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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

“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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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2 Smart Books Well Worth the Listen - Great Reader

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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Can the story survive the narration?

Probably not.

Dear Robert Ian MacKenzie, please do something else with your life. You are one of the worst narrators to have given it a shot...and kudos for trying, but unlike your friends, I will tell you the truth: you can't do this job.

Dear Charles Stross, you really need to take a deeper interest in the business of your life. You are a great writer, but you would have been better off reading this yourself. Your writing is buried here. Please get your books redone. Continuous rising intonation and surprise can not be used for story telling. It's funny in a surprising way for about three minutes.

A glorious story with deep truths about our world. Buy the paper or Kindle.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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An excellent listen with a dynamite plot

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ed G
  • United States
  • 09-21-17

A Challenging Listen

As is usual for a book by Charles Stross, this one is very dense with detail. If you're distracted for even a moment, you should go back and listen to what you missed. It's likely that there was something important and Mr. Stross will probably not repeat it.

I listened to this book twice in a row. Finished it and went right back to the beginning. I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed the story and the second time I got much more from it.

Much of the story takes place in an online game, and the book is written in a POV game style. I'm not a gamer, but even I chuckled at things like "You are in a small room, a large desk takes up three sides..." There are three "player" characters. This took some getting used to, but I ended up liking it.

Halting State was written in 2007 and the author didn't get our present quite right (phones and iPods still separate devices for example), but nothing so flagrantly wrong that it's too distracting.

I am certainly no expert of Scottish accents, but I think the narrator did an excellent job.

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POV its only flaw

This would have been absolutely amazing if Stross had only used 1st or 3rd person. Addressing the reader personally makes it harder for me to stay in the story.

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  • Norman
  • Pearl River, LA, United States
  • 01-16-17

My favorite book

Any additional comments?

Near future sci-fi, with new variants on crime, computing and living, that are not just plausible but seem prophetic. The characters are real and would be great friends. the follow up book is not as good but Charlie Stross writes great initial books.

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Fun, technical, with just enough thrills

Any additional comments?

This turned out to be clever, satirical, well-plotted SF/techno-thriller. I'm glad I kept reading despite my difficulty in getting into the book at first. Stross has used three POV characters and each line is told in the second person, a POV I haven't seen much since my "choose your own adventure" days. Moreover, with it told from the second person as if you were three different characters, it is all the more disorienting as you leap from Elaine (a forensic accountant with a medieval battle reenactment hobby), to Sue (a tough-minded Scottish police sergeant), to Jack (an insecure, unemployed game programmer). It helps that you get to like all three characters and that Stross has a good eye for the humor in our technological present and future, and a definite fondness for gamers and everyone's desire to escape their reality. The story is a little convoluted, but it still mostly makes sense and is complex in a believable way. Perhaps the highest praise I can give was I really wanted to know what happened to some of the characters after the story ended. If you like William Gibson-esque tech, but want a little Vonnegut humor and flair, you could do worse than Halting State.

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  • Ryan
  • BEAVERTON, OR, United States
  • 07-11-16

Not one of Stross's best books

Overall, an interesting book -- great idea, but not very well written. I'm very into the cypherpunk/anarcho-capitalist core plot (although Daniel Suarez's Daemon/Freedom did a much better job of it), and the Scottish setting is interesting, but ironically since a lot of the plot centered around video games, the writing/characters seemed as thinly developed as most characters in video games. Not sure if the later books in the series are better; from what I've heard, Stross is a good author, so maybe read another of his books instead.

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sorry to see it end

tough going at first (starts with 3 separate narratives), but came together nicely. Loved the Scottish flavor.

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Tame Police Procedural

I failed to engage with this novel at even the most superficial level so as to be able to follow the story. I blame myself. I did listen to the entire novel and even started the sequel before punching out on the series. It is in that frame of mind that I write this review. When I started the book, I was excited to discover another novel exploring the concept of virtual reality—hopefully in the nerdy vein of Daniel Suarez’ DAEMON, Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE, or Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH. But this book is more of a police procedural, going about solving a crime that just happens to have taken place in cyber-space, and not at all an attempt to give the listener a sense of immersion into a virtual world.

The decision of the author Charles Stross to tell the tale in second person is—intentionally or not—disorienting and distancing and therefore not entirely successful. There is no identifiable protagonist, or maybe there is a new main character in every chapter. I am confused. Each chapter is told from the view-point of a different character and the second person “you” forces the listener to constantly change perspective and, on this audiobook, if you aren’t paying close attention at the start of each new section, you don’t know who “you” are supposed to be. More than once I did not know if “I” was supposed to be experiencing the story through the eyes of a woman until “I” reached for “my” lipstick. I think that this second person narration was the biggest obstacle preventing me from engaging with the novel.

When I first began the book I was thrilled to hear the heavy Scottish brogue of Robert Ian MacKenzie. It reminded me of Monty Python. In fact the reading is so Pythonesque as to be a distraction. I just couldn’t take the book seriously. I did keep listening until the end because MacKenzie is easy on the ears and some of his pronunciations are worth a rewind. But his accent amounts to what I can only label a language barrier. So, the heavy Scottish accent, the second persond narration, and the rather tame approach to virtual reality resulted in a dissatisfying time for me.

As to the plot—I gather that there has been some sort of cyber crime, committed within a massive multi-player online game. Now, as to how they go about investigating the crime and whether or not they solved it, don’t ask me. After listening to the whole book, I honestly cannot give you a single one of the character’s names or recount for you even the most simplistic outline of the story. That is how detached I was from this book.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful