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"1001" and _Rule 34_
Bar Harbor
Had two interesting media experiences yesterday, which almost seemed to be commenting on each other. Both dealt with themes of free will, and whether humans can ever escape their tribal roots.

First up was a play; "1001", by Jason Grote (playing at the BCA through August 13th). It's a riff on the Arabian Nights, but unstuck in time, crossing over into other periods and settings. Like the source material, the stories are nested, but in a much more non-linear fashion, with sub-stories often containing their own parents, and pieces of story happening out of order (though never in a way I found confusing).

The actors playing mad king Shahriyar and brave storyteller Sheherazade also play a young couple in modern-day New York, one arabic, one jewish. The other actors in the ensemble have about 6 roles each, but the changes in voice; posture, and costume make it quite clear who they are being at any given time. This massive overlap of roles is not due to a low budget, but built into the structure of the play; many of the characters are reflections or distortions of other characters played by the same actor.

Favorite bit: Sindbad, lost for an eighth time, encounters Jorge Luis Borges walking on a beach. Borges gives a short bio of himself, including the date and circumstances of his own death, then proceeds to explain how he -- and Sindbad -- may not even exist. Sindbad, portrayed as a fairly mellow surfer dude, responds, "You're freaking me out, Jorge Luis Borges!"

The 9/11 terrorist attack eventually emerges as a major plot point (though, now that I think of it, never *directly* discussed). While there are lots of laughs, the fundamental plots of these stories are mostly quite grim. At the end of the play, hope is not entirely dead, but is effectively on life support. If you can stand the lack of a Hollywood ending, recommended.

Also yesterday, I read Charles Stross's new book, _Rule 34_. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, which gives you a positive review right there.

It's a near-future police procedural set (mostly) in Edinburgh. There are three main protagonists, along with several minor ones.
* Liz Cavanaugh is a Detective Inspector who works for a section of the police which watches out for virulently dangerous internet memes, and also tries to track down illegal 3D printing outfits. She gets caught up in the investigation of a spammer who dies in a way that seems too poetic to be accidental. But this spammer is only the first corpse in the case...
* Anwar Hussein, family man and small-time criminal. He's trying to go straight -- or at least not get caught violating parole. A friend connects him to a job opportunity that, though unusual, will be easy, legal, and get his parole officer off his back. It seems to good to be true, and, of course, it is.
* The Toymaker--real name unknown. A psycopath working for an international crime syndicate. He's in town to improve profitibility in the local franchise, but his contacts keep turning up dead. He* is* clearly paranoid, but maybe someone* is* out to get him after all...

Most of these characters are genderqueer in one way or another. None of them are pathologized for that, though the plot unfortunately ends up including an element of the 'sex is always punished' trope.

There is material some people may find squicky, especially regarding the Toymaker. For a book with this title, though, I was surprised at how little there was. No actual brain-bleaching required on my part. There were occasional references to things I've seen online and wished I hadn't, but no actual* descriptions* of them. Tip: do not google any unfamiliar references from this book which contain the strings "girl" or "goat", you can't unsee this sort of thing.

The book reached a satisfactory ending. Surprising, yet well foreshadowed. I was especially intrigued because it seemed almost as if it was aimed at my personal definition of what makes a story noir. Depending on how you look at it, this is either the most hyper-noir story that is even conceivable, or the anti-noir, a refutation of the entire genre. To say more would be spoilers, so I won't do so here, but would be interested to discuss this elsewhere.

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There are no straight vanilla characters in _Rule 34_ except the villain. Charlie wanted to reverse the usual trope.

"the villain"? The only person who (sort of) fits that description is definitely not vanilla by my usage of the word.

Charlie's goals in that regard were admirable, but I'm not sure he actually achieved them.

Not vanilla but heterosexual.

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