Sunday, 18 September 2011

'Rule 34' - Charles Stross

Rule 34 is the latest book by Charles Stross. It's a loose sequel to Halting State, but it can be read independently. I really enjoyed reading his Laundry series, which I found both funny and exciting. The blurb on Rule 34 looked very promising in a humorous, yet serious way. A jaded cop, stuck in a dead end job. A career criminal (not a very good one) who really just wants to care for his family while keeping his drinking and homosexuality a secret. Last but not least, a sociopath set on setting up the 2.0 crime empire. Thank you Orbit Books for providing me with a review copy.

DI Liz Kavanaugh is at the end of her shift when the IM comes in 'Inspector wanted on FATACC scene'. She does not want to dump it on the next officer to come on duty so she decides to take care of it. While she is talking to the officer at the scene something in his voice makes her realise there is something odd about this case. The officer explains that even the video feed has been disabled. He wants to keep it under tabs. It's a two-wetsuit job, which is code for kinky beyond the call of duty. The victim also happens to be an old acquaintance of Kavanaugh’s, a Mr Michael Blair, whom she helped put away many years ago.

Anwar has recently gotten out of prison. His parole officer is breathing down his neck for him to find a job.  Since he is banned from using computers it won’t be easy for him to find any meaningful work which can support his family. His wife's visible disappointment and scorn is a lot worse than the condescending manner of the parole officer. To ease the pressure he goes down to the pub for a pint. Being Muslim, he really should not be drinking so it’s important to do it far away from home and prying eyes.  It's in his favorite drinking hole that a mate points him in the direction of a job that simply sounds too good to be true. A small country he never even heard of is looking for someone to be their consulate in Edinburgh. Apparently none of their own citizens live here so anyone can apply. Anwar can't help think there must be a catch.

The Toymaker is in Edinburgh to take over, and even rebuild, the organisation's branch there. He belongs to a new breed of criminal who operate more like businessmen than thugs. It's more about revenue streams and maximising profit and less about breaking legs and intimidating people, although such activities are sometimes necessary. His first step is to get in touch with some people who might be suitable as managers for his 'business'. Trouble is, the first name on the list, a Mr Michael Blair, is dead. Who is operating against him and the organisation?

Charles Stross has really shown with his world building that he has his finger is on the pulse of technology. His Edinburgh is set in a not too distant future where technology plays a very important role. With great skill, Charles Stross has taken today's technology and adapted it for the future. 3D printers are featured a lot and play an important role. It's all recognisable, it's only how it is used that’s changed. It's been cleverly integrated into the daily life of citizens, but more apparent in Rule 34 is how it is used by the police.
CopSpace -- The augmented-reality interface that accumulated policing and intelligence databases around which your job revolves-- rots the brain, corroding the ability to rote-memorize every villain's face and backstory.
I only have more praise for Charles Stross when it comes to the characters of Rule 34. DI Liz Kavanaugh, our protagonist, is very likeable and easy to sympathise with. She is beset from all sides. Everything from an old lover, who left her for a man, and resurfaces to open old wounds to office politics that again threatens her already ruined career. You want her to succeed, and almost wish she was not so sensible to always turn the other cheek, and would at least gloat more when given the opportunity.

Anwar, failed criminal, closet homosexual, but devoted husband and father. I really felt for this guy. Torn between his needs and the expectations of culture and religion. He just fails to get himself out of trouble engineered by people who are smarter and more ruthless than he is. Poor chap. I found myself rooting for this miserable sod.

Rule 34 is a very clever book with terrific world building and packed with innovative use of technology. A compelling setting with some great characters and an equally impressive plot. It's entertaining, fun, and I found myself wanting more. Do yourself a favour and read Rule 34.

Rule 34 weighs in at 368 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Recommendation: must read

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