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Halting State Hardcover – October 2, 2007
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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.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Reviewers expressed shock and awe at Charles Strosss imagined future, because its 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 (its 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.
Top Customer Reviews
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. I would actually recommend this book to anyone who was considering second person narrative.
Also, "Halting State" offers three point of view characters: Elaine, Sue, and Jack. This, combined with the second person, does prevent the characters from coming to life as readily as first or third-person.
Finally, Stross mixes geekspeak with a Scottish brogue thrown in. The mixed dialect he's created is sometimes cumbersome, but if you can hear the brogue in your head it's easily overcome and becomes almost lyrical.
I have two concerns related to this book. Foremost, "Halting State" should not just be pigeon-holed in science fiction--or even mystery. Literature might be a better classification to reach a wider audience.
Additionally, while I think Stross did very well breaking editorial convention in this novel, he may well also have severely limited its appeal. That is regrettable because the trends he touches on politically, technologically, and sociologically are well worth the read.
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.
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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