book review: rule 34

Rule 34 is the kind of Charles Stross book I like. It’s Edinburgh in the future and spammers are dying in graphic ways, seemingly dreamed up in 4chan. Liz Kavanaugh is a police detective whose career is in the shitter, trolling the internet for memes that could become dangerous, and she gets pulled into the investigation.

The book is told in second person for the most part, putting the reader into a lot of different characters’ places including a non-neurotypical mobster with something terrifying in his suitcase. And seriously, though nothing is described with slasher-movie levels of glee at depravity, this is the sort of book that could probably use trigger warnings.

One of the big ideas in this book (that I don’t remember from Halting State, but could very well have been there too) is that Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Rebus and whatever are a load of bollocks in terms of modern criminal investigation. In the future, good detectives are no longer the hyper-observant individual. That’s what computers are for. Good detectives in the future are good managers of people and IT to get all the cogs working together. There’s a lot of great ideas throughout the book, and not decades-old thoughts about how scary Artificial Intelligence would be.

If you don’t like second-person narration and thoughts on the future of criminality and stock manipulation this probably isn’t a great choice for you to read. But if that doesn’t turn you off and you like thinking about Makerbots and the seamy underbelly of future economies, it’s a must-read.

book review: maelstrom

Maelstrom is Peter Watts’ sequel to Starfish. I thought it was better. I thought it was pretty fucking excellent in fact, (though Blindsight is still better).

All day today I’ve been absorbing the Twitterfeeds about the Fukushima nuclear crisis. One of the characters in Maelstrom, Desjardins, is a person who deals with those kinds of crises, by using statistics and analysis in the name of the greater good to determine when to quarantine something and say “this is beyond saving.” Desjardins’ is chemically wired up to be really good at pattern-analysis and is also unable to be corrupt in his decisions, through manipulations of the chemical components of guilt. One of the things I fucking love about Peter Watts books is waiting for the References section at the end to see how much of the science is true, how much might be true and how much is “Well it’s kind of like this but cranked up to 11.”

Two of the rifters (undersea adapted cyborgs) return from Starfish and there’s an apocalypse coming to the planet. One of the rifters is the harbinger for it. The awesome thing about Watts’ writing is that the whole situation is so bleak, everything is looked at so clinically (guilt is just chemicals, humans evolved to be able to handle quite a lot of sexual trauma, intelligence doesn’t mean a goddamned thing) you’re actually rooting for apocalypse. It’s amazing how well it works.