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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining futuristic Computer Mystery
For those in the know of the MMORG this is probably a book that will make you not only laugh your socks off but scare the hell out of you at the same time. Not only have you spent hours/days/weeks building up your character and managed to grab those indispensable items but all of a sudden you find your character robbed blind and the items that you've so long horded...
Published on 4 Mar 2008 by Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "They're tunelling TCP/IP over AD&D!"
Near the end of this book, one of the protagonists blurts, "They're tunelling TCP/IP over AD&D!" And that line is a very good test for potentials readers, because if you understand it (and why it's kind of funny), you might enjoy the book. If you're scratching your head, well, you might still enjoy the book, but you're certainly in for a whole lot more head scratching...
Published on 15 Sep 2008 by A. Ross


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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "They're tunelling TCP/IP over AD&D!", 15 Sep 2008
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
Near the end of this book, one of the protagonists blurts, "They're tunelling TCP/IP over AD&D!" And that line is a very good test for potentials readers, because if you understand it (and why it's kind of funny), you might enjoy the book. If you're scratching your head, well, you might still enjoy the book, but you're certainly in for a whole lot more head scratching along the way.

When you strip everything away, this near-future thriller is a cautionary tale about network and database security, and what can happen as our lives become increasingly wired and digitized. The premise is that someone has hacked their way into a MMOG and pulled off an in-game heist, thus triggering the involvement of a police sergeant, an unemployed software engineer, and a forensic accountant. The three characters are called in to investigate this crime and the chapters alternate between their perspectives.

Note that they are not the narrators -- that's because the entire book is written in the second person, a choice which some readers will absolutely hate. I didn't find it as grating as many reviewers did, but it certainly doesn't help the rather weak characterization). Unfortunately, the plot is awfully heavy with techie jargon and those who aren't network engineers or software developers (as the author has been), may find it rocky going. Similarly, the plot revolves around MMOGs and ARGs, and if you're not familiar with this kind of computer and live action gaming, you might get a little lost. In both cases, there are lots of nuances and inside jokes which will fly right over your head (I think I got about half of them). Finally, if the second person voice, techie and gaming jargon don't put you off, there's also a bit of Scots dialect to decipher (I didn't have a problem with it, but other readers seemed to really struggle with it.).

Probably the best thing about the book is the setting (Scotland, circa 2018) and the author's projection of how technology might have evolved over the last decade in ways that affect us all. It's very plausible and convincing -- which makes the story that much more interesting when it all goes pear-shaped. And when it does start to go wrong, the scale shifts from contained crime to all-out infowar, complete with international hacker crews and EU black ops squads. While I could see the point being made by such a shift in scale (a country, even an superpower, totally destabilized via hacking/infowar), it also moved the book into conventional disaster/thriller turf, which I'm not a huge fan of.

I'm a very occasional reader of science fiction, and I prefer my sci-fi to be immersive and contained. The first half of this book does a good job of setting up near-future Scotland and how society might be slightly different, but as it went on and the techspeak got more and more complex, and the stakes went through the roof, I found myself less and less engaged. To be fair, I am neither an online gamer, nor a computer techie, but I have plenty of friends who are, and I think they might find it a little bit more fun of a read than I did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining futuristic Computer Mystery, 4 Mar 2008
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
For those in the know of the MMORG this is probably a book that will make you not only laugh your socks off but scare the hell out of you at the same time. Not only have you spent hours/days/weeks building up your character and managed to grab those indispensable items but all of a sudden you find your character robbed blind and the items that you've so long horded stolen and sold on the open market? Only in fiction you say, well not really, its happened and on most auction sites you can find these little beauties available. You could even pay someone in China to build your character up for you.

What Charles does here is not only play on the paranoia but brings a great mystery up to date in a futuristic world where the worst can happen with everyday games taking over peoples lives in a counter intelligence operation built in cyberspace. Highly inventive, confusing and above all probably a scarily accurate possible future. An interesting take on the world from a man who perhaps not only understands it but could be one of the guys pushing us towards it in this highly addictive sci-fi novel where every character has a role to play in the bigger picture. You are no longer a person but a pixelization of the cyberworld trying to keep their space free. With espionage, counter terrorism, plotting, criminal activity and above all a tale that will keep you guessing from the first page to the last, this will be a book to recommend to all those computer addicted friends. How will you know if they've read it? Just look at the paranoid way in which they watch the computer out of the corner of their eyes as well as the haunted way that they just can't resist building their characters to even higher proportions.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virtually brilliant, 3 Feb 2008
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
Halting State has an interesting and topical subject for a science fiction novel - an interactive web-game has been hacked by an unknown organisation who have stolen all of the virtual weapons and spells from their holding bank. Although the "bank robbery" is virtual, it nevertheless has serious repercussions for the product and the company who have developed it, since it is evidently going to affect sales of the game. It's a brilliant idea and the story flies along with plenty of incident and invention, Stross having a great deal of fun with gaming culture and those wrapped up in its worlds, while realising at the same time that it is a serious business.

The writing is quite dazzling, sparkling with sarcasm and humour (although bafflingly and for no good reason it is rather annoyingly all written in second-person - "you go here, and you do this" etc.), but it does become a bit heavy with tech-speak and eventually start playing out like a virtual game itself. It's clearly the intention of the writer to start blurring the lines between the real world and the virtual, but you'd probably have to be a gamer yourself to fully appreciate all the references and clever playing out of the situation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great near-future romp, 28 Aug 2012
By 
D. R. Cantrell (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
Stross has written several times in his blog of the difficulties in writing near-future science fiction. By the time a book has meandered on its way through being written, edited, and published - a process that can take two or three years - it can be out of date as the real world catches up with the world and the gadgets that the author imagined, or wanders off in a direction that makes the author's imagined world inconceivable. In fact, that happened to Halting State's sequel, so badly that he had to throw it away and start again. And then nearly had to do it again.

In the four years since Halting State was published, the real world has indeed caught up in some respects. In particular there is now a thriving market in virtual goods from video games, and there really have been crimes committed - real world crimes - in video games. But it doesn't matter to the reader that this science fictional story isn't quite as science fictional as the author intended. Science fiction doesn't have to be about our future to be entertaining (Jules Verne is still a good read) or about wondrous technologies (Earth Abides has none), it's about modern (post-Enlightenment) people doing or creating plausible things and may explore the ramifications of technology and science (as does A Canticle for Leibowitz). Authors worry about their technologies and the characters' situations being novel because they don't want to appear - at the time of publication - to be incapable of coming up with new ideas, but readers should care mostly about whether the book is entertaining. And this one is. Stross rarely fails to deliver.

I only really have one nit to pick. The political arrangements of Scotland, England, the UK, and the EU are obviously a bit different in the book than they are in our world, with Scotland having rather more independence, but also being somewhat tied to English apron-strings - and both are rather more subservient to an apparently federal Europe. The lack of clarity here was a bit irritating, and more irritatingly it could have been done away with entirely. Every single bit of that, even Scotland's greater independence, isn't particularly important to the story and the politics's role in the story could easily have been taken by purely domestic bodies.

But that's a very minor concern. The book is great fun, and you should read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic beach book for geeks, 4 Oct 2011
This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
I took this on holiday to Croatia and found it to be the perfect poolside read. The story is set in Scotland and begins with a cyber crime: in a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game a gang of avatars raids a bank and steals other players' gold and treasure. The crime story begins: where did this take place? Was anything of real value stolen? Was this actually a crime? The characters struggle with applying the law in a truly globalised virtual world.

The author brings lots of interesting ideas into play and inverts the helpless female, heroic male relationship nicely without it seeming trite.

It's an easy read brimming with interesting ideas: recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly well-written, holds you till almost the last page, 21 Dec 2010
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
The biggest hurdle for any reader coming cold to Halting State will be writer Charles Stross's unusual writing frameworks. He often writes in the present tense, which I nornally hate but he does it with such great fluency and immediacy you just don't notice. This book is also told in the present tense AND the second person, so instead of "I" or "he" it's "you". Even after enjoying several of his other books this put me off completely, until I heard him read from the sequel-in-progress, which is written in the same style. The writing was simply strong enough for the tense and person to be irrelevant, and I bought Halting State the next day.

It's a simple enough plot. In the near future, a company which runs the bank for a fantasy computer game is robbed, online. The company recruits a mismatched computer games programmer and forensic accountant to investigate. The police have also been called in, by mistake, and there's a race between the two teams to uncover the real motives of everyone involved.

The story is essentially contemporary, with some Gadget Show wish-fulfilment technology thrown in. The novel was inspired by a newspaper story about a real world theft of online resources with real world value, so that element isn't completely science fiction. In the halting State world online computer games are completely immersive, and police body armour comes equipped with self-contained CCTV, which is actually quite a throwback to the old school future seen in early films like Aliens. There's a lot of technobable, but the more you understand computers the more you'll appreciate it's both informed and authentic. The late-entry McGuffin of a new type of supercomputer is probably the most obvious science fiction element, and it flashes in and out across a few pages just to oil the plot machinery.

For the most part the book holds up as a modern police procedural, and it satisfies as hard-ish science fiction because of the author's genuine gadget love, games experience and computer knowledge. It's light comedy and action for about 95 per cent of the way, and the only real flaw is the rushed ending. But sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

The saddest part about the science fiction trappings is that even in such a short space of time they have started to feel dated. What might have seemed outlandish or geek-friendly three years ago is almost commonplace today - hand-held portable high definition video recording, GPS devices which can overlay massive amounts of data over a map of your immediate surroundings, and our increasing dependence on vast mobile networks of incredibly smart phones. The only real misfire is the anticipated continued explosion in online gaming.

The best comparison I can think of for non-science fiction fans is that Halting State has the same fast pace and pop culture savvy sensibility as "proper" contemporary Scottish thriller writer Christopher Brookmyre. It's great.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Techno babble, but brilliant!, 19 Dec 2009
By 
E. Lansberry "Lizzy" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
Halting State is a daunting book for those not well accustomed to Sci-Fi/computer geekery, and does begin rather slowly with some readers (including myself!) I'm sure very confused by the high level of techno-jargon. However, about 1/3 through the book, even the novice will have caught onto enough of the language to understand and can begin to really enjoy the story. A brilliant look at what can seem to be the inevitable near future of gaming and reality being almost indistinguishable, well written from the point of view of various characters. A great read, recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, exciting, idea-filled but not for all, 27 Aug 2009
This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
The book is set in the not too distant future. Scotland has devolved, gained independence, and the world is even more saturated with information technology and computer nerdiness than ever before. In an online game a load of orcs and a dragon rob a bank and nick a load of magic swords and armour and amulets and other valuable goodies.

At first you'd probably agree with one of the protagonists in thinking `So what, it's a game' but in fact the theft spells almost certain doom for the computer company that hosts the bank in the virtual game. As in life now, these magical items go on sale for quite surprising money on auction sites. More importantly though, if people lose faith in the game a multi-million company can go down the toilet. These games are big money.

So that's the plot. The start of it at least. As the book goes on the stakes get increasingly higher as things develop. Western civilisation is at threat and people start to die. There are spies and assassinations and advanced technology and thrills aplenty.

The novel would score quite high on the nerd scale if there was such a thing. It is full of computer techno/gamespeak. I was ok with the game stuff like MMORPG but got a bit lost, and to be honest, mildly annoyed for the first couple of chapters with the sheer amount of `don't I know a lot of acronyms' and general geekness. Stross is doing this on purpose but it can be frustrating.

Another thing I thought might be annoying is the fact that it is told in the `stream of consciousness' style. In case you aren't familiar with this the story is told from multiple viewpoints - each chapter has a character's name and it is told by that person. It doesn't prove much of a problem here except occasionally for a Scots accent used by the police character. Which is done phonetically and unnecessarily and why I can't be bothered to read Trainspotting. It's pretty rare here, so don't worry.

Even more uniquely, the tale is told in the second person present. "You walk in a room" and "you are reading a superb review" sort of a thing. Initially my heart sank when I read this as I thought it would annoy me but I actually got quite into it. It really draws you in. I'm assuming that it is supposed to blur the boundaries between a classic writing style and games such as Dungeons and Dragons or the superb `choose your own adventure' Fighting Fantasy books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Which were immensely popular with sad lonely types in the 80s when I was at school. (Deathtrap Dungeon rules by the way.)

I won't give anything away, but while I found the book incredibly fun, witty, entertaining and exciting, it didn't quite live up to what I had hoped. It felt slightly lacking by the end. I don't know what I was expecting but it didn't quite deliver.

It's still worth a go though. You might like it. As I said it's fun if you're a bit of geek and well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fairly entertaining, but not a patch on his best works, 29 Nov 2008
By 
Steven Brown (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Halting State (Paperback)
I picked this up because I've thoroughly enjoyed a couple of Charles Stross' other works.

The main positive in this book for me is his casual predictions of the technology of the next 10 years. I find Stross to be quite imaginative, and that's what I've liked most about his other books, he always uses future predictions about technology very effectively - though this book is different, in that it looks to the short term as opposed to the long term.

The book is definitely an enjoyable read, quite a page turner.

However, there are a few things that knock the rating down for me -
- the plot is generally a bit silly. I got the end of the book kind of baffled as to where various strands of the plot had disappeared to, and how they were relevant. It just doesn't weave together properly for me, and there is a bit too much jumping around.

- jarring use of the policewoman's accent. It's not like a trainspotting style consciousness where the narration is entirely done in accent. Because of the style being done from her point of view, it's a bit jarring to read her thoughts in "normal" english, but then her spoken words are in accent. An accent which seems to come and go (this is unconvincingly excused later in the book)

- some people won't like the old adventure game style of "You are standing in the hall". The entire book is written like this. You do get used to it, but it took quite a long chunk of the book for it stop being odd.

In summary, it's worth a read - but don't be expecting something like his wonderful Singularity Sky
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent (A Book Swede Review), 16 Aug 2007
This review is from: Halting State (Hardcover)
Halting State is a forthcoming title and will be published by Orbit in the UK in January of next year. It should be in the US sometime later this year.

Charles Stross has quickly become one of my favourite authors of science-fiction, so you can imagine my pleasure when this bound proof turned up unannounced on my doorstep a week ago for me to review!

A robbery at Hayek Associates--a robbery within one of their online games. An employee blabs to the police when he should have followed the correct procedural rules... Enter Sue Smith, a sergeant with the police, and a woman with much better things to be doing than chasing nerds round an office.

Until the first body shows up. Followed quickly by an EU elite anti-terrorism unit...

I've felt that too much was taken for granted of readers' knowledge in certain areas in previous Stross books--but this is not so with Halting State. There were occasional moments when I felt like I was about to drown in information, but it soon picked up again. Indeed, that was the only failing of this book, and a minute one at that. This book is the easiest of Stross' to sink into, and the pace is electrifying. Set in the near future, with the break-up of the United Kingdom, the main story takes place in Scotland (hence some of the slang and occasional weird spellings!), with a massive act of electronic terrorism urgently needing averting.

Halting State is, rather unusually told in second person narrative. That is to say, "You went" instead of "I went" or "He went". When I noticed that the multiple POVs were all to be told in this way, I was worried that it would become a bit too confusing. I was wrong. I got rather used to it, and it enmeshed the different story lines together rather well and much better than any other style of narrative would have.

The story and characterisation is typical Stross, that is to say, brilliant. There's no chance of second guessing all the twists and turns, which is what makes Stross such fun. A re-read will be necessary to put everything in order and that is something I look forward to greatly. It'll also be interesting in future years to see how things pan out--the events of this book are wildly unbelievable and yet totally plausible at the same time.

All in all, a cracking read, and the best book by Charles Stross I have ever read. A book definitely not to missed when it comes out to general release. Nothing seems capable of Halting Charles Stross; the State of his writing remains the same: getting better and better. Nine out of Ten.

For more fantasy/SF reviews, regular amazing competitions, and author interviews, visit: [...]
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Halting State
Halting State by Charles Stross (Paperback - 4 Sep 2008)
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