You, the book reviewer, are looking for a book to review one day when you see the words "science fiction." Past experience reading science fiction has exposed you to more science talk and lecturing than you'd get in one year of a high school science class, yet your love of sci-fi is what compels you to request a print copy of Rule 34 by Charles Stross. Bring on the science talk and lecturing! You're in this for a good story.
Yet as you begin reading this novel, you soon realize it's not science talk or lecturing you had to fear. It's foul language and characters with dirty minds. You soon wish to dispatch a plea to your own real-life version of Operation, hoping to be rescued by this filthy garbage, but past experience has taught you that such requests regarding print copies are tacitly denied. So you plunge feet-first into this world of sinners and sexual depravity, lathering on an extra layer or two of skin in order to survive. You are by no means a prude. And the language is not something you are innocent of using yourself. However, the author's abundance of swear words in each chapter (many paragraphs have at least six swear words in them) and exposure of the darker side of a sexual deviant's thought processes and misdeeds are a little too much than you're comfortable reading about in a novel.
It's not so much the potty language or sexual impropriety that turns you off about the book, but it's the fact that this book is written in second person point-of-view. Past experience reading such novels has reinforced your distaste of such books. Stories written in second person POV make it nearly impossible for readers to 1: get into a character's head and 2: develop any emotional attachment or sympathy for a character. However, past experience playing computer 3D games a la Doom and Tomb Raider is what helps you plow through this story taking on different lives. And each character does come with their own life. Each character is fully developed, well-rounded and realistic. This is probably the novel's one strength. This is also the novel's one paradox. The second person POV brings a flashback of living the lives of virtual characters through a computer game, and the culprit in this story seems to be some kind of virus or computer predator that is invulnerable to the world's strongest of spam filters. The technological similarity is not lost on you.
As you read about these character's lives, you can't help but occasionally shudder and exclaim, "I am not like THAT!" Yet you recall that these characters are not an extension of you, but merely fictional people in a fictional (and futuristic) Scotland. That's when you start to take a closer look at this story and ask yourself, what does all of this mean? If you want to sum up what this story is about, the closest thing you can come up with is this: "It's about a murder investigation." Okay, you get that. You get that Liz Kavanaugh of Scotland PD is assigned a case where people with a sex fetish are being murdered (though you have to wonder why the character Tariq is included in this investigation, since, as far as you can tell, his sin is that he is a criminal and not a sexual deviant). But why are we readers forced to live the lives of these characters for the first two hundred odd pages before we get it that they are all connected in some way? Yes, it's after two hundred odd pages that things finally click. You finally reach that "a-ha" moment and see the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place.
Liz seems to be the only character in this story who has her head on straight. You actually look forward to reading the chapters that take you on a walk in Liz's shoes, because her language is not one that rivals a sailor and her interests are more towards the important matters at hand rather than in what sexual exploits she could score next. Anwar tries to be the "family man" but fails because he also needs something on the side for his sexual appetite, preferably male. And then there is John Christie, a secret agent for the Operation who is given the name of a long-dead serial killer as though it was a practical joke. He is not one to take this prank lightly, and the way he treats people makes you think the guy is a jackass. Although it seems that he is not a complete jackass, since he spends several paragraphs justifying to himself why he throws Dorothy out on her nose after their sexual encounter. (And you will never forgive yourself for forcing yourself to read such a dirty scene.)
So what do you get in the end after reading this book? After forcing yourself to read to the very last page of this novel even though you want to scream, "For the love of God, make it stop!"? The answer is, a better idea of what this story was all about in the first. The last 100 pages are probably the most interesting part of the novel. Stick around, it does get better, but you accept this reward with a fleeting sense of irritation towards the author over making you wait this long for cleaner writing.
The day finally comes when you are free to toss the book aside, thankful you are done with it so that at last you can write your review and move on to the next book. But first, you need to cleanse yourself of this brain poison. You need something to make you love science fiction all over again. Past experience has taught you that perhaps reading some Bradbury would suffice.
"The most spectacular science fiction writer of recent years" (Vernor Vinge, author of Rainbows End) presents a near-future thriller.
Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is head of the Rule 34 Squad, monitoring the Internet to determine whether people are engaging in harmless fantasies or illegal activities. Three ex-con spammers have been murdered, and Liz must uncover the link between them before these homicides go viral.