Elf M.'s Reviews > Rule 34

Rule 34 by Charles Stross
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May 02, 12

Read in May, 2012

You open Rule 34 expecting a police procedural, and indeed, that's how it starts out. It's a police procedural twenty-one minutes into the future: one minute, plus five years, more from the settings of its predecessor Halting State, although the police only solve a few minor crimes, never the major one.

At first, the book is annoying: it's too pat, too convenient. There are too damned many coincidences, too many characters who know too much about each other, run into each other too often, and oftentimes they act a little stupid. Stross isn't into stupid. He knows a stupid plot when he reads one, surely he's not going to write one.

You bounce around from head to head, and there are a lot more heads in this book than the last. There's Inspector Kavanaugh from Halting State, an ex-girlfriend of hers, there's Anwar and Adam and the Toymaker and a ton of other people, and their voices start to get blurry, at least the minor ones, but generally you keep it together long enough to make it interesting.

Eventually, though, it all dawns on you why there are coincidences, and you're impressed by the cheek of that bastard Stross. He mocks the Holmesian myth to policework, while at the same time he's written a contrivance of minescule shards of evidence, and at the end pulls his hat out of his rabbit and gives you a frighteningly plausible explanation.

There's not so much MMO in this book: its all set in the Real World, because what it's about is the way the network can someday reach out and fuck up the real world, in a very real and complete way. It's only twenty-one minutes into the future: the darknets are here, 3D printers are here, and if the Real Dolls aren't animatronic we're only a year out from voice recognition and a tree of scripts. Somewhere around 2016 three-dimensional printers wll be cranking out black-market paedodolls and voice mangling will allow softly accented voices in depressed locales to create hub-and-spoke tree farms of everything from "Oh, Daddy" to "Get on your knees you worthless worm." Stross has captured it all, much to your horror.

And you used to work at an early ISP. Even back in the nineties you could see it all coming down: you remember the caches of malware, cracked Photoshops and the usenet feeds full of self-proclaimed "responsible" paedophiles. And those were the ones functional enough to navigate the esoterica of TRN. These days, it's a one finger experiences-under-glass determination until your low-rent pervert with missing teeth and missing morals can find all the sickness he wants on-line, and carries it with him in his pockets.

It's enough to make you want to drink yourself into oblivion. It's not fun, especially when you have kids who are going to have to live with that nihilistic future. Rule 34 is a massive downer, but so is spinach: Take it in, goddamnit, because the alternative is to be blind.
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message 1: by Doug (last edited Feb 22, 2014 02:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Coleman Excellent review at first, but the tangent in the last three paragraphs seems meant for avoiding a spoiler and expressing a cynical world view, and little else. JMHO. Still a VERY GOOD review of a book that almost defies description.


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