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Rule 34 Hardcover – Jul 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.
Top Customer Reviews
Second person narration from all characters is annoying at first, but in the end it becomes evident that this choice of technique plays a very subtle but well defined role (I dare say is almost a character in itself) in the story line.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the careful poetry of some of the descriptions of physical places or mind states. The mastery of the english language is testimony of Stross' coming to a level of great experience and practice in his art.
Oh, and I guess Charles Stross could open up a website somewhere and ask readers for identifications of intetional misalignments and creepily insidious deviations in the general image. These create surprisingly profound food for tought, even if based on old-age phylosophical reflections and questionings.
Why not maximum score? Well, it is a Stross book, so it still reads as a Hollywood movie, complete with lost story sidelines and gratuitous deviations (not always a good thing).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The plot is very difficult to summarize without spoiling it completely. So here are the skeletal details:
It is a detective novel, writen entirely from the characters' perspectives as it moves from character to character. It extrapolates everything excessive in our current culture and creates an almost dystopian Scotland of 2035. It is very sexually explicit. There is coincidence after coincidence. There is a secret behind the scenes that you only glimpse at first before it makes itself known. This revelation almost makes you want to reread the book because the story takes on an entirely new interpretation. Though very grisly, there are many humerous moments and you will find yourself laughing out loud through long portions of this book. Highly recommended, one of the year's best so far.
This is a sequel to Halting State, but pretty much there's only one character from that book in this book, and she was just on the edges of Halting State, so really it's a standalone book in the same universe. It also feels like sort of a prequel to Accelerando but maybe that's just me, and that might even be giving too much away.
The basic story is sort of a police procedural (but not really?) combined with a "Life 2.0" or even maybe "Life 3.0" primer about how the world will be after all the bubbles burst and cheap auto-fabbing technology is available on the "village blacksmith" level. With pervasive computing made simple with virtual technology and pervasive observation by the government, and work assignments by smart engines (think amazon's mechanical turk, or crowd sourcing) because everything's so complex a person can't really manage the chaos, mix police, manic killers, auditors (a carry-over theme from Halting State), and a legal system to complex for a person to do the actual charging, into some frothy satisfying deep stoutish beer of wonder. And yes, there is a small subtheme of brewing beer in this.
To me this felt more utopian than distopian - the characters in the book might not have had great lives but there weren't killer androids lurking in the streets or police dragging people away on the flimsiest of excuses, people worked, they had what they needed, they had magic gadgets that could make most anything with the right magic spells you culd download from the internet (but keep your virus checker up to date!), so I'd think it's more better than worse ;).
There is some talk of kinky sex in this (ok, I know, I'm an adult, I should be able to just ride over this, but I wouldn't let my son read this yet, which is sad cuz he'd like alot of it I think) but no kinky sex scenes, as such, it was more like a horror movie - have kinky sex and get what's coming to you.
All in all - while it wasn't a total surprise the ending was pretty satisfying and pretty much promised at least one more sequel (I don't think he's killed this series yet!) which I'm looking forward too, especially if he folds this book's events in with some of the characters from Halting State.
I'm a big-to-huge fan of a lot of Stross's other novels, especially the Eschaton (Singularity Sky/Iron Sunrise) and Laundry (Atrocity Archives/Jennifer Morgue/Fuller Memorandum) series. I have not read Halting State, and didn't realize that Rule 34 was a sequel to Halting State until after I'd read Rule 34. So, full disclosure: my tepid response to Rule 34 might be because I wasn't familiar with the Halting State world.
I don't think so, though; Rule 34 seems like a collection of nifty ideas that fail to cohere into a good book. The first problem, for me, was the choice of a second-person narrative voice. I found it to be irritating, and almost literally tiring, and never really got used to it. There's a reason fiction is almost never written in that voice: it's inherently distancing and disorienting for the reader. I found it especially off-putting here, because it was combined with a narrative structure in which the "viewpoint," such as it was, appeared to jump from character to character (so the "you" was a constantly rotating around 10 or so characters). I'm sure this was a quite deliberate choice, and I'm sure that Stross is saying something about the substance of the novel with that choice -- spoilers prevent me from saying more -- but even though I get it, it still didn't work for me.
Second, the plot did not flow terribly well. It felt like the first 3/4 of the book was devoted to introducing the characters and setting the scene, leaving just the last 1/4 to "solve" the mystery that was preoccupying the characters. I thought the resolution was rushed and not terribly coherent. I understand the double twist at the very end of the book (I think), but I don't believe it, nor do I think it flows very naturally from what had come before.
It's still a Stross book, which means it's often very funny, and usually very clever. But I'd recommend starting elsewhere if you're new to Stross.
Disclaimer: Charles Stross writes this whole novel in 2nd person. It drove me up the wall. It's jarring, irritating and made the novel hard to read. If he never writes in 2nd person again I'll be happy as a clam. When I likely read another of his novels it will be despite this.
Rule 34 also marks the third book in a row I've read that was set in the UK. But this time it's Edinburgh Scotland. The title comes from the popular internet meme that states "If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions." Probably because one of the three main POV characters, Inspector Liz Kavanaugh, works in the division of the Edinburgh police department that stalks the internet in search of illegal porn. Considering there is some porn today that would make me want to scrub my mind with steel wool, this is not a pleasant job. The other prime POV characters are Anwar Hussein, a former small time crook now part of a scam that involves him being the honorary consul representing a small central asia breakaway republic. And the Toymaker, a functioning paranoid schizophrenic who also happens to to be the front man for a international criminal organization called..er..The Organization.
The book focuses on a series of murders that involve strange coincidences and malfunctions involving common household items that also just happen to be killing many of the prime movers in the spam underworld. All roughly on the same day. The book does an excellent job extrapolating what police procedure might look like 20 years from now, with everything in the cloud, a smartphone in every pocket, and practical applications of virtual reality used to track and present data visually to all the police working on a case. The book starts fairly slow, with none of the major or minor POV characters interacting, but progresses like a whirlpool, moving faster and drawing the characters closer together until they start crashing into each other while the plot reaches it's climax.
Aside from the use of 2nd person I quite enjoyed this book and would recommend it. A solid 4 stars on the Amazon scale.