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Literature / Rule 34

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Rule 34 is a near-future Science Fiction novel by Charles Stross, released in 2011, a sequel to Halting State.

Not To Be Confused With Rule 34, which is something else entirely (although it is what the book is named for). The titular police division tracks crimes that operate on a similar "if you can think of it, it's out there" principle.

Provides examples of:

  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Or at least all the bisexuals (Anwar habitually cheats on his wife; Dorothy is polyamourous and doesn't want commitment; the Toymaker normally relies on sex workers and gay cruising) and the gay men (Adam has many "on-again-off-again boyfriends" according to Anwar). Even the LGTB murder victims (Micheal and Vivienne) turn out to have had busy sexual histories and died during sexual escapades with hook-ups or sex workers. (The straight victims died in normal household accidents - electrocuted by a faulty kitchen machine or in the bath, for example.) The only monogamous queer character is Liz, the lesbian.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: During the book's climax, one criminal is arrested for a wide variety of crimes including tax evasion, the production and sale of various illegal items and substances, and so on, and as an afterthought, sneaking mis-labeled bread mix into Scotland.
  • Artificial Cannibalism: Liz mentions the case of the Morningside Cannibals, a club of nice middle class people who held dinner parties where they ate each others cloned flesh.
  • Asshole Victim: The victims are all criminals, for starters. The first one is a bulk spammer who was previously convicted for selling fake medication online. Another one was a money launderer. Starts to get a bit greyer later in the book, when more sympathetic characters such as Tariq start getting murdered as well.
  • Axe-Crazy: John Christie. He is at least taking medication to keep the worst of it under control, but he picked up his schizophrenic symptoms from a less-than-successful treatment with psychopharmacy during his childhood.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The police have flying recon drones all over the city. When they aren't needed for anything else, they are mostly used to make sure people aren't littering. Similarly, police transports idly roam the city under remote control looking out for trouble when they aren't being used for moving cops around.
    • Played for Laughs later, when Anwar gets a phone call that puts him on edge, and when he looks around for signs of anyone following him, is told by the voice on the other end of the line to stop doing that, because he's drawing attention.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Some of John Christie's sections break out of the novel's Second-Person Narration so that "Christie" can address the reader directly. Apparently Christie suspects that we're figments of his addled brain.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bread mix, which is not only bread mix. Used with the right activating agent, it can be used to mass-produce spider silk. Used without the right activating agent, it can also be used to make crappy beer.
  • The Chessmaster: Colonel Felix Datka, working under the orders of his boss, the President of Kyrgistan. And he is yet another Unwitting Pawn of ATHENA. It just so happens that his goal and hers are compatible.
  • Cowboy Cop: Discussed and Dismissed. It is widely acknowledged that modern police work is about managing large groups of personnel doing quite a bit of seemingly pointless tasks working towards a common goal.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: It is widely agreed that they were to blame for the economic collapse of the early 21st century. John Christie is also this after a sort. A psychopath (er... make that Neurodiverse individual) who was recruited and given top-quality business schooling to produce the perfect sociopathic businessman.
  • Death from Above: A few references are made in passing to Americans launching Attack Drone air strikes on troublesome individuals, but one American official insists that they aren't in that business anymore.
  • Everything Is Online: Very nearly literally true. Late in the book, a military unit launches a raid to arrest various individuals, and one of their preparatory steps is to have every soldier turn off and lock up their radios, cell phones, computers, etc. before leaving base, effectively making them disappear from the net entirely until they get to their destination.
  • Explosive Leash: The Toymaker believes he has one. He is almost right: its actually a remote-controlled stent in his carotoid artery.
  • Genre Blind: Lampshaded by Dr. MacDonald, on the topic of Artificial Intelligence.
  • Gone Horribly Right: ATHENA was designed as an AI that would use social engineering to nudge individuals showing a high chance of becoming criminals away from a life of crime, or to sniff out spam botnets and identify them for the authorities. Instead, ATHENA is nudging criminals and law enforcement agents into confrontations with each other, and arranging for unlikely deaths-by-chance of various criminals.
  • Hidden Depths: Anwar is stunned to discover that his wife is much more familiar with his dealings than he realized, knowing, for example, what the going price is for the Issyk-Kulistani bread mix that he's been a mule for on the Black Market. Being familiar with criminal doings is not the same as approving of them, as Anwar discovers when he is banished to the couch for asking her to go into business with him.
  • Ironic Echo: Played for narrative humor a few times, when various paranoid characters fuss about the police recon drones that are no doubt watching what they do, or dismissively claim that they are just being used to enforce anti-littering ordnances. Once the narration switches to Liz's perspective, it mentions the omnipresent police recon drones, which mostly get used to look out for people littering, as a means of justifying their cost.
    • And in the end, we briefly see through ATHENA's POV, who uses the drones and cameras to keep an eye on her "meat puppets".
  • How Many Fingers?: Liz to Kemal, after he gets knocked down a flight of stairs by Christie. After Kemal has to think about it for a few seconds, Liz tells him to wait for the ambulance.
  • Ironic Name: Dorothy Straight, who is bisexual.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: ATHENA's Modus Operandi: Set up a great many circumstances where an accidental death is possible, and wait for random chance to take effect. Defective replacement parts for appliances, mis-labeled or contaminated medication, etc.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-Universe, Liz's squad is responsible for searching the internet for memetic crime. Thanks to the interconnectness of the world, copycat crime is a huge problem.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The Toymaker begins to suspect this towards the end. It is left unclear whether ATHENA broke into The Operation's network, whether he's becoming increasingly paranoid due to having the wrong medication, whether he's been talking to ATHENA all along — or *all of the above*.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: John Christie sounds like a harmless enough name, until you realize that his alias is taken from the name of a serial killer.
  • One Degree of Separation: All of the crimes, and ultimately all of the important characters, are tied together by seemingly random coincidence. Lampshaded by the increasingly frustrated police officers because coincidences don't happen that often. Both the cops and the villain realize by the third act that they are being "nudged" towards a confrontation with each other.
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Liz Cauvanaugh, the high-and-mighty Detective Inspector that Sue was working for in Halting State, is now a main character suffering from a bit of burn-out.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: John Christie is a psychopath who sees other human beings as being effectively disposable. However, he also knows that drawing undue attention to himself is bad for business, so he goes out of his way to keep a low profile.
  • The Purge: ATHENA uses John Christie and other unwitting pawns to eliminate the humans involved in its creation.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Liz's fate after the events of Halting State, she has spent the last five years heading up the Innovative Crime Investigative Unit, known as the Rule 34 Squad, which specializes in trawling the internet for crime-related memetic mutation, which means they get to dredge through all the worst the internet can offer them. The ICIU tends to be a dumping ground for any cops who don't mesh well elsewhere in the force.
    • Kemal as well, after his actions in the same book.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Toymaker experiences this through the course of the book ( but that's just what the lizards want you to think). It might be due to a bad batch of medication courtesy of ATHENA.
  • The Sociopath: The Toymaker is a very clear-cut example and it's lampshaded many times in the book. Apparently his version of antisocial personality disorder is genetic.
  • Strange Cop in a Strange Land: Kemal, to a degree. Of course, his job with Europol is to visit other police forces and liason with them.
  • Take That!: Scotland has seemingly become independent or at least more autonomous from the UK and "still" has a National Healthcare System.
  • Themed Aliases: An assassin's aliases are all serial killers. They're assigned to him by the Organisation, and he's not amused when he notices the theme. They're generated by an algorithm which has been hacked by the omniscient AI controlling everything so the police will pick up on him.
  • Theme Naming: John Christie's alias happens to be the name of a prominent serial killer from the previous century. When he gets a new alias issued to him, that one turns out to be the namesake of another serial killer. He is not amused by this and suspects that an outside party is tampering with the Operation's system to make him stand out more.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Toymaker/John Christie.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Two Wetsuit Job", which actually refers to a real case.
  • Unwitting Pawn: All of the main characters, especially the villain. Most of the minor characters too.