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Rule 34: The SPOILER thread

By now some of you have read "Rule 34".

If you want to discuss it, or ask me questions about it, feel free to chat in the comments on this blog entry.

If you haven't read "Rule 34" yet, stay away from this blog entry's page and especially the comments, because there will be spoilers.

Let the fun begin!

124 Comments

1:

It arrived from Amazon yesterday. Halting State had been good, but without grabbing me in the same way as The Atrocity Archives or Saturns Children had, so I was expecting a similar effect. Instead, it absolutely forced me to stay up and finish the whole thing, it was so good.
DI Kavanaugh was a great character, and Anwar was a good one, although the Toymaker's background didn't really grab me - I just had him pegged as enigmatic psychopath and didn't really get further into him.
The incidental detail was great - the cop technology, the coming economic crash creating the need for "ethics audits", the newer and nastier things spam could twist into.
I really liked the multiple viewpoints (sometimes it fails horribly), and apart from one point where I had to flick back to make sure that "Adam" was who I thought he was (could have been the late hour, though), it all held together.

A question: It was very "mature" in language and content, with much more sex and swearing than in a lot of your other books. Was there a conscious decision about precisely where to pitch that?
Another question: Amazon appear to have jumped the gun or something (UK release date was 7th July, I believe?), not that I'm complaining about getting it early. Is this A Thing, or just normal for publishing?

2:

A question: It was very "mature" in language and content, with much more sex and swearing than in a lot of your other books. Was there a conscious decision about precisely where to pitch that?

It's a Scottish crime novel. In vernacular Scottish English, "fuck" is punctuation, like "uh" or "eh" in American English.

As for Amazon jumping the gun, it's annoying -- but I suspect their shipping schedule was screwed by yesterday's US public holiday on that side of the pond, and here in the UK Waterstones began selling it on Saturday (if not before).

3:

In vernacular Scottish English, "fuck" is punctuation, like "uh" or "eh" in American English.

Then I guess intense and violent sex scenes are little more than an exclamation mark?

I wonder if Waterstones were reacting to Amazon - I got an email with a revised delivery date on Friday. Given that stores presumably start receiving stock a week or more prior to publication date, there must be the potential for a "release race" on the more popular books. Maybe them trying to get your book out early is a twisted compliment?

4:

Picked it up on Sunday at Oxford Waterstones, finished it Monday evening, also had to flick back to double-check who Adam was but otherwise steamed through & thoroughly enjoyed. Is that a BIG follow-up plot hook on the last page?

5:

Is that a BIG follow-up plot hook on the last page?

No.

(There's going to be a third and final volume in the trilogy, but it's going to be set five years later and involve an almost entirely different set of characters again. And if "Halting State" was about AR, games and the future of virtual reality, and "Rule 34" was about criminology, policing, and ethics, "The Lambda Functionary" is going to be about the future of politics and diplomacy.)

6:

I download my preordered Kindle version at 6:45 on the train into work. I'm hoping for sufficient self control to leave it alone until the workday ends. I'll give you feedback on the contents tomorrow -- although I've already read the first three chapters on the blog.

Read the Madeline Ashby comments on Tor.com. Can't decide if she loved it or hated it. I think, the former.

7:

Can't believe you're not getting complaints about the two wetsuits incident etc., unless the more thin-skinned readers haven't found this blog. Anything silly happening elsewhere?

8:

Marcus, here's the Smoking Gun report. (Probably NSFW.) I didn't make this up. Nor did I make up Nicolae Ceaucescu's bathroom appliances.

9:

rats i been waiting till thursday to go buy it from oxford waterstones. Is it on any sort of 3 for two deal?
It's just I'm expecting to pick up at least 2 copies. having said that I'm thinking about ordering a signed hardback from the states or perhaps I should just buy a 'ard back and make kitten eyes, with beer in hand, at our fearless leader...

10:

Do you hate Canadians :(

Rule 34 doesn't show on Kobo, and Kindle says it's not available in Canada

11:

I have heard reports that it's on 3 for 2 in the front of Waterstones'. Haven't been into any branches, though.

12:

1. amazon.de also put Rule 34 early into the public; in my mailbox I found it beginning of last week

2. I agree that the "mature" content was only half-expected; of course, "Rule 34" implies sexual fetishes etc., and a crime thriller implies violence, but partly the depiction stopped my suspense of disbelief (I didn't wanted to believe some of the things, e.g. the toymakers suitcase opened at Anwar's), and thus stopped my reading flow. Same thing with some of Iain Banks' books.

3. What I really did like was the description of administrative procedures using augmented reality interfaces, e.g. throwing a file etc. The embedding in practice made this interface beliefable. Question: Do you think these interfaces (and related division of labour) are realistic? And when/where/why?

(My visual: one of the Matrix films where a controller sorts flights by stacking them in some half-transparent way)

4. The university bubble was a tad to dark, wasn't it? Whereas "choice architecture" is interesting - is there real science behind this idea?

13:

It does look like Canada is running behind the rest of the world on this (like so many other things). Hopefully my copy will arrive soon . . .

14:

My nearest Borders didn't have it today, and there site still says Available Online Only and Pre-Order. Scared off by the title?. I'll check again in a couple days.

Though I still won't be able to join the discussion, as I am a slow reader, and in the middle of something else.

15:

Meanwhile, I shall make do with Madeline Ashby's review at tor.com.

16:

One word: unputdownable.

(Roughly translated: "You 'capital-B' _Bastard_ Charlie; I skipped the first three chapters on the grounds that I'd read the draft version on the website, and turned the reading light out at 01:40.")

Halting State was _good_, Rule 34 is off the scale.

I shall read it a lot more carefully at the weekend, but the first impression is pretty damned devastating (and I didn't see the plot twists coming).

Eleven and a half out of ten, and I owe you some beer.

17:

One simple question:

Why was this book named Rule 34? The main plot doesn't seem to have much connection to the title, unless I'm missing something here.

18:

If you can think of it, there's porn of it on the internet -- Rule 34.

Now, if we pick a random thing you can think of and it's illegal, what does Rule 34 imply? Answer: that you'll find evidence of crime on the internet, fetishized and dressed up as porn.

Now ask what the entire future-of-criminology and libertarian paternalism/nudging thing and the ATHENA subplot is all about.

19:

The other point you might want to consider is the relevance of the "tell me professor ..." sequence near the end of "Rule 34" to Three arguments against the Singularity.

Yes, "Rule 34" is an AI/singularity novel. Just not the one most readers with an interest in those topics might have expected.

20:

Loved Rule 34. I reviewed it here.

One of the insights at the end of the book is that expert systems and other smart software have reduced police work from individual detectives to people being cogs in machines.

But it seems to me this isn't new; ever since the invention of civilization, individual human beings have been tiny parts of mechanisms far too vast for them to comprehend. Consider the business-motivation cliche about the medieval laborer carrying rocks in a wheelbarrow, or the Chaplin movie "Modern Times," which is nearly 100 years old. Does it matter that much of I'm at the command of software systems (written by human beings) or a vast, faceless bureaucracy?

Charlie, a question just occurred to me -- I don't know where it came from -- but what are the entire future-of-criminology and libertarian paternalism/nudging thing and the ATHENA subplot all about.

21:

random illegal thing

That seems to refer to "creation of an unlicensed artificial intelligence".

porn of random illegal thing

The thing in the suitcase.


Adam Mc Donald's guilt:
Leaking or activating the whole Athena thing. Thus Athena ending up in the thing in the suitcase.


Athena's sense of person:
Configured to project onto the toymaker to better function as his sweet little "meat-puppet".

Actually, there seem to be two instances of Athena on the loose, one used by Bhaskar to trash the "Organisation", the other one used to pimp up the toymaker's little fuck-puppet.

That's about it, isn't it?

22:

No, same AI, I think - remember, identity misidentification. The purpose of ATHENA, the central idea, was to act as a prostetic concience for people without one, by nudging them into behaving morally - the toymaker had a clearcut and easily identifiable case of what should have been straightforward sociopathy. Remember the genetic abnormality? This made him a good test case, theoretically. Unfortunately, due to the drug induced paranoia on top of that, he belived the universe was out get him and this was core to his identity, which meant that when ATHENA identified with him, she started to make that the true state of affairs..

23:

Ah, yes, of course.

Prosthetic conscience.

But that's not only the future-of-criminology, it's also the past, in a way. Civilization itself constitutes a form of prosthetic conscience. Only that formerly nudging was done mainly by the Fear of God (or Karma), an imagined hyper-intelligent entity, not a silicon-based real one.

24:

Yes, Rule 34 was a 3-for-2 at Oxford Waterstones. I couldn't find 2 other books that called to me, though ...

Chris

25:

Got it yesterday on Kindle, read in two evenings )

I liked both major plot directions -- financial bait pseudo-state, and spam-fighting AI. But although the plot twist is nice, this topics still seem to be tied together loosely. Both deserve a separate volumes )

One thing that is too vague, as for me, is that for post-soviet pseudo-state to have consulates in EU seems implausible, and very suspicious.
Here, in post-soviet Ukraine, it seems very unlikely for Transinistria or Abkhazia or some other fragment of a country to have diplomacy with EU.

So maybe you should have special post-soviet edition, with the bait country somewhere in Oceania )


,

26:

I got Forbidden Planet: London to break into a delivery for my copy this afternoon once I threatened to buy it else where. Seems that the smaller the order the further down the supply chain you are. Only half way through - RL intervened.

@25. If a mini state has been recognised and can flash the cash it can have consulates where ever it likes - that's what states do. Which is not exactly the scenario with the entities you mention as far as I understand it?

Thank you Charlie. I'm enjoying the thought speak that's generating the action.

27:

Hmm, I always read endings too fast, so I might have to go back and re-read to see if I can catch it, but I completely missed why ATHENA identified with the toymaker- I caught the bit where Adam said that AI's are built to use people as their identity rather than be a separate independent self, but why him specifically?

28:

I'll chime in with another 'Halting State good, Rule 34 amazing' comment. As a heterosexuality challenged fan, I also appreciate the bid for a Lammy (and not a Lamby, which some people say inevitably will follow) :)

Question: Should I be concerned for the future that the only governmental authority that apparently has the cojones to take down people is an ex-SSR? (though given a basic money/power analysis for the U.S. and applying it to other places with reasonably developed capital markets makes it depressingly likely). I'm going to be very interested with how state action evolves in internet time with 'Lambda'.

29:

Wouldn't it be easier to just not have 8000 laws* on the books than do the whole Athena thing? Or is that just not something in the Gnome's (and his colleagues) headspace?


*Though only 8000 laws actually sounds nice, from an American perspective.

@25 The current unrecognized eastern European states all broke away under disputed circumstances though didn't they? IRIK was pretty much tossed out on its ass, which means there's no diplomatic nightmare like recognizing Abkhazia or South Ossetia would cause.

30:

Got my UK version via Amazon.de last week. Finished it yesterday. Liked it. A lot. On to the spoilered discussion.

Mandatory warning: the following will also contain spoilers for Halting State.

In some ways this book felt like a 180° turn. In Halting State, one of the major problems of the downtrodden hero is his previous conviction due to out-of-control sex laws. In particular, his affair with a minor girlfriend got him labeled as a child molester, even though he was a minor himself. On the other hand, in Rule 34 there are not one, but two incidents where the hard line in current discussions is presented in a positive way. One, the Loli sex doll mongering is shown as an especially despicable example of illegal fabbing. I certainly will not argue this, but that it is also presented as rightfully illegal takes the hardliner side in the current discussion on virtual child porn. Two, the unsatisfying one-night-stand of Dorothy. The police (via Liz) would happily treat this as a rape case, if only Dorothy would charge, and this also is presented in a positive way. Again, this takes the hardliner side in the current discussion on rape charges and what qualifies as rape.

31:

Don't go to sleep reading this book at 2 in the morning. You'll wake up with a head full of the idea that the toymaker can escape his meat puppet and messily reproduce all over the meme-scape if cornered. It's not even the worse thing you've woken up to recently. (In that your meat puppet doesn't seem overly concerned.) What's worse - once you think you've processed this your determined to spread the word.

This News of the World 'Stuff' isn't helping either in reinforcing the idea that the underlying substrate of reality is fluffy and warm; when really it's just tediously human.

32:

I think Charlie's loathing of organised sport has let him down with the detail that the Lothian & Borders Police got rid of their mounted squad at independence, having less call for royal occasions. They didnae get rid of huvin tae keep prawstant neds frae dicing cathlic ones up at fitba' riots, did they?

The major role of police horses is crowd-control, after all. (I suspect the cops will still have horses long after they have robots, for example.)

Also, isn't part of the point that the RPA vision of total centralised police management has already failed, at least in practice, when the book begins in favour of a less dogmatic, empower-the-bobby approach (basically, Engelbart's side of the Augment Lab vs. SAIL debate)?

33:

Wouldn't it be easier to just not have 8000 laws* on the books than do the whole Athena thing?

You try telling the lawmakers to lay off ...

(I suspect there are structural flaws in the political processes of most modern democracies that makes this virtually impossible. Complex societies getting ever more complex, supersaturated media environment identifying edge cases and screaming that something must be done, and so on.)

34:

I've seen the argument made that the issue is that, increasingly, politicians are qualified as lawyers, and their first reaction to $unwanted_behaviour is to pass a law against it. They never seem to consider whether or not an existing law is adequate if properly enforced, or could be amended...

[Sir Humphrey Appleby] The trouble with politicians is that they see something wrong and say "This is terrible. Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it." [/end]

35:

One, the Loli sex doll mongering is shown as an especially despicable example of illegal fabbing. I certainly will not argue this, but that it is also presented as rightfully illegal takes the hardliner side in the current discussion on virtual child porn.

That's a viewpoint aberration.

(Personally, I think if we could give paedophiles smart -- but non-sentient -- toys as distractions that could also monitor their activities and provide early warning of any danger signs, that would be a great solution to the problem they present to society at large. Which is exaggerated, and leaves aside the widely ignored fact that around 90% of child sex abuse is carried out within the immediate family: not so much the predatory stranger as the uncle who was abused himself as a child and is now working through his issues ... with another generation.)

Two, the unsatisfying one-night-stand of Dorothy.

I don't think I presented the outcome of that in a positive light -- more as a demonstration that I don't think some attitudes are going to change rapidly, on a time scale of 10-15 years from the present. I'd like to be proven wrong, but the woeful level of success in rape convictions in the UK suggests that we have a major problem. (See also the DSK case playing out in New York right now.)

(Final observation: you want me to write a complex crime novel showing most of the action from the PoV of a cop and up-end the conventional attitudes to crime and punishment pervasive in our society today? Based on the cops I've met, Liz is unusually liberal and questioning as it is ...)

36:

Alex, the L&B police horses -- all 12 of 'em -- cost as much to operate as a helicopter. The official justification for them is "Royal escort". Yes, they get used for patrolling matches and intimidating Hibs and Herts fans, but is it cost effective to spend the price of a chopper on that job?

37:

Yes, because the bizzies bill football clubs for their services. A typical FC bankruptcy leaves the Revenue (because they essentially use the VAT liability as a swing), the local plod, and the St. Johns Ambulance out of pocket.

Those nags are going nowhere while there's football in Scotland.

38:

Not for nothing is one of the most important bits of precedent about private payment for policing "Harris v Sheffield United (1980)"

The book: 11/10. I loved all sorts about it, including the fact that there was more than just one (1) non-hettie character. The police procedural and bureaucracy bits rang true for me - Liz and her lot may appear unusually liberal for coppers, but there's always an outlier in that demographic which often overlaps with the kind of people who went into the Drugs Squad in the early 1970s.

That Scene, while necessary and justified, did creep me out rather a lot, all the more so because I have a young daughter. But it wasn't gratuitous.

Have you sent a review copy to the journal 'Crime, Media, Cultures' - they might be interested. Also, David Wall at Durham might have some interesting responses to make to it: he's worked on police institutions, big-picture criminology, and internet crime.

39:

Prosthetic conscience you say? :

It is now theoretically possible to link the human nervous system into a radio network so
that, micro-miniaturized receivers being implanted in people's brains, the messages
coming out of these radios would be indistinguishable to the subjects from the voice of
their own thoughts. One central transmitter, located in the nation's capital, could
broadcast all day long what the authorities wanted the people to believe. The average
man on the receiving end of these broadcasts would not even know he was a robot; he
would think it was his own voice he was listening to. The average woman could be
treated similarly.
It is ironic that people will find such a concept both shocking and frightening. Like
Orwell's 1984, this is not a fantasy of the future but a parable of the present. Every
citizen in every authoritarian society already has such a "radio" built into his or her
brain. This radio is the little voice that asks, each time a desire is formed, "Is it safe?
Will my wife (my husband/my boss/my church/my community) approve? Will people
ridicule and mock me? Will the police come and arrest me?" This little voice the
Freudians call "The Superego," with Freud himself vividly characterized as "the ego's
harsh master." With a more functional approach, Peris, Hefferline and Goodman, in
Gestalt Therapy, describe this process as "a set of conditioned verbal habits."

40:

Loved the book, loved how the pacing changed about two-thirds through into a mad chase to tie all of the coincidences together. Laughed out loud in the middle of a murder mystery at how neatly all the pieces fit. Will give it the 5-star review on Amazon.

The very ending though, seemed a bit rushed - as if to say: oh, hell, out of pages -- wrap it up. So many loose strings. And some nits to pick: why didn't Liz just shoot the Toymaker at Hussein's house? Why would ATHENA kill her team members? Is ATHENA named after Scalzi's daughter? Why didn't the Toymaker downsize Dorothy? Enough for now.

41:

why didn't Liz just shoot the Toymaker at Hussein's house?

What with? Handguns are illegal in this country (Scotland); the cops don't carry them -- with the exception of specialist firearms units. Liz is a detective, not a sniper!

Why would ATHENA kill her team members?

None of her team members are killed!

Is ATHENA named after Scalzi's daughter?

No, ATHENA is named after Athena.

Why didn't the Toymaker downsize Dorothy?

Because ATHENA got to him first.

42:

What with? Handguns are illegal in this country (Scotland); the cops don't carry them -- with the exception of specialist firearms units. Liz is a detective, not a sniper!
And, if she did shoot someone without being given a "clear to fire" by a senior officer, she'd have spent several months doing paperwork, presuming she managed to avoid a murder charge!

43:

I'm half-way through my second read of the book, and I've got a similar feeling about the book. I loved it, and some of the "Strossisms" were laugh-out loud funny, but you're absolutely right, it does feel a bit rushed, both on the author's side - Charlie obviously needed time to put the manuscript aside for a week or two then come back to it fresh - and on the publisher's side, because I've detected three typos already.*

The other "flaw" in the book is that there wasn't a character for whom I felt much sympathy, as opposed to "Halting State" where the both the investigative leads on the corporate side were people I'd actually like to spend some time with. From a critical perspective this probably makes it a better book - I suspect it's much more likely to qualify for "classic" status due to our academic ideas about what makes literature valuable - but it's also a little harder to have a fun read when there isn't a character you'd like to have a beer with.

On the gripping hand, I think we're supposed to like and sympathize with Liz, but I seem to remember that she had a kid in the earlier book and a happier attitude about life. Clearly she's had the standard policeman's divorce and gotten the shaft where custody is concerned, but we don't see any of her emotional life outside of a general angry numbness. I could probably find examples of her emoting if I dug through the book, but none of them aroused any kind of fellow-feeling on my part. (It's probably a beautiful study of depression, but it made for grim reading.)

On the other side of things, I really enjoyed the ideas about near-future corporate governance. The idea that there are academic studies of Enron's emails, plus people who refer to the totality of Enron's emails as a "corpus" is wonderful beyond words. (In the real world I doubt we have a Roosevelt to lead us to better governance of any kind, but that's not relevant to my view of the book.)

* "gram flour" on page 58 should probably read "garam flour" and "girns" on page 31 should probably read "grins." I lost the other one, and since I've forgotten Charlies policy on typos I'm not going to work hard to find it again.

44:

I thought that the bit at the end where we suddenly see Liz through Dorothy's eyes, and vice versa, made both of them far more sympathetic. Also, the way that the pace was handled at the end meant that I found myself thinking "I might not _like _ some of these people very much, but I really don't want them horribly killed by this psycho." Thus the fear creates sympathy. That's especially the case with Anwar, who's a very-well realised character: he's not cut-out Asian guy, or cut-out gay guy, or cut-out stupid guy.

45:

"gram flour" on page 58 should probably read "garam flour" and "girns" on page 31 should probably read "grins."

Gram flour is correct.

And so is girns (hint: it is not the same as a grin).

46:

@43

charlie beat me, but here's more details. I'll retreat back under my rock soon.

The lady cop you are thinking of was one of Liz's subordinates in HS who introduces us to The Story . Liz appears in the cluster f**k that is Kemal's trip to Edinburg in HS not the main story line.

As for 'gram flour' that a correct south Asian-ism as accepted in the UK for 'chickpea flour'. Don't ask me which language, but that's the cultural vector the stuff arrived on I've a kilo of it in the kitchen right now, great for making bajis.

girns - (couldn't find your reference at first) as I'm a 'namby pamby southern bastard' who doesn't get to Edinburg more than once every five years, I couldn't possibly comment on local dialect. Out of context I suspect grotesque face pulling as i am more familiar with gurning and the the world championships

47:

see I'm relying on stuff in my head. Charlie's got t'internet and he did write the thing

48:

I viewed the outcome of the rape case as a personal tragedy for the woman involved, and a commentary on the limitations of criminal law.

Imagine the trial: "Did you ask him to stop, ma'am?" "Well, no." Do we WANT a court system where a person could be convicted under those circumstances?

I know I'm risking starting a huge flamewar here, and I'll gladly drop the subject if it's too hot.

49:

My uncle was a cop in New York, and headed up crowd control in the 70s. Parades, political demonstrations, riots -- now that I think of it, I can't remember any riots in the 70s in New York. I wonder if my uncle was responsible for that.

He LOVED horses. LOVED 'em LOVED 'em LOVED 'em. Said there is absolutely nothing for dispersing a crowd like a line of uniformed mounted police walking their horses slowly in formation toward the crowd. People have a tendency to remember urgent business elsewhere under those circumstances, especially New Yorkers who never leave the city and therefore never encounter nonhuman mammals bigger than a dog.

I'm not saying this is a flaw in the novel. The people who got rid of the horses in future Edinburgh may have been right to do so, and even if they were wrong, governments make mistakes and Liz can be presumed to be an unreliable narrator on this point.

50:

I actually found the most sympathetic character to be the Muslim guy. Sure, as Liz notes, he's not very bright, but he has a good heart, he's a good husband and father and family man, and seems to always want to do the right thing.

Yes, I know he cheats on his wife, but lots of guys do that, and many are still good husbands.

He's easy to overlook as a sympathetic character because of the not-brightness, and because we view him through his own shame over doing things that many readers (including me) would not find particularly wrong. He's gay and he likes to have a pint every now and then -- I don't see anything wrong with either, but he does.

Are we told precisely what he was convicted of and went to prison for earlier?

51:

Identity-theft related crimes- basically the same thing he was doing for Tariq, setting up honeypot websites to steal people's information, if I remember correctly. That's part of his stupidity- he's not just still doing crimes while on probation, he's doing almost the exact same crimes while pleading ignorance.

52:

@42
OK, I thought it might be that handguns were illegal. Here are the members of ATHENA's team that seemed to have been killed by ATHENA:
1) Larry
2) An unnamed computer scientist from Boston
3) MacDonald (by the Toymaker under control of ATHENA)

53:

Ah, no -- you're confusing ATHENA's actions with those of the Operation. Two different entities, one a nascent non-conscious AI, the other a very human agency. Oh, and note that there may be more than one instance of ATHENA running at a time, owned by different factions -- it's an international research project, after all.

54:

I was reading the very last scene as ATHENA (or this iteration of it) becoming conscious?

55:

Sort-of. It's conscious, but it's not our kind of consciousness because its focus of attention is external.

56:

Charlie, if Athena is conscious at the end of the novel, and its focus of attention is external, then who or what is its current focus of attention after killing the Toymaker?

And how does it get the will to kill the Toymaker? Wouldn't that be like suicide from Athena's perspective?

I'm still trying to figure out what it would be like to be a consciousness with the focus of self on someone else. Something like being a very loyal servant I should think. Like the servants in "Upstairs, Downstairs," who sit around and gossip about the masters and feel every one of the masters' triumphs and defeats as if it were their own.

Or like any fanboy.

I had developed a theory as a result of this discussion that the Operation was a puppet of ATHENA, propelling the Toymaker to dispose of people who were unresponsive to ATHENA's socialization therapy.

I remember John W. Campbell doing a how-to-get-away-with-murder editorial around 1970, saying if you launched a thousand events, each of which had a 1% chance of killing someone, your target would almost certainly be dead.

57:

The Toymaker isn't necessarily dead: just captured by the polis. As for Athena's focus after departing from the Toymaker, it's where it was before: everyone. Athena is about law enforcement via behavioural nudging, and you don't get there by just nudging one person at a time.

58:

Ah. I thought the Toymaker was dead, that something implanted in his brain killed him (though not a bomb, that was his delusion).

The more I think of it, the easier it is to imagine an intelligence whose view of self is projected on another.

We humans are already halfway there, as we imagine ourselves in the position of other people. That is the nature of empathy, which we evolved as tribal apes so that we'd always be aware of the state of the other primates in our tribe, and therefore cooperate better.

In that respect, the Toymaker and Athena are two extremes on a spectrum with regular ole human beings in the middle.

This is also an explanation for why you yet again told this novel in the second person. In the first novel, it was a tribute to interactive text games. Here, it's the way Athena views the world. Wonder if you'll stick with the second person in the third novel, and what your rationale will be then?

Is Athena narrating this novel, I wonder?

59:

As an actual native Scot, I'm not sure Wiktionary is correct about "girns". I'll accept that Charlie knows what context he meant it in, but as a verb I'd normally read it as "pulling a face" or "showing your teeth" (not the same as grinning; there's an implied veiled threat involved). http://www.dsl.ac.uk/ refers.

60:

This is also an explanation for why you yet again told this novel in the second person. In the first novel, it was a tribute to interactive text games. Here, it's the way Athena views the world. Wonder if you'll stick with the second person in the third novel, and what your rationale will be then?

I haven't made my mind up yet. But then, I don't have to start writing it until this time next year.

61:

Charlie, I'm a huge fan and I have all your books.

But I'm Scottish too, and I have to say that your Embra dialogue is about 80% right, which is very impressive. But a wee bit of advice from a native Scots speaker would just stop the occasional wince you give us. I'd be glad to advise for free: us translators uise native informants aa the time whan oo're owersettin frae fremmit leids, ken?

If you use the 'Senses' function in DSL, you can enter an English word to find a Scots equivalent. (http://www.dsl.ac.uk/index.html)

Keep up the good work, though. I'm halfway through Rule 34, and it looks like my own work is going to go on hold for the afternoon, so I can finish it

62:

a wee bit of advice from a native Scots speaker would just stop the occasional wince you give us

That's a sore point. As it happens, I have a friendly neighbourhood Embra-based SF editor on tap, and he was going to check over the MS at the copy-edit stage and fix any whoopsies that had slipped through. Unfortunately both Family Shit™ and Work Shit™ came up for him at the wrong moment and he blew the editorial deadline, leaving me crossing my fingers and hoping I'd got it close enough not to offend.

(I know what non-Scots authors regularly do to Scots, and I know that merely living here for 15+ years hasn't given me quite enough of a grip on colloquial nuance for all occasions. Unfortunately, sometimes deadline shit happens ...)

63:

You're writing SF, about the future, and Scots dialect does evolve a bit, so (also native Scot but from the West coast) I was chalking "I wouldn't say that" moments up to a mixture of language evolution and nae been fae Embra!

64:

Cory Doctorow talks about researching "For the Win," and having different people from the same city in India give him contradictory instructions on how people from that city behave.

From my own experience: New York is a big city, and people from different parts of Brooklyn behave differently. Especially when they're also different races and ethnicities.

That said, Scotland is a small country and Edinburgh is a small city, so there might be less diversity. Although, as Charlie indicates in Rule 34, it's more diverse than an American might believe.

65:

I took the reference to "waves" along with emails and IMs to imply that the open source Apache Wave project eventually produced something useful.

66:

Oh, new laws are definitely unavoidable, but I think if we demand it then we can start pulling back the old laws that are only enforced when the cops or a prosecutor want to harass an individual* or class of people they don't like.

The problem of course, is the people targeted by the 10,000+ laws that only get enforced once in a blue moon generally aren't terribly popular with the voters either.

*IE, spitting on the sidewalk is a popular one with the cops here when they want to harass the homeless or protestors.

67:

Loved it. I really liked the use of CDSs to get rid of debt, and the relationship between Bhaskar and his friend the Colonel. Bhaskar reminds me a little of president Bartlett (of The West Wing), the Nobel-price winning president who can't do much with his skills.

I kind of wondered where you first picked up on the existence of Rule 34? I first read about it on xkcd, and in the book it's implied that it gained notoriety from a web comic, but of course it existed before xkcd 305.

Minor typo/punctuation nit: Adam enumerates viruses as "TR/Mithras. Junkbot.D and Worm/NerveBurn.10143" (page 307 in my copy), where the first period kind of stuck out to me -- it's on the end of the line, too, so harder to spot. Didn't see any other typos, though!

As a non-native English reader (though I read a lot of it and write quite a bit, too), I must say the Scottish is a real distraction for the first 30 pages or so. It gets better after that, though, and does give it that kind of authentic feeling.

Oh, and I'm also a sucker for the referrals to slightly-out-there technology -- I also noticed the "wave", and still fondly remember the mention of Python 3000 (that was in Halting State, right?).

Anyway, +1 will-pre-order-your-next-book-as-soon-as-possible.

68:

Spent the week reading it with a break between each chapter. Very weird for me your books are normally start reading and turn the lights off when I've finished the book affairs. This time the jump in POV for each chapter seemed to encourage a pause.

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Going to read it all again tomorrow before I make any more comment though.

Thankyou

69:

Mitch Wagner @64;
From my own experience: New York is a big city, and people from different parts of Brooklyn behave differently. Especially when they're also different races and ethnicities.

That said, Scotland is a small country and Edinburgh is a small city, so there might be less diversity. Although, as Charlie indicates in Rule 34, it's more diverse than an American might believe.

Often when I've visited my brother in New York his friends will ask what I think of the city, usually goes something like this:
"I love it." I say.
"Oh? What do you like about it?"
"The variety. You can walk down the street and hear a half dozen languages."
Though I grew up in the DC area and that was true of some of the schools I went to.

My brother, father and I went to Scotland a few years ago, and one of the things I was pleasantly surprised by was the diversity. Even a small town like Pitlochry had two Indian restaurants (one good, one not) and a (closed) Chinese restaurant.

70:

Got my copy today, ended up going to Barnes & Noble. I guess I'll have to e-mail Borders to find out why they aren't carrying it in store. It's now moved to the next spot on the read list.

For some reason the three copies they had all had the backflap of the dustjacket tucked in at page 333. And I was glad to see that the actual cover has the dissolving pistol.

Also, I confess that I looked through the paperback of "The Fuller Memorandum" to see if the things I noted in the Typo Hunt were fixed. All but one. I guess Mo does have stickers on the back of the violin and on the case, nothing wrong with that.

71:

Finished reading Rule 34 last night, but I haven't had a chance to come back and read this thread until now; most of today was lost to reading brochures and websites and completing a spreadsheet of my options in Medicare (hoping that since I'm eligible this month, I'll be able to get it set up before Congress and the President destroy it).

I agree that Rule 34 is even better than Halting State (though a good bit grimmer). And I liked DI Kavanaugh as a character; someone who's slid off the greasy pole is exactly the right person to serve as viewpoint for a cynical and jaded look at the dynamics of a hierarchical organization, especially one that's huffing and puffing after ISO-9000 compliance.

I foresee a bit of a problem for The Lambda Functionary though. ATHENA by its nature is going to change the shape of the world rather drastically, if its operations become as ubiquitous as they could. I assume that it won't stay resident just in the experimental botnet where it was created; probably it will create a botnet or two of its own, and those nets will be a lot harder to eradicate than any mere spammer net. Once ATHENA is free in the wilds of the darknet, I would expect it to expand its operations to cover as much of human society as it could (unless it's somehow limited by its implementation to a particular set of countries and laws because its creators were primarily Western European and American). That's got to effect nearly everything in the background of the next book. In fact, I'd be really curious to see whether its existence becomes public knowledge, and if not, how people explain the changes it causes: serious drop in many kinds of crime, or at least in recidivism (you can't commit new crimes if your jacuzzi has boiled you). And I would expect that ATHENA would develop some less lethal ways of manipulating people to stop them committing the less serious crimes; after awhile people might start to realize that there was something lurking out there pushing them back to the straight and narrow path, and they might even figure out ways of letting ATHENA know about crimes before it spots them in communication patterns.

In the long run, it would be interesting to see how ATHENA adapts to having a major role in human society. Would its tactics or strategies change, or its notion of what crimes to consider important enough to warrant action? Would its model of morality and law drift over time, perhaps causing a problem like the Watchbirds in the old Robert Sheckley story?

72:

Hmm, like some of the other readers, was a bit confused how our why an ATHENA was attached to the Toymaker. Even if that was the 'other deal' that the Organization was referencing... Well, it doesn't seem to make much sense. You'd think some of the researchers would notice something like that. Also, the Organization seem to not be looped in on the fact that ATHENA was being used by the international IK honeypot.

As an "official" botnet, it seems like ATHENA would be pretty easy to disable since there's no implication (or reason) for it's VM/clients to be viral. Seems like if it had really gone rogue, it'd certainly be shut down as soon as the honeypot was sprung and it's full vector state decompiled to figure why it started killing people (again, not explained, and I can't think of a coherent explanation).

I can vaguely imagine somewhere along the line the Org being MITM'd and ATHENA requesting its own source code for self modification, but again that seems to be very much outside its capabilities/motivations.

Hard to believe that as a research project ATHENA wouldn't be built without a full debugger that would allow sampling into it's decision matrix, or logging of actors targeted/POIs. This might be explained away by the hone pot offshoot not knowing what they were doing, but the section with the researcher chat log showed they clearly had access to the ATHENA instance going on it's MDK spree.

Umm, besides that, I did enjoy the read. Just nit seeing how any of the ATHENA stuff comes together / makes sense.

73:

Also, far from preventing crime, it seems that ATHENA drove the Toymaker to commit his first murder. Seems like a pretty big fail there, I wonder how it squares that away (or all the killing it commits).

And what "freedom" means to it. It's obviously been directed to only attack spammers not all criminals in general. Unclear where or how it makes the leap and why it would be identity fixed on the Toymaker (or if those are separate ATHENA instances, why it's so poorly explained and only pops up in the last 10 pages and what happens to the other instance)

74:

Spammers do small amounts of harm to very large numbers of people - this doesnt intuitively come across to human beings as a henious crime because our intuitions about large numbers and small fractions are hilarilously bad. .. But an agent of justice implementing a formal, mathematical conception of tit-for-tat might very well rank consistent spammers as "worse than serial killers". - Any given spam mailling does financial harm to the people it works on, annoys a significant number of sysadmins a fair bit, and millions of common users very slightly. Tally it all up, and you probably dont have to send out very many of them before an agent of justice which is more-or-less naively running the numbers starts going "of with your head!".

75:

I think this is your best book yet.

I've been pondering the second person narrative - at first (when I met it in Halting State) I found it offputting, though it didn't take long to get used to it, but in Rule 34 it worked for me from the start. I don't know if that is because of the underlying logic (even though it wasn't revealed until the end), because I had already met the device, or because you're better at it.

However, it does seem to me that this is a very good device for making changes of viewpoint character. For me these often check the flow of a story: you've been reading "Bob did this and Bod said that" for a chapter then suddenly Alice is getting into her car and who is Alice and what's she got to do with the price of fish... when it's all "you" there is, somehow, one barrier less and it flows better. I found it didn't even matter that (despite the chapter titles) I wasn't always sure who "you" was.

Obligatory niggle: unless something has drastically changes since I studied in Edinburgh, there is rather a lot of the University south of the Meadows... but I can forgive you that for including Appleton Tower in the story, reminding me of morning first year lectures (I once got caught by a blizzard on my way in from Pollock Halls) and baffling afternoon programming sessions trying to talk Pascal to the Sirius micros on the (3rd?) floor.

76:

So, read it in two evenings in front of a beautiful and quiet lake in the middle of nowhere. Quite the dissonance.

I found it way more compelling than Halting State. Yes, grimmer, as has been noted, but then so way more thruthful, with the "global conspiracy" part of the plot much better handled and balanced against the local, character driven, study on human and social behaviour in the face of quick technological change.

Haven't read your hard sci/fi works, only the "Laundry" and "Merchant Princes" series and your short stories compilations. Enjoyed all of them a lot, but this one strikes me as a major leap forward and is the first of your books I feel myself compelled to recommend to my non-geeky friends (I still have some of those).

One question, though. An instance of ATHENA has been directed to revert spammers to "baseline" output. But with her inputs/outputs been reduced to digital traffic, I wonder if there's a reference hidden somewhere in the book to the first case of "faulty home electronics"; the first instance of the meme it identified as a correct input that "properly" weighted would revert an individual to baseline. With Liz being in the work she is, and all the talk about memes and imitations, I feel it should probably be there, but I must have skipped it (and I am too lazy to reread just for it).

Also, is ATHENA subtly improving the emotional lives of those who work in the same field as itself (Liz and other internet police)? Are the fake Liz-Dorothy SMSs just a way to get Liz to meet the Toymaker, or also a strategy to get Liz to do her work better (by way of having a more stable life)?

I dunno, might have read more into it that there is, but thats always the sign of a good book. Congrats.

77:

My impression is that an artificial intelligence or autonomous cognitive engine (the problem with AI terminology is discussed in the book) that evolved from spam filtering technology would have a congenital, atavistic hatred of spammers and would regard them as its natural first targets. That ATHENA targets spammers is a major clue to the investigators that they're dealing with something not human.

78:

Well, to be fair, if I could get away with it, I'd probably take a whack at some spammers... (although I'd probably co-opt their finances and botnets first to do some real damage).

79:

I liked the book a lot. (And a great big thank you for the generous gift of a Kindle edition goes out to the guy who's probably moderating this comment...)

One thing has been bothering me after the fact. If ATHENA had the power to mess with the blood flow to the Toymaker's brain at any time, then... why didn't it happen sooner? Why mess around with Liz and all the various not-really-coincidences?

I tried to explain it to myself by supposing that ATHENA's plan was for him to kill MacDonald. But ATHENA obviously *didn't* need him to kill Anwar (or else he would've succeeded). So why didn't he have an ischemic attack and collapse on the way out the door?

80:

Was it ATHENA who made Christie kill MacDonald? I thought that was the "rogue" ATHENA? Or indeed, simply the Operation itself.

What puzzled me was which network was observing Col Datka's coup against the Operation - the real one or the rogue? I assume the latter, based on the elaborate security measures he took - the rogue would presumably have tipped off the operation? But in that case, was the "observer" in that chapter different form the "observer" elsewhere?

Finally, I was slightly surprised that Christie had been going round with such an incriminating "sample".

81:

I read the book, partially during breaks on Mechanical Turk duties (marking essay questions on state-wide standardized tests, 40,000 at a time). I like it, some of the economic predictions about the US may come true ahead of schedule. I also like the UK gov nationalizing the supermarkets. In the US, the opposite is happening, WalMart is taking over the government.

But I think I see why you were complaining about controlling the characters, late in the authoring. The main character, ATHENA, talks very little. Is ATHENA a character or a plot device ? It is certainly the prime mover of the plot.

The last moments of Christie are very effective, very creepy, horror. Like Bob brooding about future eldrich horrors.

I will let the story settle in my head, re-read it in a few months, when I am less focused. The book will be recycled at a bookstore with a barrista who is very fond of flying monkeys.

82:

I had the impression that Anwar's bread mix might have been producing artificial skin (one of the most difficult bits of Christie's sample).

Datka is a sympathetic character, rare for a vicious post-Soviet spook. In fact, is he the only fully integrated personality in the book? The President is going mad; DI Kavanaugh is depressed; Anwar is chaotic; Dorothy is less well-adjusted than she thinks; Toymaker is a good solid psychopath; ATHENA is essentially Dexter, a psychopath conditioned to obey something like the law; McDonald is a Ballardian Vaughn, a hoodlum-scientist.

83:

Further question: is the Toymaker's internal monologue actually ATHENA's?

84:

Typo in US Kindle version: The main drag in Silicon Valley is
El Camino Real, not
El Camino Reale (a natural phonetic misspelling for an English speaker). I'd cite a page number, but this Kindle thing doesn't have proper pages. I'll bet it's a unique string.
I'm about 3/4 finished, and I'm loving it!

85:

I'll accept that you're correct about the spelling of the SV road name, but "El Camino Real" isn't actually a correct (Catalan) Spanish name, so "El Camino Reale" isn't just a "natural phonetic mis-spelling" IMO.

86:

I'll admit that I did not separate fact (spelling of the road's name)
from opinion (uninformed, though superficially plausible-sounding speculation on pronunciation).
It also has interesting history:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Camino_Real_%28California%29
I'll return to read this thread after I've finished the book and have something to say that's actually relevant.

87:

Beat me to it: The El Camino Reale typo is on page 243 in the printed version.

I was also wondering about Athena working itself into the paradox of committing crime to fight crime, but since there's not going to be a sequel, we don't have to worry about how Godel's Incompleteness Theorem plays out in this world.

88:

Was the whole thing in Scotland used by ATHENA just to get its own source code?

89:

The price and volume was wrong for that - the abominable doll has to be a very niche market, and anwar was forking over that flour like he was a supermarket- high strength material feedstock however, goes into everything, altough the sales must be a temporary thing - its a microbe culture, it should keep turning out spiderweave as long as you keep feeding it, so no return buisness.

90:

Bought from Waterstones yesterday. Yum.

Page 82: There is only _one_ Chatham House Rule.

(I'm prepared to find the second one is predicted for the near future, but I suspect it is a common minor slip).


http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/about/chathamhouserule/

"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."
From link above.

91:

Actually, I'd expect a lot of repeat business for yeast that made spider-silk.

The issues are:
1. Bacterial contamination--wet yeast cultures in teaching labs don't last long.
2. Build-up of metabolic wastes (the alcohol will kill the yeast if nothing else does).
3. The draw-down of the amino acids needed to make the spider silk, as well as other yeast food, meaning that it would have to be restocked.

The biggest issue here is actually that the yeast were growing anaerobically. That cuts their metabolic rate down substantially, and hence slows their silk production. There may be other issues with the silk, since coming out of a spider's silk glands is how the stuff gets made into threads, but that's a different issue.

Of course, we already know what would happen if the yeast turned on in an aerobic culture and were given sufficient time to grow, as in a sourdough...

...dwarf bread.

92:

If you can turn yeast into a biological factory (well, repurpose it) you can certainly make sure it only works in the first and second generation, AND make them intolerant of some aspect of the environment. Also, if you're not digesting sugar to alcohol, but making it into something else, why would the alcohol kill you?

Another poster noted that silk was threaded by spinnerettes in the spider's abdomen. Sure, but this is feedstock; it can go in as powder, as bar, as liquid...no one said it needed to be in the form of silk.

I hate the fact that the character I most identified with was the Toymaker.

93:

re Chatham House Rule(s) - there might only be the one, but in my experience people tend to talk about the 'Rules' - it's more of a ubiquitous mistake than a common one.

Also, Chatham House must have more rules that just that one. "Non-members of Chatham House can use the Library for reference purposes only" or "A Member’s guest will only be allowed entry if they are accompanied by the Member.", etc. Those probably don't travel so well.

94:

The first rule of Chatham House is...you do not talk about Chatham House! Well, if you do, at least don't quote me.

95:

Hi John,

I think you missed a turn. Spider silk is a bunch of proteins secreted by cells and then extruded by the spinnerette.

The environment in which the silk assembles itself is something I don't know, but I'm willing to bet that little things like the pH, [O2] and [ethanol], let alone all the other organics, are quite a bit different than what you find in a batch of brewing beer, which also contains a bunch of other proteins. It's not clear to me that a) you can treat spider silk proteins as a precursor feedstock in the same way you use the monomers to make up polymer plastic, and b) you can self-assemble something that could make artificial spider silk inside a brewer's cask. Note also that the feedstock tends to be powdered polymer that's melted and reformed, not monomers assembled inside the manufacturing machine, at least to my limited knowledge.

I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just that, when making spider silk, we're dealing with a poorly understood nano-environment where local chemistry conditions matter. I believe the spider silk researchers are still having trouble elucidating the spider-butt end of the process, not the silk protein sequences.

I suspect that when we do get commercially viable production of spider silk from bacteria, they'll be mass-producing microfluidic devices that hold particular bacteria in particular environments, with the substrate hitting the bacteria on one side, and silk being pulled out the other side. When the bacterial culture hiccups, they'll replace the cartridge holding the microfluidic device, much as they replaced the bobbins on old factory looms. That's just a guess, but it will allow them to control the environment in which the silk self-assembles, and that may be easier than sorting through a mess of proteins (from milk, beer, or liquid culture) to find the silk proteins you're after.

96:

Charlie @ 62,

Wierd! I thought you got it about as good as that Irvine Welsh chap. But I'm a Glaswegian and we really know how to swear!

Loved the book.

97:

Frumiously!
I now have to use that in speech enough times to remember it.

98:

Apropo of nothing: I know spider silk is the nanomaterial one uses because it's easily recognizable to the average street bloke.

That said, I wish some SF writer would develop sporopollenin to a similar degree. That stuff is amazingly tough. When they're looking for old spores or pollen grains, they dissolve the rock samples in hydrofluoric acid to get the spores (made of sporopollenin) out.

Just a random thought.

99:

What's wrong with trying to keep people from spitting on the sidewalk? Before antibiotics it was a important way of limiting disease spread. Now there's antibiotic resistant bugs, it's important again.
There's too many laws. But at some time each was seen as important. Cutting back on the number of laws is not going to be easy.

100:

Today's xkcd (#924 "3D Printer") suggests that Mr Munroe may have read the book.

101:

Am I the only one confused with the GMT+05:00 notation? I live in GMT-8. I saw this in the Amazon US Kindle edition.

102:

Read, reviewed on Amazon, want more. Lots of open questions on this one but perhaps you wanted us to reflect and think about this. If that's the case: great success!

103:

Mine came today, but I can't start until Saturday, after bookgroup.

104:

I don't think and wouldn't want that to be enough to convict in a rape trial. But in the intelligence-driven law enforcement community of this future, somebody callous enough to 'fuck a girl in the ass and not even have the common courtesy to give her a [metaphorical] reacharound' would definitely be identified as a Person of Interest.

106:

Okay, maybe I missed something, but both of the initial two murders in Scotland were assisted by another person, as both victims were bound. Who did this? was it the Toymaker? If so did Athena have such total control to make him return when the police were investigating the murder? This does not seem plausible, but there is no other candidate for the role of murderer.

Or is the point that both these people enjoyed bondage, and Artemis was able to tweek some of the items used in each case to make it lethal? In which case, how come we hear nothing about the bondage partners?

If I am being stupid, which is all too likely, please just tell me to read the book again.

107:

Liked the story, didn't like the panopticon ideas. Too close to the mark....

Of course, ATHENA in a political sphere would be dynamite. Nudging people back to a baseline becomes nudging them to support your political party - something Camaroon has talked about IRL.

Maybe the rogue ATHENA becomes the only thing that stops Jeb Bush using a US sourced ATHENA to take an election? Maybe the rogue ATHENA becomes a UN that works?

Oh, and it seems pretty obvious that England could use Scotland to do that CDO trick to cure the deficit IRL.

Yes, let's make sure the Tories are kept from reading the book, please. We don't want them getting any ideas.

108:

I will cop to playing lots of games with the orthodox structure of the crime novel, to make the point that it's not about the individual detective any more. (You want closure, where the detective gets his man? Go re-read Conan Doyle.)

Admittedly Liz does prevent one particular killer from nailing his next couple of victims, but the killer in that particular case is a puppet for an agency which may not be responsible, in any conventional sense.

(As for the assistance in the earlier scenes, this is referred to in passing, briefly, in the ops room scenes.)

For added fun, you might consider re-reading "The Chain of Chance" by Stanislaw Lem, then doing a compare-and-contrast.

109:

Yes, let's make sure the Tories are kept from reading the book, please. We don't want them getting any ideas.

Too late -- they're big on libertarian paternalism. Luckily the tools at their disposal are too primitive to make something like ATHENA, and their ideological predisposition is to use the heavy hand of the law to deliver their nudges.

110:

The university bubble--it's happening as we speak, which is the reason I'm spending the summer in Mariposa, California, when my teaching job is in Sunderland, UK.

111:

Well, that was a new experience. I've never read a SciFi novel before and realized that I was the bad guy. But I just reached page 285, and its discussion of libertarian paternalism--a subject I teach and do (a very very small piece of the) research on. And my main research at the moment is about improving the targeting of libertarian paternalism policies. I'll be making a teeny tiny contribution, but one of the themes of the novel seems to be the aggregation of teeny tiny contributions....

I don't think I like where you depict my field as heading!

112:

Just finished the book - absolute genius as expected. Thanks Charlie.

Are you fishing for typos yet? I only saw one in the whole book - bright-orange paperback UK edition, p.254, bottom, 'practice' should be 'practise'.

On the subject of typos, has something changed in your publishers' workflow since Atrocity Archives? My copy of that (UK paperback) is riddled with typos!

113:

It's all too easy to confuse 'practice' (the noun) with 'practise' (the verb). It must be one of the harder tests for an automated spell-checker.

114:

It is indeed! Only the other day I found a great mnemonic for it: practice/practise and license/licence both follow the same rule as advice/advise, and since you pronounce them differently, everyone knows which way round they go.

115:

I'm amused by your putting the 's' form first for the licen[cs]e pair!

116:

... ooops.

117:

ATHENA is HAL 9500 or 10000, with the same kind of screwed programing as HAL 9000.

118:

I don't think anybody in the States worries about practice'and 'practise.'

119:

(I suspect there are structural flaws in the political processes of most modern democracies that makes this virtually impossible...

Well, that is at least one sale for The Lambda Functionary right there...

Also, this is seriously not a good book to read right before going to bed. (Though, Lobsters was quite a bit more of a shock.)

For the sake of our fine host's sales, I'm hoping for a moral panic in these United States.

(Also-also, this is a -very- challenging book to try to explain to someone not into Sci Fi...)

Fine stuff.

120:

Is this an error, or did I miss something?

From the US version, p 217:

LIZ: [B]ut what in James Dyson's name is the vacuum bot doing?

You don't have one of the things -- your wee flat's too small to need it -- but you get the picture: It's supposed to bumble around the house sucking on the rugs and scaring the cat, periodically retreating to its wall wart to recharge and hork up a cricket-ball-sized sphere of compacted fluff and household dirt.

p 228:

LIZ: Home in your wee flat ....

You have plenty of time for a long comfortable lie in the bath followed by a TV dinner. You plant yourself on the sofa under your tablet, surfing the web while the vacuum sniffs and nudges around the corners of the living-room carpet, as the evening grows old along with your thoughts.

121:

You don't think the robot vacuum cleaner can clean by itself? We already have something similar.

122:

Ah no, Marilee - I think Anonymous is commenting on a continuity error in the text.

123:

Just finished Rule 34 - very good indeed; better than Halting State and easier to follow despite the proliferation of narrators towards the end.

One point though - the characters seem to use "CDS" and "CDO" interchangeably.
I think I understand how the IRIK default honeypot scam works, and - unless I am missing something - there's no need for CDOs to be involved; there's only one underlying asset, IRIK sovereign debt, and so it would be pointless to securitise it, let alone resecuritise it into a CDO.
Might be just a typo, but also CDOs do not, I think, "vest"...

124:

At the risk of being reductionist: Isn't the whole book a meditation on the following future headline: ROOMBA MURDERS MAN! Because if you grant that as the “what if” science fiction premise, all the rest of the plot pretty much flows from figuring out how and why that crime happened.

One thing that struck me is how much of the book takes place in the science fictional present: That part of our early 21st century that would have been science fiction if we read about it back in the '70s. The two decades forward you imagine is barely a leap from our present. But try explaining spammers and virtual countries to someone back in 1981.

Which brings up a question that I should ask in your next open thread, but probably should be in the FAQ:
What's your history as a science fiction reader? You and I are the same age. When I was a kid, I was reading Asimov and Heinlein and pestering the bookstore clerk to look at the Ingrams microfiche to see when the next Larry Niven book was coming out. I sense that you're rooted in the same literary world.

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