I've been reading my reviews again. This is always bad for the authorial blood pressure. However, we have a technical term for an author who argues with reviewers: "idiot". So I'm not going to do that.
However, below the cut, I'm going to put some bullet points for those of you who've read "Rule 34", just to draw your attention to some aspects of the novel that you might otherwise have skidded past.
1. Yes, all the main protagonists in the book are LGBT, or are somewhere on the Kinsey scale other than a 1, with the exception of the Toymaker. Yes, I was trying to make a point. There are a lot of cliches in fictional depictions of LGBT folk (or, to be fully inclusive, QUILTBAG people). Cliche #1 is the novel with the single token gay protagonist whose sexuality, if it is visible at all (rather than merely being flagged by the author) is purely stereotypical and there to flag how open-minded and inclusive the author is. Cliche #2 is for the STGP to fill in for the magical negro, and come to a similar sticky end. Cliche #3 is the bisexual female who, after a night of passionate hetero sex, comes to see that she doesn't feel attracted to women any more ... well, fuck that shit. You will spot some of these cliches in "Rule 34" as photographic negatives. "Rule 34" is written from a perspective of queer normativity rather than closeted invisibility. If you find that uncomfortable, then I suggest you examine yourself in the mirror for signs of homophobia. That is all.
2. On style: "Rule 34" is set in and around Edinburgh, a city I have lived in for nearly two decades. I've taken some liberties with the vernacular, both as spoken by Leithers and by incomers from elsewhere. Regrettably, the local editor I'd planned to work with on the final draft wasn't available due to a family emergency: I'm told I didn't do too badly, for a southerner. What I did do was drag in a bunch of argot from elsewhere: from the worlds of policing and the internet, both of which are to some extent trans-national in scope. Finally, "Rule 34" was edited for its largest market—American readers. I should say no more on this subject lest I incriminate myself, but: there's a reason for the internet puppy thing.
3. Similarly, while "Rule 34" is outwardly shaped to resemble a work of detective fiction, it isn't one. The cop doesn't even solve the crime (although by the end of the novel she knows more or less what's going on, and rescues a MOP from near-certain death). Nor is the "criminal" arrested and apprehended at the end, although the Toymaker won't be selling any more toys for a while, and Anwar is going to have some explaining to do. It is a kind of science-fictional look at the police procedural, but what's really going on here is a look at the future of criminology in the context of a world where non-anthropomorphic AI (in other words, stuff that is functionally intelligent but doesn't resemble a "brain in a box", a la HAL 9000) is out there, and theories of consciousness have terminally undermined our traditional concepts of free will and mens rea.
This is the future. Even today, policing doesn't work the way fiction would have you believe because our social narrative of policing is dangerously out of date. It's informed by journalists and reporters who themselves reflect the prevailing cultural view of policing that they grew up with. Notepads and two-way radio and detectives talking to suspects and witnesses, shaking trees to see what falls out. That isn't even the way it works now; where it's going in another 15 years is anyone's guess, but going by the gripes on the various [anonymous] police blogs I've been reading, their IT support is roughly 5-10 years behind that of a private sector operation, albeit catching up rapidly. The vast project of re-writing the entire criminal law system in the UK is still under way, and criminal investigation (as opposed to public order policing) even today is a data-driven intelligence process. Automation is being applied wherever possible, with interesting consequences: face recognition software used on CCTV footage to identify rioters, for example.
But even the police are looking backwards. It's easy enough to deal with drunk public order offenses and speeding tickets. But what does it mean when the biggest and most successful criminals run multinational corporations or get themselves elected president and change the law to give themselves retroactive immunity? What does it mean when research in cognitive psychology strongly implies that we don't actually have "free will" in any meaningful context?
4. Speaking of politics, it seems to me that the biggest political question of the 21st century will be how we devise frameworks for living in a world where personhood covers more than biologically-defined humanity. We already have corporate personhood, and look how well that's turned out; we've given legal personhood to corporations and then passed laws that require them to behave like sociopaths, because lawmakers have been unclear on how to differentiate between the interests of a group and the individuals of whom the group is comprised—or between the corporation and the shareholders. Moreover the cult of corporatism and managerialism has persuaded many people that all large enterprises work along more or less the same lines—and that the best practices for managing a corporation can also be applied to a nation-state (which is an utterly different type of collective: for one thing, nation-states are theoretically immortal and issue currency and manufacture debt to soak it up).
The question of how to accommodate human beings and hive organisms like corporations and governments within a single equitable moral and legal framework is already a pressing one. If we ever develop AI or intelligence enhancement technologies or intelligence-augmented animals, we're going to meet the same mess, only even worse. We need to work out how to compel moral behaviour by non-human actors, otherwise we're going to end up with monsters like ATHENA and The Operation.
5. Speaking of ATHENA: ATHENA is not a single process (warning: "process" is a technical term of art!)— there are multiple instances of it running, some of them threads of the same process, others independent. Different factions are using ATHENA for different purposes, hence the seemingly conflicting priorities.
ATHENA exhibits thalience after a fashion, and is constrained to nudge the outside world until it converges with ATHENA's internal model of how the world should be, but ATHENA has no identity: as the Gnome points out, the last thing we want is AI that has its own priorities. Hence the second person viewpoint throughout the novel: ATHENA has no "I" and is constrained hence orients its identity with respect to an external "you".
6. On fiction:
Fiction is the study of the human condition through the medium of interesting lies—scenarios that explore some aspect of what it means to be a person. It's a form of play in the ethological sense, one which specifically engages with our linguistic and social instincts. (Johan Huizinga's definition quoted on that wikipedia page covers fiction quite nicely.)
I write my more serious novels to explore aspects of the human condition under circumstances that do not—and may never—occur. This is in contrast to the literary mainstream, which has to some extent spent the past century vigorously mining the rich seam of mundane everyday life. But versimillitude is becoming questionable, if not porous and friable. We're living in the 21st century: it's not possible to write a novel that seriously explores modern life without a background that includes rapid, cheap international travel: the commercial space industry: smartphones and the internet and spam: social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter: the rapidly shifting reference points of life expectancy, gender roles, and politics.
The mundane world we live in is rapidly accreting the baroque trappings of a science fiction novel. The internet has exploded messily across the world around us: ignoring its noxiously fermenting culture in a novel of the near-present is like ignoring the clashing influences of punk and Margaret Thatcher's vanguard Tories in a novel set in the London of the late 1970s.
As far as the tech extrapolation in "Rule 34" goes, with the exception of ATHENA it's so ploddingly mundane that I can't see why people see it as science fictional. To take but one example: the 3-D printed meth labs were a work of fiction in 2009-10 while I was writing, but today academic researchers are already printing their earliest ancestors. I can claim no credit for this as a work of prediction: it's a perfectly obvious spin-off of a technology (3D printers) that is today roughly where personal computers were in 1975. One can claim no great credit for raising a head of steam when it is steam engine time. Does this make it "hard SF"? Maybe. It certainly makes it mundane SF. But I'd contend that "Rule 34" is also mainstream literary fiction (at least insofar as I can aspire to give voice to such, and to the extent that there is any merit whatsoever in genre categories).
"Rule 34" was my attempt to write a novel of the near-present—the present day with certain existing trends magnified for visibility—which asks what it takes to live as a human being in a world where human beings are not the only kind of people, where our notion of free will turns out to have hollow foundations, and where the entire concept of the natural order of society is up for grabs.