In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls Hugo winner Charles Stross’ novel Halting State a “brilliantly conceived techno-crime thriller.”
The year is 2012, and China, India, and the United States are waging an infowar for economic domination. With innocent gamers mere pawns in the hands of electronic intelligence agencies, programmer Jack Reed is tasked with ferreting out the plot of those who would gladly trade global turmoil for personal gain.
©2007 Charles Stross (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
“The act of creation seems to come easily to Charles Stross... [He] is peerless at dreaming up devices that could conceivably exist in 6, 60, or 600 years.” (New York Times)
"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....The effortless transformation of today's technological frustrations into tomorrow's nightmare realities is all too real for comfort. (Publishers Weekly)
I enjoy hard science fiction particularly when it comes in very long books or multiple book series -- with one or more of the following themes: modern space operas, complex storylines, detective or noir/cyberpunk overtones, cascading clever thoughts/dialogue and/or military. This has led me to works by Peter F. Hamilton (Void Trilogy, Greg Madel Series), Dan Simmons (Hyperion), Alastair Reynolds (Revelation Space Trilogy, Terminal World), Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon) and most recently Charles Stross.
Halting State and Rule 34 are a swirling, clever, funny and very complex pair of police procedurals done just enough into the future to look at the next big thing in social engineering, computing, communications and just about anything else you can imagine.
I initially found it hard to get into the three rotating storylines and the fact that the narration is, oddly, in the second person -- but it was worth the work to do so. If you start the read, stay with it. It is like a fantastic rollercoaster that is always running just a bit above your comprehension. Fun is made of corporate-speak, internet over-connection and geeks galore -- but at the bottom this is a rock solid procedural with a clever and appealing set of smart characters.
The initial mechanism of a bank robbery of a bank that exists only within an online game should not deter those who are not gaming fans....it is just a first step. The fun begins with the FANTASTIC Scottish dialect (and absolutely tremendous performance by the reader) and will sweep you away as the twists and turns look like a cross between HOMELAND and a LaCarre novel. I have moved these two book up to my top ten list -- and hope that we get a wee bit more in the future.
CS has unleashed a real winner with Halting State. Set in the near future, the author combines the worlds of online gaming and cyber-espionage with a unique multi-1st person narrative style. Both worlds are evolved in ways that are not only quite convincing, but also reveal a keen sense of where things are going. For example, the fact that online games develop a level of complexity that requires independent companies to manage ingame economic stability in order to maintain a level of "fun" by the participants rings true as outlined. What begins as an apparent farce, the robbery of an online game bank (in the gamespace) is slowly revealed to portend dramatic ramifications.
The characters are believable and engaging each in their own way. The twists and turns, along with the many surprises, both inside and outside the gaming world make for a riveting tale. Most near future sci-fi tends to minimally extrapolate current trends with sci-fi elements relegated to batman "utility belt" gimmicks; Halting State manages to leap ahead without leaving the reader behind and produces a world one can imagine existing in the next several years that is substantially different from our own, but still quite recognizable.
The narrator also deserves special kudos for pulling off a reading of a story set in Scotland where the accents are authentic, but easily understood and not overwhelming.
I wish Robert Ian MacKenzie would read all of Stross's work. The combination is impeccable. His accent is a bit thick, but perfectly tuned to the works. (This, and Rule 34.)
Great voices, great reading.
I was hoping for something with the style and depth that Neal Stephenson brought to Snow Crash. It wasn't even close. The story is told from multiple perspectives shifting between three' maybe four characters, without warning and just in case the reader is unable to follow the story, the writer finds the need to recap events throughout the story perhaps 8 times. The story takes place a little ways into the future and relies heavily on descriptions of current state of art technology. These will be dated in few years. In the end, the writer had to explain what took place. And, yes it was necessary.
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