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.
In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change — a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.
Last December, I published my review of Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware — without realizing that the book’s release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process.
It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition — updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions — the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.
All the filters in the world won’t save your smartphone pics from a shaky hand. To really step up your mobile photography game, you’ll need some kind of mount to hold it steady. You could buy a smartphone attachment for a conventional camera tripod, but who wants to carry that kind of gear everywhere they […]
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