Charles Stross – Rule 34


If you’ve spent a lot of time online you’ll know what the title means, but it’s helpfully explained early on if not. If you’ve spent any time watching news items about technology then the kerfuffle over 3D printers and Google Glass can’t have escaped your notice (if it has, somehow: link, link, link, link – although if you’re that insular and out-of-touch, why are you looking at a website?).

Right, so project… oh… ten years ought to do it, and Edinburgh cop Liz Kavanaugh’s cleaning up the mess (some of it literal) after what seems to be a horrible auto-erotic death, Anwar Hussein finds that a spell in prison seems to qualify him to be the new Scottish Embassy official for a dodgy Eastern European nation no-one’s heard of who export bread-mix, and a hired assassin’s finding that nothing is going to plan. These three braided narratives interlock and answer the first few questions while raising many more.

The big one you’ll be wondering is why is the whole book in the second-person present tense? Stross’ previous book was also like that, but Halting State was done as a shout-out to text-led computer games of the 80s (anyone else play The Hobbit on a ZX Spectrum?) That’s not what’s happening here. The narrator lets one first-person reference by three-fifths of the way through the book but that’s all the help I’m giving you. It’s up to you if you find the solution Utopian or Dystopian.

Along the way there’s even more thought gone into this book’s evaluation of what a devolved Scotland would have to deal with than the SNP’s thumping great White Paper, and not all of it’s as rosy as their notion. Devo-Max has backfired badly, although most people in the book prefer it to the available alternatives. It’s a sly, gleefully nasty book with a neat line in train-of-thought allusions; very little anyone says or thinks is completely invented but some of you might need to have Google handy for things like ‘The Streisand Effect’ or Marvin Minsky, or indeed a street-map of Edinburgh (there is a neat skewering of Rebus and Taggart along the way). There’s a risk that this sort of thing could date rapidly but the energy of the book might keep it fresh for longer than most. Along the way there’s a lot of borderline sick humour and, under that, a meditative quality that the pace and flurry of references can’t quite mask.

This sort of not-quite-journalism, not-quite-made-up near-future SF is hard to pull off. Elsewhere in the library we have William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition so you can see whether that’s aged well.

By Tat Wood