Saturday, October 13, 2007


I've just finished the latest novel from Charles Stross, Halting State, and I wanted to jot down a few impressions of it before I get two weeks down the road and don't remember it as sharply.

It all starts with a robbery within a game. Avalon Four is a RPG that works on the players' phones and someone has managed to rob a bank in the game and make off with a fair amount of money's worth of treasure and so forth. It's set in Scotland ten years in the future and features a logical extension of today's technology in regards not only to games but to ubiquitous personal recording devices and driverless cars (driven by remote drivers via cameras) and all sorts of interesting bits. Naturally, the robbery turns out to be much more and along with a crackling plot, Stross takes a look at the issues involved as the world becomes more connected.

The novel is told in three view points - a cop (Sergeant Sue Smith), a forensic accountant (Elaine Barnaby), and a code monkey (Jack Reed) - and they weave around each other in various interactions (sometimes very interactive) and propel the plot forward. Interestingly, the book is written in second person. It's something you don't often see and I really noticed it in the early chapters before the characters' voices took over along with the plot. A very deliberate choice in a book about games.

I've read quite a bit of Stross's work and consider myself a fan (though I still have gaps). I think this is the best book he's written and won't be surprised to see it nominated for all the big SF awards next year. In the hands of a good director, it could make a great movie as well. You should read it.

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