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Halting State by Charles Stross

August 8, 2008

Set in Edinburgh in the near future, Halting State is a police procedural that will be recognisable to fans of crime fiction. The story starts with a bank robbery, which turns out to be connected to even darker criminality.

So far so crime fiction. You’ll notice that quotes on this book’s cover come from Raph Koster, creator of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, and John Carmack, graphics engine writer for Id. So it’s not going to be an ordinary crime mystery.

Charles Stross is best know for sf works such as Accelerando or Singularity Sky. SF fans will be happy to know that the bank robbery takes place in an online game similar to World of Warcraft, and the company involved is one that specialising in providing space for players of such games to store their excess loot.

A company man panics and calls the police, who find themselves investigating alongside forensic accountants sent to ensure that all liability for the multi-million pound losses stays with the company and not its insurers.

It’s been over a decade since I moved to Australia from Scotland, so I enjoyed reading the Scots phrasing in Halting State. Gobshite is a word I haven’t heard for many years, as is boak.

The use of second person throughout the book is striking, and done very well. A difficult voice to write in (try it for yourself) across multiple characters involved in the story. Stross carries it off expertly.

Fans of online games will find a lot of this book interesting, tracking as it does a possible evolution of that genre from MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) to ARG (augmented reality games) that take place online and offline, though those boundaries are increasingly blurred.

Mysteries within mysteries kept me turning the pages of this one late into the night. Halting State is a great read.

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