Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Halting State" by Charles Stross

(cover image from

I've had a lot of people recommend Halting State (2007) by Charles Stross, especially since I'm a computer gamer. But frankly, I had a hard time getting into it.

I've enjoyed his books before, but this one is written in a first-person stream-of-consciousness style that I really hated. Add to that the fact that I didn't really like the main characters (at first), and that one of them has a Scottish accent which is often rendered phonetically,... well, I kept putting the book down in disgust.

But my friends were right. Eventually, the book gets so entertaining that I didn't even notice these things anymore (and I started to care what happened to at least two of the main characters).

Unlike the last book I read, this one is about my kind of games. Oh, not exactly. I don't play multiplayer fantasy games, and I'm too old to have played Dungeons & Dragons as a tabletop game, but I... get those kinds of games. I understand the appeal of them, and I'm near enough to that kind of gaming to find all of this interesting.

Because, when the book starts, a dragon and a group of orcs have robbed a bank in a multiplayer fantasy game. Now, we don't get to see that, and the police officer initially assigned to the case knows nothing about such things - and isn't particularly thrilled to have her time wasted like this. (I really don't think the book starts off well.)

However, this is a big-money crime if you think about stock manipulation. (Even today - and this is set in a near-future Scotland - the video game industry is far bigger than the movie industry, for example.) And it turns out that there's far more going on here than we think at first.

I don't want to give away spoilers, so it's hard to talk about specifics, but there are a lot of neat twists to the story. But it didn't get interesting, not to me, for nearly a hundred pages. After that, I thought it was great, and I didn't want to put it down. But it took some perseverance, at first.

The characters get more appealing as time goes on, too - two of them, especially so. And the story is fascinating. It's not really about multiplayer computer games, not exactly. If you're not a game-player, don't worry, because this is mostly about white-collar crime and even international espionage. Yet game-players are involved, and... well, it's a neat combination.

I've been playing computer games for 25 years or so, and the changes have been immense. To me, 25 years doesn't seem like much, yet the advances in game technology - in computer technology in general - have been absolutely incredible. And I don't see much sign of things slowing down.

So even a glimpse of these games of the future, potentially, is really interesting to me. And so is the future of espionage - again, potentially. This world isn't as bleak as many near-future SF tales these days, though there are still dangers. I'm not sure if I'd call it optimistic, but it isn't pessimistic.

It's just lots of fun - once you get far enough into the book, at least.

PS. My other book reviews are here.

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