Monday, March 10, 2008

Halting State - Charles Stross

Halting State
Charles Stross

Science Fiction/Mystery/Techno Thriller

The Edinburgh constabulary is already short-handed when Sgt. Sue Smith gets a call about a robbery. Arriving at the scene – denoted by a revolving red diamond overhead – Sue finds an old bunker occupied by a game company. They show her the video capture of the crime. The criminals entered the main bank and looted cash and items from security boxes. The criminals were a war party of Orcs backed up by a dragon.

Initially, Sue discounts the real severity of this cybercrime. Then she realizes that by undermining the in-game economy, the thieves may be able to undermine the company’s stock prices, which, in turn, could affect the market as a whole. Another possibility is that the thieves are some kind of new technospy, looking to take down the electronic infrastructure.

At the underwriter’s firm, Elaine, an insurance adjuster, is on the case. Her company’s position is simple. They want to pay out as little as possible (preferably nothing) in insurance claims for this crime. Despite her gaming prowess, Elaine quickly realizes that she’s out of her depth, technologically speaking. So she hires Jack for that side of things. Jack was recently remaindered (laid off) from his job and recruited for this one.

The email that recruits Jack kicks off the story, and it’s darkly funny, a little scary, and all too possible. The way the world works in this novel, set in 2018, with everyone virtually connected in real time, seems quite realistic. Readers do not have to be technocrats to understand the story. If you’re reading this, you know more than enough about cyberspace to enjoy the plot.

The story is told from three points of view: Sue’s, Elaine’s, and Jack’s. Far from being confusing, this allows the reader to see the story through three different sets of eyes, giving a more complete picture. The book is written in second person, which is unusual enough (for me) to be uncomfortable at first, but that’s quickly past as the events of the story take over. Like his previous book, GLASSHOUSE, HALTING STATE is one of those rare books that entertains while giving a glimpse of a plausible future.

Rating: 8
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-441-01498-9 (hardcover)


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