Customer Review

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Col. Datka's bread mix..., 9 July 2011
This review is from: Rule 34 (Paperback)
"Rule 34" is a kind-of sequel to Stross's earlier Halting State - that is, it's set in the same future, and features some of the same characters (including DI Liz Kavanaugh, who plays a more central role here than in the other book). The most striking similarity is that the book is all (apart from a bit at the the end) done in the second person ("You wake up and realise that you're late for work. Hurrying, you get dressed...") There is a reason for this in the story. It is different from that in "Halting State", which is set in the world of computer games, where second person comes naturally ("as you walk along the dark corridor, you see a glowing shape...") and when it is revealed, a lot suddenly makes sense.

I was slightly ambivalent about the second person stuff at first because in "Halting State" it took me a little while to adjust to. Here, though, it works well from the start. I don't know if this is because there is that reason for it deep in the DNA of the narrative, if it's because of previous familiarity or just because Stross has got better at using it (I think it is actually a very difficult way to write) but whatever, I think that here device really helps the narrative drive along: we follow at least three major characters and a number of minor ones, and sticking to "you" makes it easier to get inside their heads without that check to the narrative you sometimes get when switching. So, lots of points here for matching style to narrative shape (or whatever the proper technical term is).

Another thing the book gets very, very right is its convincing description of the near future. The book is set, I'd guess, about 10 years ahead, so it has to be credible both in terms of recent history and of day to day details - not just the existence of technology but how it's actually deployed. The latter is particularly well done, with ubiquitous augmented reality and a well worked out criminal scene around illegal fabbers (3D printers) using pirated templates to produce a range of stuff from ripped off parts for domestic appliances to some pretty distasteful "toys" (see the books's title). That might have been enough for any other author but Stross thinks through the consequences of this. How would that criminal operation be organised? Where would the feedstock for the fabbers come from? He's always good at these details, but in "Rule 34" they feel particularly well worked through. There's an amusing incident where one of the fab operators downloads a rather nasty pieces of malware which mucks up his product, and we see the operational difficulties for Lothian & Borders police of carbon rationing (the idea of a police Seqway haring along with blue lights flashing and siren blaring had me in fits of giggles).

So, the book is technically very good, it's future is credible, what about plot, what about characters? They're well done too. All the central characters are well drawn and convincing (of course it's useful here that Liz has a hinterland established in "Halting State") - nastily so in the case of Christie, who is a really, really warped killer. (There is some pretty unpleasant stuff around Christie: being in his head is not a nice experience). The plot twists and turns nicely. The lead in is a very suspicious death (described as a "two wetsuit job") which soon becomes part of a trend (Kavanagh's squad is devoted to following up Internet spread criminal - or just plain weird - memes) but it isn't the murder case itself that is the main point of the story, more the origin and motivation of the perpetrator. It's hard to say more than that without giving too much of the story away. The plot doesn't have quite so many wheels within wheels as Stross's earlier books often did (though I'm glad they're not wholly absent - the abovementioned bread mix is one of them, and the reader is left to do some thinking about who was doing what to whom). I noticed the same thing with his last book, The Fuller Memorandum - I don't know whether it's an evolution in his writing style or conscious self-restraint in those particular books. Either way it makes for a tauter story, and in my view, this is the best he's written so far, by some way.

Strongly recommended.
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D. Harris
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Location: Oxford, UK

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