PROS: Spammers being killed in horrible and imaginative ways, some nifty, close-to-the-coalface extrapolation of near-future trends in networks, police procedures, and a Panopticon society, some fascinating Big Ideas near the end of the novel.
CONS: Generally unlikable and unengaging characters suffering career burnout, a plot that becomes less interesting as the novel progresses, a second-person, present-tense voice that doesn’t work nearly as well as it did in Halting State.
VERDICT: A rare misfire from an otherwise leading writer.
I was inclined to like this novel from the get-go. Charles Stross is on a very short list indeed of the best science fiction writers to start publishing books within the last decade. His Laundry series of geek Cthulhu Mythos spy thrillers (The Atrocity Archive, The Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum) are among my personal favorites for the same period. I also enjoyed Halting State, the novel to which Rule 34 is a loose sequel. And Rule 34 has an intriguing premise: a murder investigation of spammers being killed in imaginative, gruesome and compromising ways. (Certainly any veteran of the Spam Wars has had similarly gruesome (if somewhat less elaborate) revenge fantasies…)
Surprisingly, Rule 34 actually ended up being quite a slog to get through. I wasn’t quite halfway through when I felt my interest waning, and eventually put it down and read several other books before picking it up again.
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