It’s a good sign when you finish an older book that you go digging for the sequel. Sadly, despite the fact that Charlie Stross’ Rule 34 came out seven years ago, there isn’t going to be a sequel. Stross cancelled the series because the Snowden revelations were making the series too close to reality.
Making a Cyberpunk-esque police procedural was a great idea back in 2007 when the first book, Halting State was released. I devoured that book, finding Stross to hit the same spot as Warren Ellis and Cory Doctorow. Halting State had an interesting premise. What happens when virtual crimes bleed into the real world? Stross likes to stress that these books are written in the second person as well, something referenced in the link above as stunt writing.
Rule 34 picks up a few years after Halting State and Liz has found herself in exile in the Internet Crime division, chasing down all the weird scams and perversions that populate the darkest corners of the internet. Stross never mentions why her career stalled out, it’s portrayed as a mix of office politics and dwindling ambition. The vagueness is a nice effect for portraying how much time has passed. There’s a character later in the book that ties into Halting State as well, but the rest of the world is fresh.
The narrative hops between characters in a bit of a swirl, as a side effect the first quarter of the book is disorienting. The narrative shifts between Liz, a small time scammer named Anwar, and a sociopath named The Toymaker, they all tie to a series of murders of people connected to spam and internet graft. Other characters slip into the story when necessary to give the narrative a little push. They each get their own chapters, ensuring that each part of the story stays anchored to a character’s point of view. Stross May call it stunt writing, but the second person perspective makes it feel like a camera following each of the characters for their part of the story.
The murders are all plausible as accidents until you dig just a bit deeper. Discovering that pulls Liz back in from the cold and into the mainstream of policing, with all of the headaches and politics that come with it. Stross is a master of the pulp plot building. The story hums along with the pacing of a BBC police procedural. Unlike American police procedurals, there’s time for the characters to be something other than an archetype.
I like Stross as a writer. He has a unique knack for genre mash ups, and his work is always a fun and easy read. Halting State was the first book of his I read, so I was excited to get around to reading the sequel. I’ll have to pick up one of his other ongoing series. It’s sad to see this series go, this five-minutes from now future is my favorite kind of sci-fi. In fact, this is the kind of speculative stuff that makes Stross such an entertaining blogger.
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