Halting State
By Charles Stross

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Rating: Terrific!
3.5 Stars

First Published: 2007
US Cover Illustration:  Rita Frangie
Pages: 351

Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Science Fiction (Near Future), Thriller



Halting State by Charles Stross takes place in the very near future.  In fact, it takes place in 2018 which is so near the present that you should run out and find this book as soon as possible so that you can still read it as science fiction instead of historical fiction.  Seriously, this book is very realistic with great near-term extrapolation of the ever more closely tied world wide network. 

Halting State is a detective mystery with the crime being the theft of a huge amount of money from a bank in a virtual world, like World of Warcraft and Second Life.  The virtual world allows some fun fantasy excursions but most of the action takes place is “real” life.  The female investigator for this case needs lots of help from a corporate investigator and a software expert.  Interesting connections are discovered between governments and on-line games.  The investigation follows twists and turns, eventually leading to potentially world shaking events. 

One element of Halting State that’s very different from most novels and may turn off some readers is that it’s told strictly in second person narrative form although the second person alternates between the 3 main characters in the book.  This is an interesting experiment.  I thought it worked reasonably well and this device did bring something different to the reading experience.  As a reminder, the second person narrative form is similar to first person except that the pronoun for the narrator is “you” instead of “I”.  This is a bit awkward at first but it doesn’t take too long to get used to and sometimes it’s fun for “you” to be in the middle of the action.  To maximize variety, “you” get to be two female main characters and one male main character.

Even without the second person gimmick, Halting State would be a fun book.  Charles Stross adds a generous dose of humor to this complex detective story and the pace is quick throughout.  In addition, conspiracy theorists will want to read this novel to uncover some troubling new developments in regards to the internet.  Stross has written some very entertaining novels and this book is right at the top of the list.  As mentioned earlier, you should leapfrog Halting State to first priority on your reading list!