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Old 01-15-2012, 12:37 AM   #12038
ATDrake
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Finally finished Charles Stross's Rule 34, after having had it out for an embarrassingly long time from the library's New Books shelf.

In a way, it rather reminded me of the sort of story you might get if you mashed up parts of Peter Watts' last book, Behemoth in his Rifters Trilogy with parts of Robert J. Sawyer's Wake, first in his WWW Trilogy.

Long story short: in a few more decades, 3-D printing, malware, and viral memes will have pretty much taken over not only the Internet, but also everyday culture at large. But all is not lost, as corporations will be finally held to the responsibilities of legal "personhood", and not just the exemptions which they currently enjoy.

A number of seemingly disparate characters find that their personal story threads begin to intertwine and converge, as an increasing number of mysterious murders begins to cross all their paths as it all collapses into a singularity the plot thickens. Like a batch of INSECT-FREE FAIR TRADE ORGANIC BREAD MIX BARLEY-RYE, Produce of People's Number Four Grain Products Factory of Issyk-Kulistan. Which you should not be mixing with selenium under any circumstances, by the way.

On the face of it, this is a relatively standard "weird things happening, what's the ultimate point behind it all? the answer will surprise you!" kind of near-futuristic techno-suspense.

What really distinguishes this one is not so much the ideas presented, but the way in which they are presented.

Rather unusually, Stross tells nearly the entire tale in 2nd person narration, moving from character to character and addressing them as an invisible and unnoticed telepathic stalker/voyeur, describing and commenting on not only their external actions but also their internal reflections.

A lot of Scottish dialect and slang is used in this, and Stross neatly modulates the amount used to suit each character's personality and circumstances. The Detective Inspector in charge of the case and her sometime-girlfriend the corporate ethics auditor get a fairly formal Standard British English narrative address with only a few Scottishisms in it (albeit a bit more swearing in the policewoman's narrative when she runs into a case snag). The lapsed working-class Muslim guy involved in dodgy business he doesn't want his respectable family to know about tends to get less swearing, but also a more casual, colloquially slangy narrative not unlike that of the dodgy bars and contacts he frequents. The highly-placed foreign political gets the relatively crisp diction of properly-taught English as a Second Language, and so forth.

It's really quite interesting to read as Stross switches from "voice" to "voice" as he alternates the character-chapters.

And for all its one-decade-from-now futurism, the pop-culture references are mostly rooted in today's internet services and memes, which is probably going to read rather retro-weirdly* in said decade-from-now. But on the other hand, this is really a story of the now that we have, postulated as the future that might be spawned.

Overall, the story on this played out fairly well and mildly-to-not-really-all-that-surprisingly once one figured out what was really going on. But the structure of the novel is really the most stand-out thing about this and the experimental format of it looks like it'll be one of those like-it-or-hate-it-things for some readers.

I personally liked it. Not enough that I'm likely to go out and buy my own copy unless it were discounted to dirt cheap, but I'd be willing to pick up a French translation to see how they handle things.

Medium recommend if you like reading about the sorts of themes and ideas presented in the story and are okay with experimental narrative forms. And I probably shouldn't have to warn you explicitly, but I remind you that this is named for the internet "rule" about basically: whatever you're imagining, someone's done porn of it which can be found on the internet. Strong language and potentially disturbing imagery, plus the occasional violence of the ongoing murder investigation are only to be expected. But you've probably already seen worse on YouTube anyway.

Also, this book has convinced me to never, ever own any form of networked reprogrammable remotely-operated "smart" household appliance with potentially lethal capabilities. Just in case.

* Not that making up one's own future-pop-culture references for things as Margaret Atwood did in Oryx and Crake will keep things from sounding any less dated and self-parody-like, so it's probably just as well.
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