this is not my favorite book by this author, it's still a good read. Once you get past the rather off-putting second person narrative that both this and its precursor, Halting State, are written in (which can make the reading experience vaguely like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, except with a Scots accent) the diverse strands of this initially scattered story start to weave together into a technologically-enhanced thriller version of a police procedural plot. Once you get into the rhythm of it, it's a fun ride.
The underlying template for the novel is that of a hardboiled detective story in which the good-hearted but lonely and disillusioned investigator (in this instance, police Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh of Edinburgh, Scotland) attempts to solve a murder only to stumble over some of society's deepest and ugliest secrets. Being clever and imaginative and always eager to show off, Stross has no difficulty creating an immense web of secrets that tie together phenomena as diverse as homosexuality and sexual kinks, fiscal hijinks in former Soviet republics, spam, artificial intelligence, small-time criminals, 3D printers (or "fabs"), the dangers of open-source programs, neurological diversity, organized crime, the singularity, the nature of consciousness and free will, credit default swaps, social influence, and bureaucracy and office politics (one of Stross' favorite targets).
In very brief outline, Liz gets called out to the scene of a bizarre murder, only to find out that it's connected to several simultaneous deaths of shady dealers across the globe. Meanwhile, small-time Internet crook Anwar gets a too-good-to-be-true job as the Scottish consul for the government of a breakaway section of Kyrgyzstan, and John, a sociopathic "executive" for "the Operation," a major criminal syndicate, is trying to reboot operations in Edinburgh that include, among other things, production of sex toys for pedophiles. The paths of these three characters repeatedly cross as the death toll mounts and the details of a massive international swindle emerge.
Readers hoping to find new technological wonders in "Rule 34" will be disappointed; virtually everything Stross describes could happen (and may already be happening) today. The rewards for reading lie mostly in Stross' hyperactive snarkiness, his wry observations about the indignities of life as a sexual or racial/ethnic minority, and his unexpected insights into where our wired world is heading. And while the book's final payoff is a bit of a letdown, there's enough mystery and suspense to keep the reader turning pages and wondering how everything is going to come together in the end. Recommended.
It didn't help the first two thirds that of the multiple points of view used, one of them was someone who was not really all that smart. He kept getting made a part of others' scams, and clearly would eventually take the fall for them. I cringed whenever a chapter came up that he was narrating. He was pathetic. In the last third, even what happens to him gets interesting.
I found the contrast between pervasive high-tech and the ancient Edinburgh architecture to be very interesting (as I did with "Halting State," overall the better book in my opinion). Other reviewers have called the backdrop dystopian. I wouldn't go that far. It's far from Pollyanna-ish, but not a "1984" or other terrible view.
A caution: others also said there was some secret thing that came out in the middle that made sense of everything which came before, and even forced them to re-read it. I kept waiting, and waiting, and... wellp, didn't happen for me.
Oh, by the way: Rule 34 of the Internet (from 4chan) reads "If it exists, there is porn of it." It's meant to point out that yes, there is My Little Pony porn, and anything else you can think of out in the wilds of the Internet. No, this book is not a deep dive into that. Stross does explain the phrase (I bet his publisher demanded that), and there are negative psychosexual elements here, but they're not dwelt on and are intrinsic to the plot. There's nothing worse than, say, a gruesome episode of "Criminal Minds" (the TV show).
Also, as usual for Stross there are some references to things non-internet culturists won't understand. Believe me when I say that for the most part, in this particular book, you will probably *not* want to look them up. Because Rule 34.