Monday, 29 December 2008

Halting State

I got this book for Christmas (along with a few others which will be popping up in reviews over the next few weeks) and it was top of the pile in order of the things that I wanted to read. A bank robbery in an online game sparks a series or murders, which might be at the heart of an act of international espionage and terrorism... And how does this fit with a set of ARGs (alternate reality games) related to spying?

Charles Stross' novels are usually a whirlwind of ideas, and Halting State is no exception; set only ten years from now, it shows an incredible array of technology freely available to the public and providing swathes of information at the blink of an eye. Augmented reality glasses are on the drawing board now, and it is by no means inconceivable that they could be used for the purposes outlined in the novel - even though it might take a science fiction writer to come up with those uses. The story moves along fairly quickly, and at times it's not easy to see where things are going (or where they've come from). It's a very enjoyable read, but at the end of it I couldn't help but wonder if the amazing ideas didn't make up the greater part of the enjoyment than the plot.

Halting State is a good novel, a science fiction airport thriller that doesn't put style over substance and has a great streak of humour running through it. The ideas are big, but they show a world that could only be a few years away... Lets hope that we don't see the kinds of ARGs that pop up in this world though.

At the end of the novel there's a great interview with Charles Stross; one answer in particular jumped out, and gave me a little hope for my own future writing.

Q: Do the ideas just keep on coming?
A: Yes. And here's the weird thing; ideas breed. They multiply in dark corners when I'm not looking. I learn something new and trivial and the next thing I know, it's jumped a hoary old cliché and they're enthusiastically breeding a new master-race of cockroach-like plot tropes that scurry off and hide behind the wainscoting of a novel! (I am very grateful for this, incidentally.)

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