Halting State - Charles Stross

Hurrah for another Charles Stross book. It's set in near future Scotland, somewhere between Rainbow's End and the start of Accelerando. The set-up is that the central bank of an online game has been robbed, and as the investigation goes on, the problem goes deeper and deeper.... The story is told in the second person (very computer gamey), from the point of view of 3 characters - Sue, a policewoman, Elaine, a forensic accountant, and Jack, a programmer. It's a fun approach, but there's a certain amount of leakage - while reading the scene from the point of view of one charcter, it sometimes feels like it might be from the point of view of another.

The plot itself starts off fairly simply, but keeps becoming more and more tortuous, as twists and turns layer up. For most of the book you've got little idea what's going on, with none of the characters having the full picture either. Maybe he's trying to get across the complexity of criminal investigation in a world full of jurisdiction problems and networked anonymity, but I think it falls a bit flat when it needs a chapter at the end where a character explains what the actual crime was. That may just hint complexity overkill. And part of the problem of this complexity is that it makes suspension of disbelief that much harder.

As with most sci-fi, it's not really about the future, but now. This is especially true in this case, since there are plenty of references to recent news and terminology which will no doubt be totally forgotten by the time of the setting. I suppose this just makes it all the nearer future. Despite this future/now cross, the actual ideas were pretty fun and compelling.

So, I feel this is a book with several weaknesses. I think, having read his last few novels, that I was just hoping for something a little more, and a little more solid. Having said that, while I felt a little let down at the end, it was a great journey while it lasted.

Posted 2008-01-28.