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HaltingStateHere are my thoughts on Halting State, a near-future, online-gaming-detective-spooks romp by Charles Stross, at his social-trends-of-technology-extrapolating, the-geeks-will-inherit-the-earth best. The book contains, besides the novel of the title, an interesting interview with Charlie, where he explains some of the story, including the title pun. No, I won't spoil your, er, enjoyment...

The story kicks off when Sergeant Sue Smith from the Edinburgh Police force is called to a robbery at Hayek Associates, who have their headquarters set up in a former nuclear bunker. And the robbery took, of course, not place there,  it happened at the Prestige Level Central Bank in Avalon Four, an MMORPG, and reeks of espionage, insider trading, and industrial-level hacking. Dealing with the Real-World implications of an online-robbery - it takes the police a few minutes to get their head around this (as has happened IRL!).

But there's more, of course, as we learn when Elayne Barnaby, a forensic Accountant from Dietrich Brunner Associates (who vetted the Hayek Associates Boards prior to the recent IPO) and her pet games developer Jack Reed, recently sacked under strange circumstances, step onto the scene and start poking about.

I won't spoil your enjoyment of reading the story by revealing more, the plot is well executed, executes (sorry!) some interesting twists and turns, and is well worth following. The writing is quite information-dense, although it sounds nothing as bad as the augmented-reality overlay that the police (and other) forces get in their specs. And games are being played on ever so many levels (this, and only this, reminded me of Banks' 'Player of Games').

The story plays on one of Charlie's strengths, namely the extrapolation of near-future social implications of new and already existing technologies. Things are frequently not used for what they were intended for by the developers and techies, but are used and abused to rather different ends by the unwashed masses once they've been released into  the wild.
We also get a good dose of the virtual (as: in the computer) penetrating the 'real' (that distinction, we are clearly shown, is a fallacy when technology becomes neigh-omnipresent), these things just won't stay separate (Zen Koan: meditate on the Slug's comment on reality, as reported in 'Accelerando'). Stross looks deeper into the connections and interfaces between physical and virtual reality than most. There are several classic examples in the story - the online game 'Spooks', for example, has its real-world players execute real-world tasks as part of the game. And 'Team Red', the other side in the bigger picture of what's really going on (no, read it for yourself), appear to be playing a computer game, with very little realization that the other side are 'real', breathing humans. A lot like modern warfare, where soldiers move cross hairs over a blinking dot on the screen, and press a button...

The technology in use is very recognizable; part of it is available now, part of it derives directly from where we are at the moment. Most notable are the 'Copspace' VR-overlay specs the police & other forces use; the online worlds of 'Zonespace', where a number of MORPGs are connected (each of them in its own 'shard', with rules of what you can move from one game to the other, or not), and the distributed storage of encrypted data on participants smartphones. Google for 'safe storage in the cloud' to get all the hype on that one, eh?

The whole thing is suffused in Geekery, not just the fact that technology is even more pervasive (and thus, in the end, dangerous) to society, but also generally in the language employed. A classic example from a chapter title (each chapter follows one of the protagonists): Jack: Mouth->Insert(Foot);.
Overall it's a writing style that should not cause any problems for today's kids, but clearly excludes most of our parents' generation. And the intrusions of Scots accent, especially on part of Sergeant Smith, are something one gets used to after a while...

Get it? Read it? Absolutely, you will be entertained by one of the best.

Title: Halting State
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Orbit
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 2007
Review Date: 100102
ISBN: 9781841496658
Price: 7.99
Pages: 376
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Online Gaming

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