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Halting State
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Product Description

In the year 2018, Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in on a special case. A daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates, a dot-com startup company that's just been floated on the London stock exchange. The suspects are a band of marauding orcs, with a dragon in tow for fire support, and the bank is located within the virtual reality land of Avalon Four. For Smith, the investigation seems pointless. But she soon realizes that the virtual world may have a devastating effect in the real one-and that someone is about to launch an attack upon both...

Customer Reviews:

  • A fun, near future thriller

    In 2018, a bank robbery takes place in a bank in an online gaming world. The breach in security threatens the financial standing of the company running the game, so the police and the company's insurer come to investigate. The entire book is written in second person from the viewpoints of Sue Smith, the detective; Elaine Barnaby, the insurance investigator, and Jack Reed, a game developer hired as a consultant by Elaine's company. They soon discover that the robbery has bigger implications than just the gaming world.

    Initially, the most noticeable thing about the book is the second person viewpoint which is a little strange but makes sense given the gaming emphasis of the story, and I did not find it a distraction from reading the book. The story moved at a brisk pace, with enough suspense and action to keep me interested the whole time I was reading it. There is a lot of technical jargon in the book, which I did not mind, but which could be offputting to people without a computer background. The only thing I didn't find all that convincing or interesting was Jack's continuous angst about his personal life, which lead to an underwhelming revelation at the end. Still, this is a very good near future thriller....more info
  • terrific science fiction thriller
    In 2012 China, India and Europe battle to become the world's economic superpower due to the continuation of Bush economic policies. The United States faces federal bankruptcy as the debt can no longer be covered by foreign borrowing and no leader has the guts to raise taxes and cut spending.

    In England, Edinburgh Police Sergeant Sue Smith and London based forensic accountant Elaine Barnaby are looking at a complex convoluted scheme to abscond funds from the international company Hayek Associates. The unknown crook cleverly moves money through a virtual reality allegedly safe bank Avalon Four. Elaine realizes she needs a special programmer who can hack any system, but is too stupid to be more than a basement mushroom. She picks Jack Reed to catch a thief.

    This is a terrific science fiction thriller that paints a potentially realistic nightmare of the near future as the Bush legacy will prove to be an economic and technological wasteland. The fun in this delightful one sitting tale (in spite of it being 352 pages) is with the virtual world filled with fantasy species that irritate users. Effortlessly changing viewpoints between the lead trio so that readers observe the same issue from differing biases, HALTING STATE is a fabulous cautionary tale that warn s if we fail to act now, the American century will become real only in virtual reality fantasy games.

    Harriet Klausner
    ...more info
  • Pretty good, but too chewy -- fun ideas v. dense prose
    You'll like this: if you're a fan of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), a Live Action Role Player (LARPer), or other kind of geek gamer; if you are a Dilbert-with-an-edge software developer; if you are really, really into near-future Scottish police procedurals.

    The novel follows three characters through twists and turns after a bank robbery is pulled of in a multi-player online game, a sort of World of Warcraft on steroids. But who are the bad guys? What do they want? Why rip off a virtual bank? And do we really care?

    Stross does his usual good job of taking some interesting ideas(multiplayer game economics! reality overlays! cyber terrorist hi-jinks!) to their non-obvious conclusions. And this aspect is really fun, makes you think, gives you some "oho!" moments. But it's hard to get in gear with the story. First, the Scottish dialect and slang are nearly impenetrable. I bogged down several times, to the point where I wanted a heads-up display with instantaneous translation. "Two nations divided by a common language" is right -- if you're not a devoted Anglophile, be warned. And if you're not up on gaming concepts, or software development, you may be in for a similar problem. If you like Stross, you like dense text and new concepts that come thick and fast -- but this is at a whole new level.

    I didn't have any problem with the second person POV. It's a great twist on Zork-style text adventure computer games ("You enter a web page with book reviews. You notice that readers either loved or hated this novel. You see links leading to other pages glowing an eerie blue."), and very readable in the context of this book.

    The dense prose makes it hard to understand the nuances of what's going on, hard to get into the characters, and ultimately hard to care about the resolution.

    I loved Accelerando, and other works that Stross has done. I think I'd like an annotated version of this one better.

    ...more info
  • Fascinating prediction of the future, but flawed.
    Once you cut past the technical jargon and mumbo jumbo, the story itself isn't too bad. Essentially a computer geek (Jack) and an insurance adjuster (Elaine) get stuck in the middle of some high-tech extortion plan run by a few greedy people. They were "chosen" for this case because of their gaming skills (or as the author puts it, "mad skillz"). The book was rather tongue in cheek for most of the part, and I am not sure why the theme of beauty and the geek is almost pervasive among Sci-Fi techno novels. In this story, Jack is described as some fat, unshaven, and unwashed computer geek. In my mind, I am picturing Michael Moore or perhaps Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Elaine is described as a mousy woman of proportions similar to a librarian, with extensive training in sword play. In my mind, I pictured Kate Beckinsale with a huge sword (ala Underworld). Overall, the story was fun but a lot of the technical jargon and mumbo jumbo just got in the way. I found myself skipping paragraphs every so often....more info
  • Dull and slow
    I enjoyed "Toast" quite a bit. "Halting State", however, was slow and plodding and predictable. At least the first half was; I never made it to the second half. I gave up when the plot got too predictable and silly....more info
  • Refreshing originality, strange POV writing
    This book has many similarites to cheddar cheese: uniformly dense, sharp at first then dissolves into a certain creamy pleasure, yet uncomfortable with large doses. Maybe it even has similarites to three different types of cheese as this story is from the viewpoints of three individuals: Elaine, Sue, and Jack. Each has a interesting tinge to it but they all have a similar flatness which doesn't rank one above the other. I may have grown bored with the cyberpunk theme I was reading another cyberpunk novel at the time (Dream of Glass by Jean Mark Gawron). Halting State is an oddball in the cyberpunk world as it takes place in such a near future... and is completely believable! It's so believable that I actually kind of wish RPGs would be more like this so that I could get into the scene. I don't play RPGs now nor did I when I was younger, but this novel puts ideas inmy head about the future realm of RPGs and it intrigues me very much!

    This is my first Stross novel and I wasn't taken back by his writting styles like I am by other current Scottish SF authors. Stross offers a working-man's style of writing, while not bad, is often distracting. He tends to mix points-of-view in narration, using first person POV but having the characters call themselves 'you.' I found this distracting and led me to read another book... but in the end I liked the novel for its originality....more info
  • Function lost in form
    I was so angry about the time and money that I had wasted on this book that I broke a personal precedent to write this, my first book review. I normally read science fiction purely for pleasure and relaxation, and have never tried to play "English Major" with my selections.

    I struggled through 150pp of Mr. Stross' book before I finally put it down in disgust. It was taking an extraordinary amount of time to read, and I could not remember from session to session who the characters were, and what the story was about.

    The author's silly literary device of describing each character's activities in the second person was driving me crazy. (From the start of each of the first three chapters - each from the viewpoint of a different character: "You're four hours into your shift..."; " You are an armchair"; " it's off to work you go"). If I broke in the middle of a chapter, and returned later, I would have no idea whose viewpoint I was now reading.

    Such an affected approach - devoid of objective context or reference - is distracting enough, but the author further muddies the mess by over-using another literary card trick: long single-sentence rambles through dozens of loosely-connected thoughts. After 10 or 15 lines, and at least that many phrases, I would find myself with no clear idea of what point the writer just made. It reminded me of some of the more tedious legal documents that I encountered in my business career.

    If you enjoy structure over content, and your intellect is tickled by unusual approaches to telling stories, then perhaps you may find enjoyment here. Personally, I like to flow with a book, caught up in its cadence, action, and characters. Reading this was like trying to flow down a river full of rocky rapids. "Halting State" is a good description of the book itself.
    ...more info
  • Near Future Perfect
    It takes serious guts to try and speculate on what the near future might look like. Not many authors try, but Stross does it with care. It is not easy to depart from the comfortable realm of the space opera and I congratulate Stross for doing so in this interesting story....more info
  • Satirical Gimmicks didn't save it
    The second person perspective is annoying and distracting at the best of times and completely ruins the narrative at others. It was an attempt to bring back the 1st and 2nd generations of role-playing video games when they game told you what you were doing, and it annoyed me then too. The most interesting chapter is the bit about the digital heist. The rest of the book seemed to go on and on about which character done it. The chapter character switches made it impossible for me to care one way or another about any of the characters. Skip this one. There is far better sci-fi satire/cyber-punk....more info
  • Don't use second person point of view
    I wanted to like this book, I really did, but neither my wife nor myself could get more than a few pages into it. The constant use of the second person point of view: "You enter the room"..."you laugh evilly" jarring and reminds me of cheap SF comics of the 50s and badly written online adventure games.

    We're book junkies but this one is being returned. My wife got maybe 25 pages into it, warned me and I flipped through it and chucked the idea of trying to fight through the POV.

    The premise is great, the ideas look cool, the future civilization might be enthralling to discover and we both really long to read it if it ever gets re-written....more info
  • Near future crime - worth a read
    I have to say I enjoyed this outing in near future Scotland. This is a mystery novel crossed with gaming and spy themes. It starts out a little slow, but not slow enough to make me want to stop reading.

    When Jack Reed is made redundant from his job he goes on a bender in Amsterdam only to sent speedily back home by the local police. When he gets back he finds himself rehired rather more quickly than expected by accountants of all people.

    This book has all the characters written from a first person point of view. Its not something I've seen used often in SciFi but in this case the author has managed to pull it off well.

    If you like mysteries and thrillers this book is worth picking up for a read from an author who is proving both prolific and readable.

    ...more info
  • A really pleasant surprise
    I encountered to this book in the course of an hour-long hunt through cross-references ("people who bought this book also bought..."), best-seller lists, etc. looking for something new and good in the vein of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, etc. - a work by an author who really gets how the present works and the near future is likely to work, and can be truly, literarily creative with it. I ordered it expecting something decent, and found that I had received a real gem. Not only is the tech background super-solid (it helps if you're a sysadmin, but if not, no worries), but the writing is great - the dialog and internal monologues are as sardonic and humorous as, say, Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaason, or John Sandford. Finally, dear God, it's set in Scotland and reads like Ian Rankin tartan noir. What's not to like?...more info
  • halting state
    This was the first book I had read by this author and I immediately bought 3 more. He writes well written clever original varied science fiction with engaging characters...more info
  • Great story.


    An insider decides to bet against a startup company's success. In the process, he compromises Scotland's entire digital infrastructure. It's up to spies in training - who actually think they've been playing a game - to save the day.

    This is the sort of story that's close enough to today's boom-and-bust markets and emerging digital world to be entirely believable. It's written to keep your attention to the end. There is an odd bit where some EU police show up like a Deus ex Machina to move the plot along a little, but that was about the only bit that really left me going "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?"

    I wish the Scottish police had actually been Laughing Joker Security, but you can't have everything - the book is set close enough to the present to make it hard to imagine completely privatized policing.

    The book has a great epilogue: you'll never see spam the same way ever again.

    One last thing: around page 240, or so, the author has a go at the US. In his world, the EU, China, and Russia are all going great guns, while the US is enfeebled and off the world stage. This *is* a work of fiction, so, ok. When you look at the demographics for those parts of the world however, you see that he's actually whistling past the graveyard. I mention this because I've now read three books in the past six months where an author has taken a similar swipe at the US - Chris Moriarty and Richard Morgan being the other two. It's almost as if they believe the propaganda on the Beeb....more info
  • You repeatedly find yourself wondering if you should bother finishing the book.
    Like so much of Stross' work, HALTING STATE alternates between excitingly imaginative and annoyingly ... well, just plain annoying.

    As everyone else has noted, HALTING STATE is a sort of crime/suspense novel in which our three heroes must somehow solve a mystery that initially seems silly and trivial yet becomes deeper and more serious with every chapter ... or every fifth chapter, anyway.

    The story unfolds through alternation between three protagonists -- Jack the hacker, Elaine the forensic accountant, and Sue the cop. This is done through chapters written in the second person (e.g., "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike"), which, at least formally, places the reader in each of the characters' roles, as if the book itself were a type of role-playing game (RPG), like the RPG in which the focal crime takes place.

    The most innovative and enjoyable aspect of the novel is the notion that, in the near future, life will become like a chaotic collision of multiple RPGs, each with its own version of reality. Elaine the accountant shuttles between virtual meetings with her co-workers and "facials" (face-to-face meetings) but she also dips into the SPIES RPG and other alternate realities, often moving from one to the other with little boundary between. It's not that "life is a but a game" is a new idea, but it's never been done before (to my knowledge) with MMORPGs in as a model.

    What's annoying about the novel are the second person storytelling, which makes the storytelling awkward without adding anything, the relatively slow plot development that results from the frequent switches in point-of-view (it's all second-person, but the persons differ), the jokey hacker references (which include the "twisty little passages" bit above, referring to the original text "Adventure" game that many of us played in the 1970s and 1980s), Sue's thick Scottish dialect (which Ian MacLeod has handled much better in some of his novels), and the cutesy awkwardness with which he handles most of his female characters. The ridiculousness of the (don't ask) spy subplot (not the computer security issues, but the politics) isn't really annoying, even if it is disappointing.

    I didn't get hooked until about halfway through the book. I DID get hooked, however, and I DO recommend finishing the book even if you have difficulty slogging through the first ten or so chapters. Stuff does happen, the mystery becomes more interesting, and while I can't say whether or not the nerd gets the (sort of) babe, the romantic byplay adds some spice to the mix.

    You probably want something more consistently entertaining for a vacation read, but if you're a Stross fan or a SCI-FI-y MMORPG fan, HALTING STATE is worth kicking around the house for a week or so....more info
  • Eerily prophetic and hard to put down
    In 1973, I read George Orwell's "1984" in one sitting with my hair standing on end. I won't beleaguer this review with how prophetic some of Orwell's content is, you can probably come up with a few examples before you finish reading this review.

    It's a strange and unnerving coincidence I just read "Halting State" 11 years from the time the story takes place in 2018 and yes--in one sitting with my hair standing on end. I definitely think the world Stross is proposing is possible, perhaps even probable.

    The plot---Edinburgh detective Sue is called out on a robbery case only to discover the victim is a corporation and the robbery took place inside a computer game. She's about to dismiss the case when she realizes the theft could have serious market implications.

    Enter Elaine Barnaby, a forensic accountant for the firm's underwriter who's there to prove that the firm was somehow negligent so her employer doesn't have to pay the inevitable claims. She quickly realizes that her live action role playing (LARP) experience does not qualify her to examine a bank in a game world. Jack Reed, recently unemployed game programmer, is hired to serve as her decoder and native guide.

    The three quickly discover the theft is just the beginning. The thieves' motivation could be anything from stock market manipulation to taking down the grid. The novel moves at a brisk pace with very little time for a breather in between events.

    Stross deliberately challenged many of the writing conventions in "Halting State." First, the novel's written in second person--referring to characters as 'you.' Initially, the tense seemed accusatory and offputting; however, once I got into the plot of the book, 'you' became irrelevant. I would actually recommend this book to anyone who was considering second person narrative.

    Also, "Halting State" offers three point of view characters: Elaine, Sue, and Jack. This, combined with the second person, does prevent the characters from coming to life as readily as first or third-person.

    Finally, Stross mixes geekspeak with a Scottish brogue thrown in. The mixed dialect he's created is sometimes cumbersome, but if you can hear the brogue in your head it's easily overcome and becomes almost lyrical.

    I have two concerns related to this book. Foremost, "Halting State" should not just be pigeon-holed in science fiction--or even mystery. Literature might be a better classification to reach a wider audience.

    Additionally, while I think Stross did very well breaking editorial convention in this novel, he may well also have severely limited its appeal. That is regrettable because the trends he touches on politically, technologically, and sociologically are well worth the read. ...more info
  • Fun and Games
    Here's a book that's great fun. It's not one of the great books, but I can't picture a science fiction fan that won't enjoy it.

    Like several of Stross' books it blends technology, expanded into the future, and economics. In this case it is computer gaming on a mega scale, tied into a rather classic genre mystery novel. Quite simply, a theft takes place in a game, and the heroes set out to find out who-done-it. There is a pleasant recognition that this society may be the way the world's heading.

    Stross often seems to try to set himself a literary task in his writing, and this time it's telling the story from the second person point of view of three different individuals whose lives become linked by the crime. What happens is predictable but the nerd in us will love the way he intertwines the story with technical aspects of on-line gaming (and other computer technology) carried out to the ultimate degree. Moreover, each of three main characters is likable so that we root for them right from the beginning. By rotating between the points of view of these characters the author is able to hold to hold back critical information for a little while, and then, again and again, give us the burst of pleasure that comes from recognizing what's going on.

    Along the way Stross gets to satirize many aspects of society from the way policepersons think to the long term consequences of a united (and divided) Europe. At the same time, we recognize that many aspects of human behavior, like organizational politics, never seem to change.

    Have some fun. Read "Halting State".
    ...more info
  • Good start, but disappointing overall
    The starting premise is enough to carry the story through the first half of the book, but it disintegrates from there. The last quarter of the book is rushed and stumbles along into an unsatisfying ending. The book is worth reading, but it won't wind up on your shelf for a later second reading. I recommend getting a used copy of the paperback....more info
  • Goes too far, and not far enough
    There's a good novel in here, and it's a good novel that Stross could write, but sadly it gets buried under a heaping pile of avant-garde excess. This novel is only peripherally about theft in an MMORPG, but by the time it gets into the really weird infowar stuff, the 'so strange it has to be true' futurism that Stross excels at it, the book is beyond the point of recovery.

    Stross's choice of second-person tense is daring, but doesn't pay off. The language is just too damaged to carry the story as it should. All the ideas that I expected were there, but finding the pearls in this novel was too much work. For once, Stross dodges the hard questions that he raised, like what augmented reality means about buying into someone else's world view and what economic warfare actually means in globalized world. The more terrifying implications of an intelligence agency that regards every citizen of the country as an agent are similarly glossed over. I was not satisfied by his explanation of immigration in a virtual world, and the exchange rates between games and the real world, another rich topic for the novel.

    Finally, the depiction of the games didn't ring true for me. Games aren't about fun, they're about accomplishment. Vanqish the demon, conquer the world, prove your awesome shooter skills, it's all about an easily achievable goal so you can bump your motivation complex. There's some fairly deep psychology involved with why we play games, and Stross chooses to talk about that on a very shallow level.

    In the end, this novel is too ambitious, not nearly fleshed out enough, and not up to Stross's usual standards. I'd only recommend this to the cyberpunk completist or fans of ergodic literature. Try Glasshouse or The Atrocity Archives instead....more info
  • Gaming Thriller
    A fun thriller that taxed my knowledge of games.

    Well to be honest, I don't know a thing about reality gaming. I've only played with the Sims. Stross approached the fear of technology and its entanglement in our lives from the inside. The characters don't want to go backward. But they are forced to become super aware of what price they are paying as they go forward. The book races forward and you have to hang on! I read the book in two sittings.

    It was interesting to read in relationship to his books "Singularity Sky" and "Accelerando". While those books begin in our time, they extend to the proposed 'Singularity' (read Vinge for context). This novel is set completely in the near future. The characters' devices are still mobile phones, PDAs, and laptop computers--that is, they are discrete devices. The devices have not quite yet become an essential part of everyone's memory. The characters are only just realizing how much of their memory is stored in an external device made of silicon chips. An older writer might have written this as a modern horror story. Instead, these characters accept the change in their electronic landscape.

    OH, and I loved the political barbs in the story! ...more info
  • What scary things are people really doing on the internet???
    Want to know what people spend all that time on the internet doing? Many are creating virtual worlds with characters named after themselves. Halting State is an absorbing novel about a bank robbery in that virtual world....more info
  • A great romp in a world of cybercrime and the gaming world
    I generally don't read fiction. But I couldn't resist this. This exciting book takes us into a world that, while fiction, could just as easily be our world in a few years --- a spook world.

    Most of the book can easily be comprehended by people who may not have a through knowledge of computers and networks, as is necessary for previous works by this author.

    The story opens in the very near future in Edinburgh, where police sergeant Sue Smith is called in to investigate a bank robbery. But, guess what, no guns were pulled. No stick-up note. This was a robbery done in gamespace, online! Don't you love it?

    This technothriller is a must-read for gamers. But it's also a wonderful romp for mystery lovers and people who like to read about computer crime and how we are losing our privacy to those who know and understand computers and networks and the cyberworld in general.

    Reading this book may just make you a bit leary about those anonymous folks lurking in chat rooms and forums.

    The story shows how multiplayer online games (MMORPGs) can be a tool used by governments and intelligence agencies to recruit useful idiots, unwary puppets to do the dirty work of infiltrating networks while they think they're just hacking around in a virtual gaming environment.

    Highly recommended....more info
  • Game over
    I thought the book tried to bring up some good points and concepts. I liked the concept of the practical applications of live action role playing games. I liked the "robbery in a game" concept as well, even if it was weakly portrayed. I thought a female forensic accountant who is also a live action swordfighter was a great character concept.

    I was very disappointed with the book on the whole, however. Personally, I found reading a book written in the second person distracting. The story jumps between 3 different characters, with the focus on a different character each chapter. Some of the minor characters were indistinguishable from each other because they were not very well characterized. There were a few times while I was reading that I wondered "who is this guy?"

    There were some sentences over 100 words long that made me wonder what they were about by the time they reached their end. It was done in an artistic way, but I felt like I was being forced to let the words wash over me instead of trying to figure out what was being said. There was a huge amount of technical color talk thrown into the mix, which made parts indecipherable. It was almost like he wanted to sound cool by throwing in as many technical words as he could, and when those failed, he'd make up a few cool sounding acronyms and toss them out too. There were also a few "facts" laid out in the story that you find out are not true by the end of the book. I don't want to ruin the story, but you find out some of the crisis aren't really there at the end of the book. It was like a twisted version of Chekhov's gun: "The gun from the first act? Oh, yea, I lied about that. It never existed." That was my main reason not to recommend this book.

    I really enjoyed Stross's book Accelerando, so I hope his future books are better than this one was....more info
  • Remarkable, possibly prophetic
    As a fan and sometime inhabitant of Second Life, my first reaction to this book was a solid "Whoa!" The basic premise is that a robbery has taken place in a virtual setting. How did the criminals get in? Of what value is the stolen treasure? Amazingly, millions of dollars are at risk. This book has an interesting structure as it flashes viewpoints from a police sergeant (Sue), an accounting auditor, a programmer, as folks try to figure out the who, what, where, when, and if (was it a crime?)of this crime. The ramifications for both finance, national borders, future warfare, etc are enormous. And, amazingly, it is all plausible! I recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction, virtual reality, and doesn't mind an interesting narrative style. good job, Mr. Stross!...more info
  • Latest novel (2008)
    Better than "Glasshouse", and I thought "Glasshouse" was better than "Accelerando" (tighter, not so rambling). Good insights on what distinguishes our modern society from the societies of earlier times.

    ...more info
  • Entertaining; 3.5 Stars
    An enjoyable and moderately satirical novel set in the near future. Stross' theme is the penetration of information technology into everyday life, so this book is set in future Scotland where there is constant monitoring of daily life, where police have immediate access to enormous databases, and where the lines between virtual reality and conventional reality are increasingly blurred. Stross presents a fairly clever plot which is largely a traditional espionage thriller adapted cleverly to a world of virtual reality, role playing games, and information technology espionage. Like several of Stross' books, the reworking of a traditional genre device is done very well and provides an opportunity for some satire. Characterization and writing are competent, as usual. ...more info
  • Halting State
    Charles Stross is an excellent author who improves with each novel he writes. I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes detective novels or mysteries....more info
  • Unreadable
    I really tried reading it, because the idea sounded so interesting. There are books I just can't get into and I push through anyway. But this was something alltogether different. This book was impossible to read. I read over 100 pages and still couldn't figure out what they were talking about....more info