You like the second person style. At first the “you” thing seems a bit affected, but you get used to it, even when the point of view shifts. You like the energy in the writing. You don’t read a lot of sci-fi but this one has a mystery flavor, which appeals.
You like the way Rule 34 starts ecause it’s near-future stuff and not much has changed except there’s a heck of a lot more monitoring of everybody’s communications and the police, clearly, have quick access to whole reams of info and data on, well, everyone.
You wish you had read Halting State, which preceded this book in theme and characters, but that’s okay—you’re quickly in the middle of some strange doings and some very unusual and colorful characters, including the washed-up detective Liz Kavanagh and The Gnome, a highly amusing player who is certainly a touch of genius.
(At this point, you must concede that you read this book on Audio CD and Robert Ian Mackenzie is positively brilliant with the Scottish touches he gives to the voice of The Gnome. The whole narration is fantastic, gritty, full of life.)
After a bit of reading, you stop to check and realize (feeling like a completely out-of-it idiot) that Rule 34 is real Internet thing. Yes, you had seen the occasional odd poster or image out there on the World Wide Web but you didn’t stop to put two and two together and realize … well, how had you missed this? And, does it matter that you did?
Feeling completely out of it now, you dive back in and admire Stross’ colorful style. Yes, humor aplenty. Some very funny lines that don’t sound right out of context—they work because they contrast with all the darkness that is going on around.
The themes are interesting—computers, porn, sleaze, spam, Internet commerce, drugs, smuggling, nanotechnology, police and government surveillance, privacy, entertainment—and the writing and characters pull you straight along, though you wished you had polished up on your Internet terms like ‘botnet’ and ‘memes’ and the like. (Keep your Wikipedia handy for this if you are not up on this verbiage.)
You look for a sample of the style, you settle on this from the perspective of our cop, Liz, who is talking to us readers, telling us about her assigned police duties:
“CopSpace is all-encompassing these days, with gateways into the sprawling Internet and Europol franchises. And your occupation is very atemporal, very post-post-modern. So your first real job of the day is to set p a query agent to look for case files containing Viagra, spammers, homicide, and enemas in close proximity. Then you add a person note to a co-ordination wave, asking if anyone else has seen anything relevant; tweedle a brief announcement of the facts of the case (suitably blinded) in case any of your colleagues in other jurisdictions have useful suggestions: and on your public blog, ask if any MOPs who were in the vicinity of Mikey Blair’s demesne would like to drop by for tea and a chat.”
Stross seems so in control and on top of his vision and the three central characters so sharply drawn that you are near the big finish before you know it, though you find the resolution a bit standard and ordinary when you were expecting something as fresh as the set-up.
In the end, you give it four stars but think that if you’re a sci-fi buff you’d probably give it five.