Stross's Rule 34: pervy technothriller about the future of policing

By Cory Doctorow

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.

Rule 34

Published 6:18 am Wed, Jul 6, 2011

About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

21 Responses to “Stross's Rule 34: pervy technothriller about the future of policing”

  1. DoctressJulia says:

    Yes! Also, do NOT Google Google!!!!

  2. luc_betbeder says:

    Really got into “The Fuller Memorandum” very geeky good. Thank you to Mr Stross for understanding us so well.

  3. turn_self_off says:

    I seriously love that cover!

  4. Irene Delse says:

    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.

    A bit like what Tuesday Next does with literary crimes in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, then? Heh.

  5. enkiv2 says:

    Charlie, since you are posting here: is this as ‘pervy’ as Saturn’s Children, or is it more along the lines of Halting State? (Will I be able to read it on the bus?)

    • Charlie Stross says:

      It’s a sequel to “Halting State”, and a crime novel. Depends what you mean by “pervy”, though; if you’re worried about homophobes reading over your shoulder? Don’t go there, because this is my Big Gay Near-Future Scottish Crime Novel.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Anyone know of an ebook version of this I can actually get in Canada? For some stupid reason he won’t let Amazon sell it here…

  7. nanuq says:

    I’m sorry, spammers are being killed worldwide and this police officer is trying to stop it? That’s too much of a stretch for me.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ll wait for the porn parody.

  9. StrangestTribe says:

    Sounds like a cool book – but could someone please define “rococo” as it is used in the review? Are the spammers killed in a florid, ornamental style?

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      Q: “could someone please define “rococo” as it is used in the review? Are the spammers killed in a florid, ornamental style?”

      A: “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.”

  10. xdmag says:

    So can we expect Mr. Stross to address Rule 46 in his next book?

    • The Doctor says:

      @xdmag: I thought that’s what Pinky and Brains in the Laundry Files novels were a nod to.

    • beemoh says:

      Originally, he’d started the series with books about Rules 1 and 2, but sadly they flopped due to a lack of marketing.

  11. warreno says:

    So when will there be a rule 34 of Rule 34? Or would that cause the fabric of the internet to fold inward on itself and implode?

    • andygates says:

      Tell you what, warreno, you start murdering spammers in florid manners, and I’ll st– no, hell, I’ll click *like* on every wikileaked crime scene photo. >:)

  12. Anonymous says:

    looks awfully like Cy Twombly’s art in the background of this cover.. re: http://www.boingboing.net/2011/07/05/cy-twombly-artist-de.html

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