Review: Rule 34, by Charles Stross

Fast, fun, and highly rhetorical if not downright political. The standalone – yes, I think it works well on its own – sequel to Halting State Stross‘ Rule 34 is a good read.

The story revolves around sidestepped and showed sidewards Inspector Liz, a set of murders that are too coincidental to be coincidence, and the cast that comes with it.

At first the way the story is told throws me a little. To tell a story from different perspectives is relatively common in modern SF; that was not unusual. No. What got to me was that the story of every person is described as by someone else. Soon enough I got used to it, to the extent that I started to reflect on it… and indeed – it is a clue. The track grows stronger in the last third of the book, where clues are dotted all around – sometimes begging you to backtrack what you read, to check the way another person experienced it… and so the ending does not surprise.

Still, done in a neat way, so not to depend on the surprise moment.

Like with Halting State I think anyone living in the modern world should read it. Not for its poetic values and fantastic storytelling. There are, after all, better authors than Stross out there. No, you should read it because it is highly relevant to the times that we live in, asking questions about where we’re headed, and how.

This perfect day, indeed.

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Review: Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald

Good science fiction is the domain of people who have something to say, some questions to pose, regarding what we humans and our societies and our cultures are. In that science fiction is a genre that can be urgent and immediate, facilitating discussion on topics on ethics and identity and cause and consequence on a level way beyond what is possible when you have to deal with the ordinary and everyday life in the here and now. Because to science fiction there is a possibility closed to others – the possibility to extrapolate future, to ask and explore the kind of “what if” that relates to society, politics and economics.

Ian McDonald is one of these great “what if”-people. In Cyberabad Days he explores the “what ifs” of artificial intelligence, man and machine and the self-interested middle class and its hunt for ever more personal glory against a background of  “what if” India got balkanized. The means is a series of short stories, some would call it a short story collection. But this is to belittle the book because each of the stories, together with River of Gods, build to something that is far more than a series of disconnected tales – it is a suite of different perspectives on the suicidal trip India’s upper middle classes enters upon as they try to outdo each other in wealth and glory; the stories showcases the effects on society as a whole, without never ever leaving the little person behind.

My favourite stories are The Dust Assassin, An Eligible Boy, The Little Goddess, and The Djinn’s Wife (which made me think of Iain M Banks‘ Culture books in general and Surface Detail in particular), but all are very good. And most of all – without the rest of them the last story, the one that actually relate to River of Gods in a more substantial way, would lose some of it’s impact.

Anyone who have read and enjoyed River of Gods should read Cyberabad Days. Anyone who have not read River of Gods yet should do so first to be able to wholly appreciate Cyberabad Days but it IS readble on it’s own, too.

And any which way Ian McDonald is one of the most important of our current authors, SF genre or not. Not only because he has something to say but because he says it well, respecting his readership and our brains, to think for ourselves.

Go support a living author. Go get one of his books. And start thinking.

Review: River of Gods, by Ian McDonald

River of Gods is a truly collective story, told as seen through the eyes of nine different people, living their different lives. Some are people of power, some are not, but they are all played by the main, hidden, character the revelation of which is a main turning point in the tale. Some such stories can be hard to follow but this one is not. Instead it reminds me of the ideas of “the weave of time” or “life mosaic”, were a lot of small pieces or different strands all contribute to a greater picture, an image larger than any of it’s pieces. For this is a well written and expertly told tale, as told by the cybernetic fires of the future.

What makes the book so good is not the inventiveness, nor the clever plot. Sometimes when I anticipate a certain development in a story I feel *d’uh* when it finally arrives. Not so this time, nor did the truly sciencefictional conclusion feel beyond belief, even if that’s what it was. No, the true greatness of this book is the vivid textures, the smells, the cast – all interesting, capturing the curiosity of at least this reader, even when they are disgusting or overzealous or delusional. Because when they are they are human, and true to their respective character. And in the end, for all their free will, they have been goaded in the same direction, to replay a greater story…

Definitely recommended reading for anyone enjoying science fiction not for the fun and escapism but for the intelligence and thoughtfulness.

(I’ll also venture that anyone with some knowledge about India will find it interesting, whether you are used to reading science fiction or not.)