Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Halting State

the last one in the pile is Halting State by Charles Stross.

This novel takes place in the very near future in years, but a pretty alien place in feel due to the influence of approaching-Singularity tech.  The setup and some of the core of the story is based on the management of the in-game economy of multiplayer games, which is an absolutely fascinating topic to me, but probably just weird to most people.  As speculation about how technology could affect the near future world and as a cautionary tale about what cyberterrorism could really mean, it's both thought-provoking and scary.  As a story, it doesn't work so well.  The fact that the reader doesn't really know what's going on in the intrigue/thriller stuff makes it a little hard to follow, and the action is so furious that it leaves one's head spinning.  Certainly interesting, but I found it too intense to be maximally fun.  8 out of 10.


We start out with an employee for a weird tech company calling the cops about an in-game bank robbery.  MMOs are really big business, and it seems that this company is a multimillion dollar consultancy that stabilizes the economies of these games.  So the regular cops are involved because they were called, and they have to figure out what's happening.  And a team of auditors wants to check out the situation because they're on the hook to insure the consultancy for the damage done by the bank robbery (and loss of confidence in the system), unless they can prove it's malfeasance by someone other than the people they're specifically insuring.  Once they start digging, though, it turns out that the bank robbery is a big deal.  The band of orcs that carried the loot, not so much -- but to have been able to get it out at all required compromising some very important security.  The backbone routers of all of Scotland are compromised.  The chief programmer, who at first is a suspect, turns out to have never really existed at all.  An elite EU counterterrorism force comes in and makes a huge mess of things, but there really was an international issue.  A bunch of plot twists and bullets fly.  It turns out that the plot centered on the CEO, who was convinced that his little IPO was too crazy to succeed -- so he'd secretly placed some high-stakes futures bets that it would fail, and became desperate because he was unaware of the fact that his company was actually a front for a spy agency, so it wasn't going to fail on its own.  At this point, I can't quite remember if Marcus the CEO just didn't care that he would be giving the Chinese hacker team the ability to blow up his whole country, or if he didn't realize what he had was that important.  (It probably really makes more sense than what I can remember.)  But with some luck and toughness and the revelation that the kidnapping of the protagonist hacker's niece was hollow because the niece had actually died years ago and was only being maintained as a virtual friend by the hacker so that he wouldn't look like such a loser, the good guys are able to prevail.
Tags: book review, charles stross, sf
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