terpkristin's Reviews > Rule 34

Rule 34 by Charles Stross
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's review
Jan 15, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: 2012, kindle, mystery-thriller, sci-fi, sword-and-laser
Read from January 07 to 15, 2012

I waffled a bit on how many stars to give Rule 34. In the end,I settled on two, since I typically only give 1 star to books I abandon, though it was a close call. I don't think that under normal circumstances I would have read this book. However, one of my new year's resolutions was to read every main Sword and Laser pick this year. Kind of funny that our last two "laser" picks have been disappointing (to me) techno-thrillers.

Looking at Goodreads, a lot of people seem to be turned off by the second-person narrative and the written Scottish dialect. I admit, both of those were hard to overcome at first. The Scottish dialect is one of the reasons I think that this book would work well as an audiobook. It is very odd to see it written out. I ended up reading parts of the book out loud, so that I could hear (and then understand) what was said. Through the course of the book, though, either the accent became less prevalent or I grew accustomed to it, since it was barely noticeable by the end. A similar phenomenon happened with the second-person narrative. It felt odd at first, but by the end, blended in. Admittedly, toward the end there was more dialogue and less inner monologue, so that probably helped.

Rule 34 is a book about ideas. It touches on morality (religious and personal life morals), ethics (governments, government agencies, and businesses), and even speculates a bit about the future of artificial intelligence. The book, set in a rather believable near-future Scotland, touches on these topics using something we're all familiar with in this day: the internet and spam. Using the familiar (internet, social networks) as a starting point, Stross speculates on how these virtual connections can be both used and abused. He throws in the concept of artificial intelligence, starting as research "for good," ending up being used to take advantage of a person's virtual life and connections, even in the real world (especially as seen through the eyes of the Toymaker). Stross starts on a road of speculation, but muddies it up with the crime-thriller he tried to write.

And that's where the book failed. Stross used more techno buzz-words than a typical Dilbert-esque Pointy Haired Boss. Though I consider myself to be fairly "up to date" on technology and geek-speak, half the time, I had no idea why he was stringing the words together. The other half of the time, my eyes glazed over. To boot, and a more grievous sin in my eyes, the story jumped all over the place, making wild leaps in logic and plot. I think Stross did this to add "thrilling" aspects to a techno-thriller novel, though I think it made the book downright confusing most of the time. Though I finished the book, I'm not sure that I could say who the bad guy was, or what exactly their crime was...or if they were really caught. The book's ending felt completely rushed, adding to the confusion. It's possible that Stross intends to flesh out the ending more completely in a follow-on book. The ending definitely makes it seem as if there is more to come. I doubt I'll be reading it.

In the end, this book felt like incomplete science fiction and an incomplete techno-thriller. Stross needed to do one of two things (or, even better, both!) to make this book "work" for me. One would be to further expound upon what he started speculating upon, round it into a more cohesive story, one that didn't rely so much on thriller elements but on the implications of the actions of The Operation. The other option is to make the thriller make more sense. I read a lot of thrillers, and the ones that do it the best string clues for you to better piece it together and for you to really care about the characters. Since I didn't get to sit in any one character's "self" for more than a chapter at a time (and only a few chapters per character total in the book), it was hard to feel any concern for their plight. As for the clues and the story/thriller elements--well, it seems that Stross thinks that all you need to make a thriller is violence, sex, and vulgarity. While this book had plenty, it didn't make a lot of sense most of the time.

All of the above said, I kept having one thought as I read this book: this would probably be a good movie. I stand by that, even now having finished reading it. I think a movie, with well-known actors and a bit more emphasis on Liz, The Toymaker, and The Operation (and less emphasis on Anwar, even though he was the character I liked best), would probably make this story make a lot more sense. Oh well. Here's hoping the next S&L pick is one that's more up my alley.

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Reading Progress

01/07/2012 page 7
2.0% "Sword and Laser pick."
01/11/2012 page 90
26.0% "You are finding the 2nd person narrative a bit difficult. You are also very confused by the Toymaker chapters. You are hanging in there."
01/15/2012 page 245
70.0% "69% says Kindle. "One of the annoying things about VoIP codecs is that they filter out nonvoice traffic. You can't hear the pursed lips of a huff of annoyance; the tells of a tense boiler-room background are silenced by digital audio filtering." So true. We have VoIP phones in the office, the lack of static is disarming."

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome I've been wondering about that one.

message 2: by Tamahome (new) - added it

Tamahome Oh, S&L picked it.

Jenny (Reading Envy) I've just started it. Kind of bummed that most people aren't loving it, because I've always meant to read Stross. I guess we'll see!

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