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Rule 34 reviews (contd.)

More in the trade press. This time RT Book Reviews, the multi-genre fiction review magazine and trade journal formerly known as Romantic Times, covers Rule 34:

TOP PICK! Presenting a gritty near-future filled with Big Brother technology and backstreet fabricators of just about anything the average perv could desire, Stross' latest foray is not for the faint of heart nor for readers looking for a lightweight story. (((Trans: this really isn't a romance, m'kay? — ed. ))) This novel is a challenging read. Told from a distancing second-person point-of-view it paints a bleak, disturbing portrait of a world where seemingly the only commodity not counterfeited and sold on the internet is free will.
They give it four and a half stars, on a scale of one to four and a half (they never award five stars).

Elsewhere on the internets, here's Alberto Seveso's gallery page for the US cover of "Rule 34", including the original artwork and the final version.

(Finally: a carton of Ace author copies arrived on my doorstep today. Which means the book is in print and crates will be winging their way to warehouses and bookstores in the USA over the next week or two.)

(And extra-finally, here's an hour-long podcast interview with me on Singularity Blog, talking about, well, it should be obvious.)



I'm sure you've been asked this before, and I'm sure you've answered it, but have you ever been tempted to try to get the original artwork for any of your covers.

(Chatting to that nice Mr Meaney at Eastercon, he was saying that one downside to having Jim Burns do your covers means the originals tend to cost.)


4 1/2 stars on a scale of 1 to 4 1/2? LOL.


1 to 4.5?

Reminds me of the gaming press, where the scale goes from 60% to 95%.


Isnt it interesting how many people find the "narrative on the second person" distancing? I mean, a book full of you do this and you do that has a distancing point of view! That sounds contradictory... but somehow it is not. Or not for everybody - I didnt find any problem but there are people that descend into a bestial rage at the idea of having to read a text like that.


Since I am currently in the middle of Halting State (which is obviously connected), I wanted to ask: Why the second person? I think this is the first novel I have ever read that was written this way. I have only ever seen this style in school before. It really jumped out at me.


Kdansky: think "Zork" or "Colossal Cave"

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"


In "Halting State" it's because the second person is the natural narrative voice of the computer game -- as Latro points out, you need to go back to the early 1980s text adventures for the classic demonstration, but if you try just about any modern adventure game the back story set-up is told in second person (typically as cut-scene movies).

"Rule 34" is told in second person for a different reason, and it would probably be a big fat spoiler to explain why at this point.

I'm not the only person to write novels this way; Jay Macinery's breakthrough novel "Bright Lights, Big City" was second person narrative. Chris Brookmyre uses it extensively in some of his crime thrillers. Brian Aldiss used it in experimental short fiction ("Poor Little Warrior"). And there will be others. It's just not a common way to write a novel, so it jumps out and nuts you rather than passing unnoticed.


Damnit, now I want to read Rule 34 even MORE to find out the reason :-P


I encountered the 2nd person narration first in old comic books, strangely enough, I always thought the effect was a strange kind of intimate discussion between the narrator and the character I was somehow intruding in, since I clearly wasn't the "you" he was addressing.


...or even modern text adventures --- there's a thriving community and some frankly awesome new technology for writing them (go look up Inform 7).

If you're interested in playing them, go look at The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction, which has some well-presented games and a web player. I can particularly recommend Shade as being awesome and short (and very creepy).

Back on topic: is that cover an original painting or a touched-up photo? The model looks very photorealistic, but of course that means nothing these days...


Off post. Today's newspaper said all three Fukushima Reactors fuel has melted all the way out.


Out of curiosity, do you (as author) ever learn anything about what was paid for the artwork on the novel cover?

As a random question, I wonder if there an art museum anywhere in the world that collects originals of such works?

That's probably another part of the book-business that is very poorly understood by outsiders.


Ah, I thought RT was a 'Radio Times' book review!

Despite it not being I still can't wait to read it ;)


So, you are going to send all those books out to your friends, right? Right? Email me for my address.



RE. Second person and style.
When I read Halting State I noticed the use of second person but within a page I forgot all about it. I suspect this is because Charlie's writing is in a style that I find -- transparent is as good a word as any. I have tried to find serious discussions about this aspect of style -- what makes some writing so much easier to, apparently, bypass the act of reading the words and just absorb the meaning directly -- but can't find anything about it.

Maybe other people can do this zoned-out reading with all writers. Maybe I'm unusual in that I can do this at all. Either way I would be interested to hear if anyone has studied this.

It is possible that what I mean is just an easy-to-read style combined with a damn good story. But "easy-to-read" means different things to different people.


Great cover art! Looking forward to reading it. Thought that, in Bright Lights, Big City, at least, the second person narrative was the very opposite of distancing. It really drew me in to what might otherwise have been a not particularly interesting story of a man's slow self-destruction.

In Halting State, it sort of quickly ceased to be something I noticed when I was reading - It had a rather different, and more unsettling effect in the only other book I can remember seeing it used - Iain Banks' 'The Bridge' (don't recall Brookmyre having ever used it, might be forgetfulness on my part, but I have read almost everything he's ever written).


Can't sleep - might miss delivery of new book. Damnit, why isn't it HERE yet!!


I am soooo looking forward to this book that I pre-ordered it on Amazon months ago and forgot only to order it again. I was looking at my account info wondering why I ordered it twice.


Wow, after that last in the Laundry series and how this - Charlie, you've gotten very dark on us.

Suits my mood and my sense of the general zeitgeist greatly. I can't wait!


I will admit that when I read that reference to the secretive Power Brokers of ..." Romantic Times " !!!... The Illuminati of the written word, I did immediately suppose that they were associated with Mills and Boon type fiction's been many years since my Grandmother did rely on me to choose her books from the latest available romances in the local branch of the Public Lending Library, so imagine my surprise when a little googling research takes me to ...

Bloody Hell! My Gran would be unsurprised by the tech of the Internet that I used to find the information ..she did live long enough to hear of the first landing on the Moon, though she didn't see it on TV since she didn't feel the need to have a Telly .. but she would have been surprised at the direction that her favorite fiction has taken.

And yet, now that my Gran has moved onward and outward in that state that we call Death, I wonder just how far Mills and Boon Romance might be taken toward "The Call of Cthulhu"


"The Choir Director Affair (The Baby's Teeth)" by Kevin Wilson is an amazing short story written in the second person. It's where I first encountered fiction written in the second person done well. It used to be available online on the Carolina Quarterly website, but they seem to have redesigned and I can't find it anymore :/


A couple of major bouts of clinical depression do mean that my powers of concentration aren't what they were but I can honestly say that I didn't find "Halting State" to be all that difficult to follow as a Story that I could immerse myself in until the author let me go. That 'the second person is the natural narrative voice of the computer game ' didn't particularly strike me until after I'd finished the book.

Way back when I was forced to earn my living,and when I used to teach presentation technique, I would tell my students that the whole Art of the thing was that you should grab your audience by the throat ... make grasping gestures .. at the start of your 'Story ' and then not to let go until you had delivered your story, presentation that is.

Can't think where i got that idea from but it predates our host.


The use of second person is rare because its hard to pull off. At least that's something I read once. If it works, it works.


Dam man. you were with the Freight Train Riders of America! All I knew was the horror/crime TV news stores about them. What little I saw smelled like TV BS but you were there. LIKE WOW MAN! DAM!!


I know you don't have any influence over the cover art, but seriously - the only change made was for the handgun to be dissolving? Someone sent the artist an email saying "we love it, but we'd like you to make the gun dissolve, like it's being made by nanomachines or something" and didn't think to ask why the character in the picture was tattooed, very young, heavily armed or otherwise irrelevant to the premise? I know it must have been a difficult brief ("Main themes: Scottish policing and internet pornography") but still!

I'm not criticizing the artwork - it'd be an amazing book cover for a book which had anyone like that in it - it's just... misrepresentation, is what it is.


Yup, that's the only change they made.

(I said "I'll sign on, on condition you add laser sights and sticky-outy bits to the gun -- if you're going to go over the top, GO OVER THE FUCKING TOP!" ... but what you see is what I got, dammit.)

They're trying to play chords in the key of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and it nearly works except, y'know, derivative and two years out of date.

It's more attractive on paper than on screen, though. I'll give it that.


Beat me to it! I was gonna say Friday Jones meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I read a lot of EC and DC horror comics that were written in second person.

I hope Rule 34 doesn't end with "you died of cholera and were eaten by a Grue..."

Yrs in anticipation,


I "read" Halting State as an audio book. Safe to say the second person narrative is significantly more confusing when encountered this way. I found it quite hard to switch between the characters and it would typically be several paragraphs into each chapter before I grokked who "you" referred to. I think I'll be getting Rule 34 in dead tree form.


I almost want to ask if the artist was trying to mimic a real-world gun, or just did a generic modern-looking pistol.

A look at the first version on his page, plus a quick Wiki troll has me suspecting that Seveso used a Glock as his model...but that kind of detail is probably lost on about 70% of US-ians. The use of a Glock would fit with the stereotype of modern/high-tech/edgy that the dragon-tattoo-girl image gives.


I don't recall the 2nd person style jarring with me, when reading Halting State. Of course looking forward to Rule 34 and intrigued with the hints and samples so far.

The book I most readily recall where the 2nd person style did have a disturbing effect was Ian Banks' Complicity. "You ascend the stairs. You..." What me? I'd er, really rather not be doing that. Why am I involved... Very effective.




Haven't seen this question raised elsewhere (and apologies if it has).

Will the American edition still have the British slang and speaking style or will it be Americanized?


They're trying to play chords in the key of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and it nearly works except, y'know, derivative and two years out of date.

Except that the US editions of the Larsson books have no people on them, and the original US paperback of the first book had a snow covered cabin in the woods (happened to see it in a used bookstore).


Ye're late to the party;

For those who've trouble with the dialect The Online Scots Dictionary is your friend.


I'm going to tentatively say it's because people who write/edit/critique for a living don't easily do what you describe.

To do what they do they need to always see the building blocks, so they can tell how its done. It's like taking a professional magician to a magic show. They will appreciate a good one, but they see something different to what you see.

Me, I can't proofread and whenever I read anything that remotely grips me I'm watching a film in my head. I live with a copy editor and we read sooooo differently.

I'm now waiting for all the writers/editors to come out of the woodwork and tell me how wrong I am...


They seem to have settled on a Walther P90. James Bond influence?


It just occured to me - does anyone know what sort of age groups Stross books appeal to, and what sort of age groups the publishers attempt at cover art is aimed at? I suspect they don't quite overlap...


I would guess most Stross readers are 25-40. Covers, 13-25!


I can't say I noticed it was in second person. I got distracted by the Segway.


Interesting -- I am a technical author, although these days mostly fixing Japanese English and redoing the diagrams. I certainly would struggle with proof reading anything actually interesting.


So, younger than me...


It may have burned through the pressure vessel as well. I think they knew this from the beginning.


I'm 64, 65 in July. Should we have an old fart race, see who's oldest?


You got me. I'm 65 in Dec. AND IT'S HELL.


the too short piece in the newspaper said they now know all three's fuel is all the way out.


Also ref #40, 41, 43 and 44 - I'm 48, 49 in July. Which makes me the youngest to declare so far, and still well outside the cited range.


Interesting. Nice to see the old forms still thriving. Reminds me to start combing the net again to try and find anything anyone has done with non interactive narrative branching using webpage tech. I had an idea ages ago to do a kind of narrative branched graphic novel using hotlinks. I figured someone must have done something similar in novel form if not graphic ... but i've never been able to find much. Probably a testament to my search engine skills.


hmmmmmm can't say narrative personification is ever that noticeable to me I probably notice in the 1st few pages. But I rapidly become completely encapsulated in the narrative and from that point on a just grok/absorb the story. Obviously all that experimental fiction, graphic novels, magic realism and just plain weird shit, over the years has had an effect.


Knowing there's a twist to it, I think I can hazard a guess.


I'm 62 and 3 months and counting.


Born 12/01/1946 .... ( 9 months after VE day, in other words! ) But then, I always want to know what happens next - probably because of my science/engineering training.


Could be Walther. I can't see enough detail to tell, though I lean towards Glock 19.

On the other hand, I doubt most artists (or book buyers) care at that level of detail.


Holy Crap! That's a long way beyond Inform 6. I tried out 6 awhile ago; 7 looks like I might actually be able to use it for building interactive training material. I've loved the idea of interactive fiction since Zork, and I've been noodling with it for a long time. Problem is I'm not that good a writer; when my wife and I tried to write a hyperlinked soap opera taking place in Hollywood, we stalled out after awhile because we couldn't keep the momentum of the story going across all the high-probability paths. But I've got a real need for some sort of training / help system that's more than just dead hyperlinks, and Inform 7 may just do the job.


40. 41 in October. So does that put me on the edge of the bubble?


Okay, I'll play. Physically: I'm 40 and a couple months. Mentally: I sometimes think a bit younger.


Oh, and my comment @32 was intended as a response to Charlie @26, if anyone was wondering (probably not). I thought I had hit reply.


Just listened to the podcast. Much of interest.

Slight nitpick. People who can't digest lactose nevertheless can eat cheese, yoghurt, etc. The lactose gets predigested by the bugs in the making process. This in fact is one reason why blessed are the cheesemakers; they turn indigestible milk into something most people can consume (and also it keeps better).

People who are allergic to milk proteins are another story, but that's much rarer, and I think not genetic.

J Homes.


There are maybe some kinds of fiction where it does matter.

I mean, if you were doing a cover for All Quiet On The Western Front, you really wouldn't want to give the hero an SMLE and put him in a Brodie helmet.


I'm beginning to think that a girl with a dissolving weapon is some kind of visual fad which I've missed, seeing only the edges here and there:

I'll have to do searches on this.


Definitely not a Glock 19. I'm pretty sure its the P90 because I've used both. The Glock is the favourite for accidental shootings as the safety is also the trigger. The P90 is more of a Euro police weapon with loads of safety features. You really have to go out of your way to fire it.


How do I get a signed copy? I live in the US (D.C. area).


For signed copies, read this (scroll to the bottom).



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 8, 2011 3:39 PM.

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