Monday, January 23, 2012
Rule 34 by Charles Stross
If William Gibson had waited twenty years to write Neuromancer, it might have turned out to be very much like Rule 34. Gibson had no idea what kind of odd things might crawl out of cyberspace in a couple of decades, but Stross seems to capture a near future that's far too real for comfort. The story takes place in the same milieu as Halting State, not too much later, but doesn't seem to have many of the same characters.
There are several separate story lines and characters that Stross follows from beginning until the end, when he weaves all of the strands back together again. It's a little confusing on that score, as well as trying to learn the new slang that all of the characters spout so naturally.
Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is the head of the Rule 34 squad, which is tasked with monitoring the internet and heading off memes that can mutate from harmless fetishes and amusements to criminal activities. When some ex-cons turn up dead, in various locations around Europe, some disturbing coincidences and their manner of death leads Liz to believe that there's a common entity and purpose behind the bizzare killings.
A muslim immigrant from India, named Anwar, has just been released from jail on probation. He needs to keep his nose clean, not associating with the petty criminals, including his brother-in-law, who got him involved in dubious undertakings to begin with. One of his old friends, and sometime lovers, Adam, puts him onto a job lead, working as a part-time consul for a breakaway republic of Kyrgiztan, Przewalsk. Unfortunately, though the job appears to be quite proper, Anwar soon finds himself involved in some unsavory activities, and realizes that the entire consulate may be a huge scam.
A representative of The Organization (like a high tech mafia), who goes by the name of The Toymaker, arrives in Edinburgh to interview executives for a new operation he's begun. Unfortunately, both candidates for the position are among the recently deceased, and he suspects "enemy action".
So what do a bunch of spammers' murders have to do with the economy of Kyrgiztan and the plots of The Organization? You'll have to read through this tortuously twisty book to find out. Very imaginative vintage Stross, though he paints a rather dismal view of the digital future.