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Book Note: Charles Stross, Halting State

I read this book about 5-Nov-2007. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2007. This note was last modified Wednesday, 07-Nov-2007 11:08:56 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Near-future, in an independent Scotland, the police get a report of a bank robbery. It took place in a gaming world, that the company reporting it is paid to stabilize the economy of. And there turn out to be national security implications. We've got three bodies so far, assuming they're right about the missing person never having existed for real.

Lovely and a bit weird set of cover quotes; the front has William Gibson and the New York Times, back has Vernor Vinge, John Carmack (lead designer on Doom and Quake), and Bruce Schneier.

We've got quantum computing, and big bandwidth, and ubiquitous wireless, and Copspace, where your criminal record floats over your head. And a lot of Scottish dialect.

Not that futurism is the point of SF in general or Charles Stross in particular, but he does nail the point that the infrastructure of the Internet is startlingly insecure, and we're becoming more and more dependent on it.

And, like rather an epidemic of books lately, it's told in a strange mode. In this case the gimmick is second person present tense. I thought only authors of choose-your-own-adventure books and amateur pornography made that mistake, but here we see a major author committing it. He has said online that there's a payoff near the end that makes the whole thing justifiable, but even alerted to it and watching for it, I can't find it.

I suspect it's the fault of English teachers who told students they "can't" write a book that way. But, in the end, the fault lies with the author who did it (and the editor who let him; not credited in the Ace hardcover edition).

So, throughout the whole book, I've got this voice going "ouch!" in the back of my head pretty much every time I see the word "you".

I've got Will Shetterly's Gospel of the Knife sitting waiting, even though I got it as a free ebook (and ebook is my preferred form), and even though I thought Dogland was very good, because I just can't bring myself to pick it up. Particularly after how stilted the prose sound when he read from it at Uncle Hugo's. Will says he did it for valid artistic reasons, too, but I may never find out if I agree with him. (Seeing what he wrote on it in his blog makes me think he did it as a stunt.)

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David Dyer-Bennet