Elf M.'s Reviews > Halting State

Halting State by Charles Stross
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

Halting State is a fascinating swerve: it's a Scottish Police Procedural set twenty minutes into the future, it has three character POV's, and it's entirely written in the second person.

But it's a superveniary second person: Stross successfully captures the mindstate of someone playing a first person shooter, combined with an esoteric puzzler, all told with his characteristic pyrotechnically precise voice. The plot is fairly straightforward: Officer Smith is called in on a bank robbery, only she learns that the bank was in a World-of-Warcraft-like massively multiplayer online role-playing game that exists only on the shared cloud-processing platforms of game subscribers, the theives were an army of Orcs backed by a dragon for heavy firepower, and they escaped through an illegal immigration tunnel from one MMO to another.

Which is silly until the nerds reveal that the total worth of what was in the bank amounts to almost many millions of euros. When that much value disappears out of anyone's bank, heads roll. Oh, and the top programmer at the job has gone missing.

What follows is a three-part song and dance between our cop, a forensic accountant from a company that insures the bank, and the forensic accountant's recently acquired pet nerd and gaming expert. There are twists and turns and Stross does a marvelous job of adding up a great many columns of facts and figures to tell it.

If the book has a problem, it's that in order to make it seem more interesting than it is, Stross has to pretend that code management tools for MMOs exist more or less in the same strata as the game itself: in order to debug a code problem, our heroes must fight their way through demons and Lovecraftian horrors. At the same time, the ending fight scene is so pedestrian and absurd, and oh, you saw that coming a mile away, didn't you?

But it's a great ride. And you get to sit in the head and look out the eyeballs of the heros, and Stross does a pretty good job of giving you an appreciable feel for each one of them.

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