Whether you read Halting State as a hightech bagatelle or a nightmare near-future scenario this is a gripping and well-paced read, granted you can get around the gaming lingo and the acronyms showered over you at a steady rate of (at least) one per page.
We follow the proceedings from three different but inevitably interlaced points of view. Each of which gets it’s own self told 2nd person voice. This works very well, or so I think – it makes for a tone simultaneously detached AND personally involved, balancing between the idea driven plot and believable characters. Even if I think you have to know a lot of gamers and software developers to realise just HOW believable they are… ;-)
The core of the plot is a crime committed in game-space, and it seems mind-boggling at first but that’s BEFORE it turns from escapist gaming and into a action-packed spy thriller. It all wraps up nicely in the end, though.
As I’m not very familiar with the spy thriller trope and genre I’m not the right person to identify all the nods Stross makes in that direction, but if they are as many as those towards the gaming community they are aplenty, with the book almost verging on being a homage rather than a plain story about a cybercrime breaking the borders to the realm of flesh and blood – meatspace. As it is it’s enjoyable however you read or view it. Provided you can make peace with the acronyms, of course :D
So. What about this near future, where the borders between meatspace and cyberspace gets all fuzzy? I’d say we’re already there, in some respects. Most of the tech in the book (the one big exception being the quantum computer, as usual) is more or less viable as of today – those glasses/specs might have been pure science fiction back in the mid-90’s when I first encountered them in Gibson’s Virtual Light but today but today it’s more a matter of a route not (yet) taken. Just as an example. But when I say we’re almost there I’m not thinking tech but societies.
Today when I returned from vacation most of my colleagues already knew from Facebook what I had done, just like I knew what they had been up to. I, and a lot of others, socialise with people I know but never have met face to face. And more people than you might think are into on-line games like WoW – it’s not just kids and teenagers. Shops selling records made it from vinyl to CD, but now? The bells do toll… Lots of people are chugging out their amplifiers, players and discs; music is now a purely digital commodity, courtesy of Spotify and their ilk, and music is consumed as pure files – books are on their way there too. The shift has not been made yet, but it’s imminent – physical objects are, with the exception of furniture, food and clothes, a thing of the past – we are committing our memories to a world of ones and zeros.
Which of course makes me think of the Forgetting, as of Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds – all the files got wiped or scrambled, and where then are our history?
Ah, good books DO make you think!