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If you can think of it…

August 1, 2011

…Someone has made porn of it.

This is known as  Rule 34.

Charles Stross, being the net-savvy author that he is, was of course sure to use this someday. And so he returns to the ‘twenty minutes into the future’ setting of his earlier novel ‘Halting State’.

The last time we met Liz Kavanaugh of the Edinburgh police force, she was working a case involving missing persons and high finance surrounding an online gaming company. Today, she has been passed over for promotion and moved sideways in the organisation, and she is now in charge of the department monitoring the seamier side of the Internet and investigating crimes that have a connection with it.,

The other characters we meet are Anwar Hussein, a small-time criminal trying hard to stay on the straight and narrow for the sake of his children, who gets a job offer that is entirely above board, and yet still too good to be true.

And we have the mysterious representative of ‘The Organization’, who is tasked with setting up a sales and distribution network for counterfeit goods produced in back yard synthetics fabrication units.

A good techno-thriller starts with a plot. Charlie knows how to do this, and from the moment a colleague calls in Liz for a scene that looks like an accident in auto-eroticism, Charlie works his way through a well-constructed plot that ends with a high “Holy Shit!” quotient.

But plot is not enough. Charlie gives us interesting characters as well; people we care about. Liz’s character traits may make her look like a role-model for a PC protagonist, and yet she jumps the bounds of the archetype, coming alive for the reader. Anwar is touching in his dedication to his children and in his bewilderment at his predicament, and the operative is a chilling psychopath.

We get a kinky, and sometimes squicky look at the seamy side of the Internet tomorrow, and an interesting speculation how spam, fraud and countermeasures might evolve. We get it in Charlie’s inimitable clear, lightly sardonic style. And as a bonus character we get Charlie’s hometown of Edinburgh, described so lovingly that we can almost hear the murmur of the hurrying masses in its streets.

‘Rule 34’ is almost without weak spots. About the only thing really springing to mind is the persistent use of the second person singular as authorial voice, which may put off some. If you managed to get over it to enjoy ‘Halting State’, it will be no problem here either. Of course it is not High Literature, but then again, neither does Charlie pretend it is.

If you like a good thriller, this is a definite must-read.

Categories: Books, English, Science Fiction
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