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Charles Stross’ Rule 34

by C. Ross Jam on July 11, 2011

Rule 34 Cover That was quick. I told you last Thursday Charles Stross’ Rule 34 was up next. Case closed, book finished on Sunday. Great read, remarkably dense, and thought provoking to the end.

Loosely a sequel to Halting State, Rule 34 involves a complex mesh of characters and plot threads. The book is written in the second person, and no two sequential chapters are told from the same character’s point of view. Ergo, you are constantly switching between them. Takes a bit of getting used to, especially since Scots figures heavily and you have to make the language adjustment along with the perspective switches.

When I’m not fawning over William Gibson, Stross is my go to guy. Rule 34 doesn’t fail to deliver.

The three main characters, Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, Anwar Hussein, and The Toymaker all get spun into a hyperkinetic web of flat out weird technology driven crime. Spammers are offed by household appliances. Phony nation states are constructed to hide fancy financial instruments (read scams). And venture capitalists are now Gangster 2.0, or is it vice versa?

Kavanaugh is the heroine trying to figure out who or what is wreaking this havoc, despite being banished to the cop hinterlands after losing at some political infighting. Hussein is the chump, but oddly sympathetic, two bit “developer” continuously getting sucked into get rich quick schemes to no good end. The Toymaker is a fucked up psycopath (that is all). A number of minor characters also get a chapter here or there, but Rule 34 really revolves around these three.

First of all, Rule 34 is just a good, fast paced police procedural/thriller/mystery although it probably doesn’t obey the covenants of all those forms. Secondly, it is extremely dense on the nerd/pop culture call out front which is much different than my remembrance of Halting State which seemed a bit kindler and gentler. At certain points, I thought every graf in Rule 34 had to have some sort of oblique reference to a Real Life (TM) emergent meme. Almost like a mashup of Accelerando and Halting State. Keanu starring in a Godfather reboot was a nice tweak though.

Obviously I’m recommending Rule 34. But there’s one essential concept to take away: panopticon singularity. Be careful what you wish for nerds…

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