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

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

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  1. 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.

    1. It’s not the spammers that Liz has a problem with, nanuq: it’s the false positives.

  2. 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?

    1. 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.”

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

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

  3. 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?)

    1. 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.

  4. 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?

    1. 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. >:)

  5. 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…

      1. Many authors choose not to make the financial sacrifice required to publish their works electronically without DRM.

        Some authors advocate breaking (stupid) laws to bypass the DRM applied by their publishers.

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

  7. 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.

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