Review: Rule 34

I read and enjoyed Halting State, so it was only a matter of time before I picked up the sequel, Rule 34. In this series, Stross writes mostly about ideas, so Rule 34 isn’t a sequel in the sense that the characters have further adventures, but in the sense  that exciting things happen in the fictional world.  It’s much more like a Foundation story in that sense.  Foundation stories are mostly puzzles wrapped up in drama, but Rule 34 is more a drama created by ideas in conflict.

While I was most impressed by how Stross takes ideas and puts them into the world, Rule 34 is an engrossing, propulsive read.  Exciting things happen to interesting characters.  It’s mostly a police procedural so there is a murder (or murders) to solve. Old lovers surface, crusty superiors are confronted, and plucky street kids get in over their heads.  Stross brings it all alive with zippy prose.  You won’t be bored with the narrative.

Beyond a snappy story, Rule 34 takes some great ideas from the minds of futurists and shows what happens when they meet the real people who give those ideas flesh.  An engineer like me might call it a cautionary tale about the perils of implementation, but who would read that?

The big ideas are big: organization of human systems around engineering principles; micromanufacturing and 3d printers; advances in pharmacology and the marginalization of the mentally ill; the global communication network, spread of memes, and thoughtcrime.  Get a bunch of futurists in a room and they’ll talk about the pleasures and perils of these things at a dry remove.  Put Stross on the case and you’ll get an international criminal syndicate and the Edinburgh Police department organized as different startup companies clashing over distributed production of backyard viagra and horrifying sex toys.  And that’s just where he starts.

The result is a great set if meshing and clashing gears that gives the reader a fresh perspective on the future, which is what I like SF to do.

Strongly Recommended.

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