Daily Archives: August 4, 2009

Review: Halting State by Charles Stross

Halting StateMy rating: 4.5  of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Halting State, but that probably won’t be universally true. If you don’t have a hook into the world, I think you might find it difficult to be drawn in. I’d still encourage anyone willing to stretch to give reading it a try

In the year 2018, Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in on a special case. A daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates, a dot-com startup company that’s just been floated on the London stock exchange. The suspects are a band of marauding orcs, with a dragon in tow for fire support, and the bank is located within the virtual reality land of Avalon Four. For Smith, the investigation seems pointless. But she soon realizes that the virtual world may have a devastating effect in the real one-and that someone is about to launch an attack upon both…

If you are a gamer (computer, D&D, anything of the sort); if you are a technology fan, wondering where we’ll go next; if you are fascinated by the implications of technology on society; or if you read science fiction on a regular basis, then you’ll probably enjoy this book. If you like a good spy novel/techno thriller, I  recommend you take the time to get into this book.

Otherwise, I just don’t know if this book will be worth it to you. But consider giving it a try.

Luckily,  I used to be a techie, and I’m still very interested in the issues surrounding technology.  I knew enough of the acronyms and concepts to be interested and able to go with it.

I had a slow time getting started with my reading. It felt like the same issue I have getting into Jane Austen– sometimes I can quickly slip into the language and the world, and sometimes it takes a while before the story flows. It certainly isn’t that it is badly written, just that it is different from what I usually read.

The book is set in 2018, and in many ways this view of the future is very similar to our current society.  High tech has been on a fast march, and once you look past the surface, evidence is everywhere.  All of the changes are based from current technologies, whether it is the increase in sophistication in on-line multi-player computer gaming, Virtual Reality goggles that allow you to add an additional layer as you walk down the street,  or remotely operated taxis to drive you to your destination.

The book is told from 3 alternating POVs– Sue (a police officer), Elaine (a forensic accountant) & Jack (a game programmer). Their viewpoints allow us to understand the world the story is set in, and introduced us to the other characters.  None of them had any prior knowledge of the crime they are tracking down, and the further secrets behind it, so we learn about what has happened as they do.

This isn’t a character-based book, but the three leads are fairly well fleshed out.

Once the background is out of the way the story really gets going, and it goes into full adventure mode– with chases, virtual battles, dangerous mistakes, giant leaps of logic, boy meets girl moments, and so on.

I found Halting State fun and mentally stimulating.

I read this for my Book Club M.  I think all of us present enjoyed it, although I would have been interested in hearing the view of our member who was on vacation and does not fall into any of the categories I listed above.

We spent some of our discussion time talking about how plausible the time frame of the book was, we didn’t convince each other in the end, but walking away with divergent viewpoints is fine.  The conversation drifted to technology in our lives, how much we do (or don’t) trust it, and where we thought high tech would take us.

I think this book was a good choice for our Silicon Valley based book club, which enjoys reading a wide variety of books.


Posted by on August 4, 2009 in Book Club, books, M, reviews


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