Monday, August 04, 2008

Halting State

by Charles Stross

After the Once Upon a Time II challenge I was in the mood for some sci fi. I had read such great things about this book (like Carl V's review) that I had to check it out. This thriller takes place in 2018 in the independent republic of Scotland where a bank robbery by a band of orcs with a dragon for backup has taken place inside of Avalon Four, a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). It is told in the 2nd person through the narratives of Sue, a police officer, Elaine, a forensic accountant and Jack, a game programmer that just happens to have the exact skill set as Avalon Four's missing programmer.

While I have never played computer games and could not follow all the lingo, I found the whole premise very interesting. The technology seemed to be a reasonable extrapolation of where we might be in ten years and the pervasiveness of information technology in everyday life seemed dead on. I found myself caught up in the plot and having to remind myself that the portrayal of the police’s big brother ability to track a person’s every movement was really very scary. I also found the idea interesting that innocent games, Spooks in the book, could be used by intelligence agencies or others to have the participants unwittingly involved in far more than a game without them even suspecting.

While I know that some who have read the book did not like the second person style, I had no issue with it. While I didn’t find that the second person was essential to the book, as in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, once I read that it was the narrative used in most role playing games, I thought it was a fun touch.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when you first meet Elaine, the forensic accountant, who on her time off is involved in sword fighting but enhanced with virtual reality to add elaborate costumes and an appropriate setting. Through out the book I was hoping that Elaine was going to have the opportunity to really wield that sword and cause some havoc. While she did get to use it at a pivotal point in the book, it was very anticlimactic and disappointing. Of course I was happy that two of the three main characters were strong women so it was just a minor quibble. Over all though I enjoyed the book and will definitely check out some others by Charles Stross.

1 comment:

Carl V. said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. I too liked the second person narrative once I wrapped my head around it and to be honest I enjoyed the book so much that I have thought about it off and on over the last several months wishing that I could revisit that universe and those characters in a new story...maybe someday. I would definitely like to re-read this book at some point.