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Review: _Halting State_, by Charles Stross
Bar Harbor
Stross has been one of my favorite authors for a few years now. This latest book by him may be his best yet. It's a near-future techothriller, with lots of interesting observations about where our immediate future may take us.

A major theme is how the increasing fidelity -- and ubiquity -- of virtual worlds is changing the boundaries between entertainment and reality. The book starts out with a hapless Scottish policewoman called in to investigate a robbery -- in an MMO. Seems like a gang of Orcs broke into the bank of a major game and made off with tons of phat lewt. To quote Douglas Adams, "This is, of course, impossible." But it has manifestly happened, and is clearly a crime of some sort, so has to be investigated. Soon, shadowy government operatives start showing up, and it quickly becomes clear that the non-virtual world is in a great deal of danger. Real corpses are showing up, and war is waiting in the wings.

While it starts out examining a crime in a classic high fantasy WoW-like MMO, the book ends up touching on many other kinds of virtual worlds and their effects on society. To say more would perhaps be a spoiler, but there is a marvelous Sixth Sense style twist near the end. (No, it is *not* that the entire book so far is inside an MMO, Matrix-style; Stross is far more clever and original than that.)

Halting State is not as much of a show-off tour de force as Accelerando was, but it still packs in more ideas than most authors fit in a trilogy. It also manages to be *accessible*, in a way that many of his earlier works weren't. The protagonists are all likeable, and intelligent. While none of them are stupid, some of them are sufficiently under-informed that the others can explain the complex ideas to them in plain language. This book has the potential to get an audience outside of the SF ghetto, and make Charlie a lot of money. I think he deserves it for this one. Highly recommended.

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I bought it this week.

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