Sunday, January 08, 2012

Rule 34 by Charlie Stross - my review

I read Charlie Stross's Rule 34. Here's my 5 star Amazon review (slightly modified as I thought of a few more things):

Rule 34 is brilliant work.

If Stross had written a novel placed in 2010, it would have been a top notch crime and suspense novel. Charlie's portrayal of the criminal mind, from silence-of-the-lambs psychopath (sociopath in UK speak, though that US/UK distinction is blurring) to every day petty crook, is top notch.

Stross puts us into the minds of his villains, heroes, and fools, using a curious 2nd person pronoun style that has a surprising significance. I loved how so many of his villains felt they were players, while others knew they were pawns. Only the most insightful know they're a cog in the machine.

A cog in a corporate machine that is. Whether cop or criminal or other, whether gay or straight, everyone is a component of a corporation. Not the megacorp of Gibson and Blade Runner, but the ubiquitous corporate meme that we also live in. The corporate meme has metastasized. It is invisible, it is everywhere, and it makes use of all material. Minds of all kinds, from Aspergerish to sociopath, for better and for worse, find a home in this ecosystem. The language of today's sycophantic guides to business is mainstream here.

Stross manages the suspense and twists of the thriller, and explores emerging sociology as he goes. The man has clearly done his homework on the entangled worlds of spam and netporn -- and I'm looking forward to the interviewers who ask him what that research was like. In other works Stross has written about the spamularity, and in Rule 34 he lays it out. He should give some credit to the spambots that constantly attack his personal blog.

Rule 34 stands on its own as a thriller/crime/character novel, but it doesn't take place in 2010. It takes place sometime in the 2020-2030s (at one point in the novel Stross gives us a date but I can't remember it exactly). A lot of the best science fiction features fully imagined worlds, and this world is complete. He's hit every current day extrapolation I've ever thought of, and many more besides. From the macroeconomics of middle Asia, to honey pots with honey pots, to amplified 00s style investment scams to home foundries to spamfested networked worlds to a carbon-priced economy to mass disability to cyberfraud of the vulnerable to ubiquitous surveillance to the bursting of the higher education bubble, to exploding jurisprudence creating universal crime … Phew. There's a lot more besides. I should have been making a list as I read.

Yes, Rule 34 is definitely a "hard" science fiction novel -- though it's easy to skip over the mind-bending parts if you're not a genre fan. You can't, however, completely avoid Stross's explorations of the nature of consciousness, and his take on the "Singularity" (aka rapture of the nerds). It's not giving away too much to say there's no rapture here. As to whether this is a Rainbow's End pre-Singular world … well, you'll have to read the novel and make your own decision. I'm not sure I'd take Stross's opinion on where this world of his is going - at least not at face value.

Oh, and if you squint a certain way, you can see a sort-of Batman in there too. I think that was deliberate; someone needs to ask Charlie about that.

Great stuff, and a Hugo contender for sure.

If you've read my blog you know I'm fond of extrapolating to the near future. Walking down my blog's tag list I see I'm keen on the nature and evolution of the Corporation, mind and consciousness, economics, today's history, emergence, carbon taxes, fraud and "the weak", the Great Recession (Lesser Depression), alternative minds (I live with 2 non-neurotypicals), corruption, politics, governance, the higher eduction and the education  bubble, natural selection, identity, libertarianism (as a bad thing), memes, memory management, poverty (and mass disability), reputation management, schizophrenia and mental illness, security, technology, and the whitewater world. Not to mention the Singularity/Fermi Paradox (for me they're entangled -- I'm not a Happy Singularity sort of guy).

Well, Stross has, I dare to say, some of the same interests. Ok, so I'm not in much doubt of that. I read the guy religiously, and I'm sure I've reprocessed everything he's written. In Rule 34 he's hit all of these bases and more. Most impressively, if you're not looking for it, you could miss almost all of it. Stross weaves it in, just as he does a slow reveal of the nature of his characters, including the nature of the character you don't know about until the end.

Update: In one of those weird synchronicity things, Stross has his 2032 and 2092 predictions out this morning. Read 'em.

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