Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Rule 34

Charles Stross
Completed 7/17/2019, Reviewed 7/17/2019
4 stars

This is a sort of sequel to Halting State, a book I read several years ago for book club and didn’t enjoy.  What annoyed me most about that book was that it was written in second person present and had an awful lot of gamer jargon in it, most of which I didn’t understand.  This book is similar to Halting State in that it’s also written in second person and has a lot of computer and cop jargon, much of which went over my head.  But upon rereading my review of Halting State, I found I liked this book for many of the same reasons I hated that book.  Whereas I slogged through the first book, here I ate it up, finding it a quick exciting read.  And it was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2012 for positive LGBTQ content in genre fiction, as well as for a slew of other science fiction awards.

The story begins with Liz Kavanaugh in Edinburgh, Scotland, one of the cops from the first book, working in Rule 34 Squad, monitoring the internet for people engaged in illegal activities.  She gets assigned to a suspicious death and soon finds that it is just one of several suspicious deaths that all happened around the same time.  In the meantime, Anwar Hussein, recently out of prison, happens upon a job as an honorary emissary for a new Asian republic that has declared independence from Kyrgyzstan.  But the job doesn’t appear to be what one would think a consulate employee would do.  Coincidently, Liz collared Anwar in the fake ID scam that landed him in jail.  Lastly, there’s John Christie, aka the Toymaker, who, also coincidently, was going to do business with the first murder victim, which puts him on Liz’s radar.  But are there really coincidences, and do all these things add up to some more nefarious internet scheme?

So yes, the book is written in second person present.  Unlike the first book, I found it easy to keep my head in the characters.  The point of view changes with each chapter, but for some reason, I kept the characters clearly delineated.  The jargon was also pretty overwhelming, but I was able to stick with it and got the gist of what was going on.  Lastly, the use of Scottish words like “nae” and “ken” was a bit confusing, but I was able to handle that as well.  Somehow, I hit the tipping point of understanding this book whereas I didn’t in its predecessor. 

At its core, this book is a police procedural.  It’s gritty and complex.  It’s set in the near future.  Despite the self-driving cars and the internet glasses with terrific download speeds, you get the feel that this could be happening today. 

For me it was the characters that made this book.  I really like the hapless Anwar.  Everything was always going wrong for him.  Yet he was likeable in his schlemiel-ness.  He’s a closeted gay man who’s married to a woman and has two children.  He does programming on the side for his brother-in-law for a sketchy dating site.  And he simply has a propensity towards making bad choices.  What’s not to like?

I give this book four stars out of five.  I read it voraciously, even though it was difficult reading.  I don’t know if it was actually written better than the first book, or if I was just in a better mindset for multi-character second person perspective.  It just struck me as a much better book even though I still had to work hard at keeping up with the jargon.  I think maybe too the characters voices were better than in the first book.  And lastly, I might have had a better perspective myself going into this book because I saw the author at Westercon a few years ago and he was a hysterical panelist.