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Halting State (Ace Science Fiction) Mass Market Paperback – June 24, 2008

Book 1 of 2 in the Halting State Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This brilliantly conceived techno-crime thriller spreads a black humor frosting over the grim prospect of the year 2012, when China, India and the European System are struggling for world economic domination in an infowar, and the U.S. faces bankruptcy over its failing infrastructure. Sgt. Sue Smith of Edinburgh's finest, London insurance accountant Elaine Barnaby and hapless secret-ridden programmer Jack Reed peel back layer after layer of a scheme to siphon vast assets from Hayek Associates, a firm whose tentacles spread into international economies. The theft is routed through Avalon Four, a virtual reality world complete with supposedly robbery-proof banks. As an electronic intelligence agency trains innocent gamers to do its dirty work, Elaine sets Jack to catch the poacher. Hugo-winner Stross (Glasshouse) creates a deeply immersive story, writing all three perspectives in the authoritative second-person style of video game instructions and gleefully spiking the intrigue with virtual Orcs, dragons and swordplay. The effortless transformation of today's technological frustrations into tomorrow's nightmare realities is all too real for comfort. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers expressed shock and awe at Charles Stross’s imagined future, because it’s just a bit too probable. Even his minor details, such as clothing with RFID tags that can speak to washing machines, are mind-bending. Overall, Halting State is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, and highly intelligent novel. While some of it may read as gibberish to a less in-the-know crowd (it’s helpful to know such gamer slang as "nerfed"), the tech-savvy will rejoice. One reviewer thought the plot became convoluted at the end with a too-neat resolution. But others, like Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing, commented, "This is a book that will change the way you see the way the world works."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ace Science Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ace; Reprint edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441016073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441016075
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 0.8 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles Stross, 50, is a full-time science fiction writer and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland. The author of six Hugo-nominated novels and winner of the 2005, 2010, and 2015 Hugo awards for best novella, Stross's works have been translated into over twelve languages.

Like many writers, Stross has had a variety of careers, occupations, and job-shaped-catastrophes in the past, from pharmacist (he quit after the second police stake-out) to first code monkey on the team of a successful dot-com startup (with brilliant timing he tried to change employer just as the bubble burst).

Customer Reviews

I didn't get hooked until about halfway through the book.
Michael Lichter
I really like how technology/gaming/gadgets and how it may influence our lives in the very near future is a central theme of the book.
This is a very well-paced story, with intriguing themes and endearing characters.
A. MacFarlane

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 95 people found the following review helpful By R. Kyle TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1973, I read George Orwell's "1984" in one sitting with my hair standing on end. I won't beleaguer this review with how prophetic some of Orwell's content is, you can probably come up with a few examples before you finish reading this review.

It's a strange and unnerving coincidence I just read "Halting State" 11 years from the time the story takes place in 2018 and yes--in one sitting with my hair standing on end. I definitely think the world Stross is proposing is possible, perhaps even probable.

The plot---Edinburgh detective Sue is called out on a robbery case only to discover the victim is a corporation and the robbery took place inside a computer game. She's about to dismiss the case when she realizes the theft could have serious market implications.

Enter Elaine Barnaby, a forensic accountant for the firm's underwriter who's there to prove that the firm was somehow negligent so her employer doesn't have to pay the inevitable claims. She quickly realizes that her live action role playing (LARP) experience does not qualify her to examine a bank in a game world. Jack Reed, recently unemployed game programmer, is hired to serve as her decoder and native guide.

The three quickly discover the theft is just the beginning. The thieves' motivation could be anything from stock market manipulation to taking down the grid. The novel moves at a brisk pace with very little time for a breather in between events.

Stross deliberately challenged many of the writing conventions in "Halting State." First, the novel's written in second person--referring to characters as 'you.' Initially, the tense seemed accusatory and offputting; however, once I got into the plot of the book, 'you' became irrelevant.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Susanna Hutcheson TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I generally don't read fiction. But I couldn't resist this. This exciting book takes us into a world that, while fiction, could just as easily be our world in a few years --- a spook world.

Most of the book can easily be comprehended by people who may not have a through knowledge of computers and networks, as is necessary for previous works by this author.

The story opens in the very near future in Edinburgh, where police sergeant Sue Smith is called in to investigate a bank robbery. But, guess what, no guns were pulled. No stick-up note. This was a robbery done in gamespace, online! Don't you love it?

This technothriller is a must-read for gamers. But it's also a wonderful romp for mystery lovers and people who like to read about computer crime and how we are losing our privacy to those who know and understand computers and networks and the cyberworld in general.

Reading this book may just make you a bit leary about those anonymous folks lurking in chat rooms and forums.

The story shows how multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) can be a tool used by governments and intelligence agencies to recruit useful idiots, unwary puppets to do the dirty work of infiltrating networks while they think they're just hacking around in a virtual gaming environment.

Highly recommended.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You'll like this: if you're a fan of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), a Live Action Role Player (LARPer), or other kind of geek gamer; if you are a Dilbert-with-an-edge software developer; if you are really, really into near-future Scottish police procedurals.

The novel follows three characters through twists and turns after a bank robbery is pulled of in a multi-player online game, a sort of World of Warcraft on steroids. But who are the bad guys? What do they want? Why rip off a virtual bank? And do we really care?

Stross does his usual good job of taking some interesting ideas(multiplayer game economics! reality overlays! cyber terrorist hi-jinks!) to their non-obvious conclusions. And this aspect is really fun, makes you think, gives you some "oho!" moments. But it's hard to get in gear with the story. First, the Scottish dialect and slang are nearly impenetrable. I bogged down several times, to the point where I wanted a heads-up display with instantaneous translation. "Two nations divided by a common language" is right -- if you're not a devoted Anglophile, be warned. And if you're not up on gaming concepts, or software development, you may be in for a similar problem. If you like Stross, you like dense text and new concepts that come thick and fast -- but this is at a whole new level.

I didn't have any problem with the second person POV. It's a great twist on Zork-style text adventure computer games ("You enter a web page with book reviews. You notice that readers either loved or hated this novel. You see links leading to other pages glowing an eerie blue."), and very readable in the context of this book.

The dense prose makes it hard to understand the nuances of what's going on, hard to get into the characters, and ultimately hard to care about the resolution.

I loved Accelerando, and other works that Stross has done. I think I'd like an annotated version of this one better.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 15, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Near the end of this book, one of the protagonists blurts, "They're tunelling TCP/IP over AD&D!" And that line is a very good test for potentials readers, because if you understand it (and why it's kind of funny), you might enjoy the book. If you're scratching your head, well, you might still enjoy the book, but you're certainly in for a whole lot more head scratching along the way.

When you strip everything away, this near-future thriller is a cautionary tale about network and database security, and what can happen as our lives become increasingly wired and digitized. The premise is that someone has hacked their way into a MMOG and pulled off an in-game heist, thus triggering the involvement of a police sergeant, an unemployed software engineer, and a forensic accountant. The three characters are called in to investigate this crime and the chapters alternate between their perspectives.

Note that they are not the narrators -- that's because the entire book is written in the second person, a choice which some readers will absolutely hate. I didn't find it as grating as many reviewers did, but it certainly doesn't help the rather weak characterization). Unfortunately, the plot is awfully heavy with techie jargon and those who aren't network engineers or software developers (as the author has been), may find it rocky going. Similarly, the plot revolves around MMOGs and ARGs, and if you're not familiar with this kind of computer and live action gaming, you might get a little lost. In both cases, there are lots of nuances and inside jokes which will fly right over your head (I think I got about half of them).
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