Link to Original Source
Submission Summary: 0 pending, 52 declined, 7 accepted (59 total, 11.86% accepted)
Link to Original Source
Or at least go read the prologue. Mail-Allegedly-From: recruitment@DO_NOT_REPLY.round-peg-round-hole.com. Subject: Attn Nigel — job offer. Auto-Summary: A job offer, vaguely menacing. Spam-Weighting: 70% probable, but worth a look.
And if that's not enough, check out my review.
Charles Stross is a U.K. author specializing in, ah, well it's what Vernor Vinge would be writing if Vinge were a Linux hacker instead of a CS professor. His short story A Colder War and his novel The Atrocity Archives are fun, Lovecraftian, cyberpunk, based on an alternate Cold War between superpowers that faced off with weapons that make nuclear-tipped ICBMs seem oddly comforting (at least they won't eat your souls), a world where Turing successfully completed his last theorem on "Phase Conjugate Grammars for Extra-dimensional Summoning," and where the Nazis had come within a hair's breadth of brute-forcing the same research with the simpler expedient of mass sacrifice.
Stross is probably most famous for his novel Accelerando which is described on his website as "a family saga that follows three generations of a dysfunctionally postmodern lineage right through a Vingean singularity, as recounted by the family's robot cat. It's much, much weirder than that, though."
Halting State is his newest novel, set in the near-future, with a rather simple premise: A bank robbery. By a dragon. Together with a band of orcs. In a virtual game. Of a virtual bank.
Only this virtual bank is run by a very non-virtual company with distressingly realistic public stock offerings.
Which is a silly premise. You can't steal from a virtual bank, and if you could, it would be done through a hack or bug, and it wouldn't matter whether you had a band of dragons or of lowly slimes. The bank couldn't be robbed unless the game mechanics permitted it, and if they permitted it, then it's a game, not a robbery, right? So if you don't know who Stross is, and have only read the description of Halting State on Amazon.com, you might be considering giving it a pass.
Which would be wrong. If you do know Stross, then you know that he knows what he's doing. The real story is about stolen encryption keys, online alternate reality games that have a lot more reality to them then they should, and the hellish spectre of a world where MMORPG griefers have gotten their hands on some serious counter-intelligence capabilities.
The story has several main characters, a distressingly typecast sword-wielding insurance-adjuster babe, a interestingly typecast unemployed code-monkey, and a lesbian heavily Scottish-accented cop — I don't really know what that last one is doing there, but that's what makes it a Charlie Stross novel. Now cue the world getting saved by mad hax0r-ing, and you know the plot.
The book isn't all beer and skittles, however. No book with multiple main characters should be written in a second-person third-party narrative. The chapter headings make it clear who "you" is at any given time, but it's just not a joy to parse. If I were Charlie's editor, I could certainly understand the impulse to let creative genius have its space, but dammit, sometimes you've got to squash genius like the ugly bug it is, before it has the chance to grow into a monstrosity.
With that caveat, I heartily recommend Halting State. It's a must read for anybody with enough nerd in them to be reading Slashdot.
And here are the first three chapters if you'd like to whet your appetite while waiting for the book to ship:
Halting State Excerpts
Note: "www.antipope.org" is Charlie's web domain. If you think it's some sort of anti-Catholic thing, here's the actual explanation."