Rule 34 and Halting State are breakneck police procedurals set 20 minutes into the future. Charlie Stross has made his authorial mark the imagining of plausible, realistic worlds that push the back of your skull into the wall. They are better written and more speculative than Daniel Suarez’s books set in the future now – but they also deal with harder material.
The plot is so ridiculous and yet perfectly put together that I can’t tell you because you’ll think it’s a crappy stupid idea. I keep typing oblique plot summaries and they all sound like the absolute worst book ideas. You’ll miss out on some really mind-blowing fun writing.
In the most abstract sense Rule 34 (named after the infamous pornography postulate) is a serial killer hunt and Halting State is a heist novel (named after a term in a mathematical problem that breaks the premise that the world is a solvable problem). The biggest criticism is that these are idea novels – you aren’t getting into serious emotional relationships with these characters. If you read a lot of Sci-Fi, you won’t notice, but if you read more literature you’ll probably be annoyed that the emphasis is always on the breathless action.
A fun punchy read and a good sign in someone who’s become a professional prognosticator. You should also check out Charlie Stross’s frequently updated blog, where he regularly bitches about how the future keeps happening and stealing plot points out from under him as he writes.
The City & The City is a noir mystery set in an Eastern European impossible city. Two cities, Bezel and Ul Qoma, exist intertwined in a strange custom where they pretend to be separate. The custom is enforced by a mysterious entity known only as “Breach”.
I think of this as a novel set in one of Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities“. For those beautiful little shorts, a setting is enough, but here in the novel you need a full plot and characters to keep moving.
In the run-down city of Bezel a body is found. It quickly becomes clear that the murder actually happened in the ascendant “wolf” Ul Qoma. Our hero begins to investigate from one city to another, contrasting the cities and the people who make them separate.
The concept is fantastic and it gets explored well, sometimes more than the story does. The atmosphere is beautiful and you begin to feel the psychology of “Breach” and crowds that must be unseen because they exist in another city. Well worth the time, more for the city and the city, less for the story.
I finished the book and put up a longer review of Anathem
When I got home from going San Francisco and the Caymans this Sunday I had a pleasant surprise. I had a nice advanced reader’s copy of “Anathem”, the upcoming novel by Neal Stephenson*. I’d heard reports that it was either post-apocalyptic or a space opera, but neither seems an apt description 100 pages in. So far it seems to be another new genre: Long Now Fiction. You’ve got a monastic (“mathic”) order where different sects sequester themselves away from the ever changing world outside for periods of a year, a decade, a century or a millennium.
There’s an awful lot of worldbuilding words to keep track of, which is a bit annoying, and it is starting off slow. That’s fine, though. Stephenson’s books generally don’t move like other books that have a slow rising action to a climax. Stephenson’s books tend to be first immersion in a world for a few 100 pages, then a radical spiraling climax that is vertically asymptotic against the presence of the end of the book. It’ll get exciting soon enough.
The book isn’t due out till September 30th, and assuming that I’ll finish the massive thing by then, do let me know if you’d like it next.
*Apparently I’m quite the lucky duck. I got this through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and was one of the 25 recipients out of the 1375 requesters.