Charles Stross – Halting State

I’ve mentioned Charlie Stross a few times before, and he’s earned his place on my mental list of authors whose new books I need to get hold of as soon as possible. This one first came out in a trade paperback edition[1], and I hesitated long enough for the normal (and cheaper) version to come out, despite it sounding like exactly the sort of thing I’d enjoy. And you know, I really shouldn’t have waited. This is good, seriously geeky stuff.

It’s set in a near-future, post-independence Scotland, where technology has moved on in some interesting ways. People wear “specs” that capture images, provide information overlays and the whole mobile internet thinginess. And the gaming industry has moved to meet the new toys, with games played out in real locations. Well, at least the gamers get some exercise while being annoying. :laugh:

Anyway, the police, in the form of Sergeant Sue Smith, are called to a crime scene: there’s been a robbery at  Hayek Associates. Only it turns out that the robbery involved the quite impossible theft of digital assests from a popular online game. Sounds like a waste of time, but it’s taken seriously enough for a major investigation. And when real people start getting killed, it’s clear that something big is going on…

The story is told from multiple viewpoints, in the rarely used second person. Some reviewers had a hard time with following this, despite the different personalities clearly coming through[2]. I suspect they missed a trick here – I think Charlie is deliberately referencing text-based adventure games

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike…

And twisty[3] is exactly what the story is. There’s some major trouble brewing, and it turns out that some games are more real than the players could ever have guessed.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. If you’re even slightly geeky, you’re going to enjoy this. If you’re more of a gaming geek than I am, you’ll probably adopt it as your sacred text. It’s funny, clever, and makes me want even more from Charlie.

This being a modern type of book, the paperback comes with DVD-style special features, including an interview with the author in which he makes clear that his intention was to write a book for a geek audience[4], and talks about where the technology ideas came from. Also worth reading.

[1] One of those odd hybrids – hardback size, soft cover, price somewhere in between. Often seen at airports.
[2] Not to mention each chapter having a title beginning with the viewpoint character’s name. Bit of a clue, that.
[3] No, not you, Twisty!
[4] Woo hoo!