Rule 34 (Halting State 2) by Charles Stross [Book Review]

Near-future Procedural With Surprising Twist

I thought Halting State was brilliant so I had pretty high expectations on Rule 34. What I found was a good and entertaining read.

This time Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh of the Edinburgh Police stumbles on a murder case that connects to the world of internet spam. This is some five years after the events in Halting State and her involvement there benched her career. She now leads the Rule 34 squad (Rule 34 of the Internet, a meme stating that “If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions”). The fetishist murder connects to similar murders bringing in Euro-cop Kemal Aslan (Halting State) with more details. Liz life is complicated further when an old lover shows up.

The story reads like a police procedural with science fiction parts but there is a great surprise waiting behind the scenes. Stross does a good job in peeling the onion and keeping up the suspense.

There are multiple point of view characters beside Liz just like in the previous novel. They are all presenting their piece of the puzzle. The way he presents the characters in constant second person present tense made it hard for me to really connect to them. This is not so much about characterization as it is about ideas and technology though. Stross has his own take on the future of internet banking and crime.

There is some nifty world building here with an independent Scotland, auto-fabbers, pervasive government surveillance and complicated search engine based laws that sound oh so plausible.

Rule 34 is a standalone sequel to Halting State. I liked Halting State better because it talked to me as an IT professional and former gamer. If you were disappointed with that in Halting State you will find Rule 34 much more accessible.

The ending is fairly conclusive but with an opening for another sequel I would love to read.

Book Information

Rule 34 (Halting State book 2) by Charles Stross (Ace 2011) – Amazon US | UK

DI Liz Kavanaugh: You realise policing internet porn is your life and your career went down the pan five years ago. But when a fetishist dies on your watch, the Rule 34 Squad moves from low priority to worryingly high profile.

Anwar: As an ex-con, you’d like to think your identity fraud days are over. Especially as you’ve landed a legit job (through a shady mate). Although now that you’re Consul for a shiny new Eastern European Republic, you’ve no idea what comes next.

The Toymaker: Your meds are wearing off and people are stalking you through Edinburgh’s undergrowth. But that’s ok, because as a distraction, you’re project manager of a sophisticated criminal operation. But who’s killing off potential recruits?

So how do bizarre domestic fatalities, dodgy downloads and a European spamming network fit together? The more DI Kavanaugh learns, the less she wants to find out.