Charlie Stross's latest technothriller, Rule 34, is a savvy, funny, viciously inventive science fiction novel that combines police procedure with the dark side of nerd culture to produce a grotesque and gripping page-turner.
Liz is an Edinburgh police detective on the "Rule 34" squad; she works with a loose network of European cops to track down weird Internet memes before people start trying to imitate them in real life. It's a quirky, dead-end kind of job -- but then, Liz's policing career is both quirky and headed for a dead-end.
Until, that is, someone starts murdering spammers. All around the world, spammers begin to drop in the most disgusting, rococo ways; one died after having a murderous cocktail of badly-interacting drugs (including Viagra) slipped into his recreational enema machine, itself a Soviet relic once owned by Nicolae Ceausescu. The rest go in even less pleasant ways.
And suddenly, the Rule 34 squad is at the center of one of the weirdest murder sprees the world's ever seen.
Stross's best trick is moving past a kind of funny high-concept premise to something much more substantive and weirdly plausible. What starts off as a novel about dirty murders quickly turns into a spectacular rumination on the future of economic regulation and corporate ethics, the nature of AI research, and the special problems of desktop 3D fabrication (as applied to religious faith, domestic chores, and forbidden sexual practices -- sometimes all at once).
As with Charlie's previous novel in this milieu, Halting State, Rule 34 shines as a super-smart futuristic exercise in public policing. Stross's future cops are both victims and employers of a surveillance panopticon, one tempered by thick eurocrat regulation and adaptive criminals. These cops aren't just legal enforcers, they're part of a high-tech, evidence-led, scientifically grounded security strategy that has been refactored to render policing as bloodless and procedural as possible, to deploy genuine science against the cop's vaunted street instincts, and to nudge bad guys into going good before they do something arrest-worthy.
This is my favorite kind of science fiction: rigorous, playful, and challenging.
Books one and two of Lumberjanes introduced us to the characters and setting of the awesome, women-run, girl-positive comics: the girls of Roanoke cabin at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types are Lumberjanes, being trained in the badass arts. Book three — collecting comics from a kind of victory lap of the title after its amazing success — turned the series’ reins over to some of the best writers and illustrators in comics-dom for a series of vignettes. Now, with Out of Time, the fourth book, the original creative team are back at the helm, telling a long-form story that illuminates the Lumberjane backstory and introduces one of the best, scariest monsters of cryptozoologica.
The first two volumes of Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals were a dirty romp: a pair of lovers who discover that they can stop time at the moment of orgasm start robbing banks to save a local library from demolition, and run into a posse of other time-stopping fuckers who are set against them. But in volume three, Three the Hard Way, the story transcends the sex and the jokes to take a hard, wet look at what humans do when we do sex.
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