Halting State

I just reread Halting State by Charles Stross (Boing Boing review here, please ignore the typically literal Wikipedia summary). It begins with a bank robbery in an MMORPG in the near, highly networked future and gets better from there. As usual, Stross actually understands what he’s writing about in both the social and technical dimensions, so you don’t have to beat back the little voice crying, “But computers don’t work that way!” in order to enjoy the story. Favorite quotes:

“Then the electromagnet quenches.”

“They’re tunnelling TCP/IP over AD&D!

Charlie recently noted that real world events have already overtaken the book in many ways (though fashionable VR glasses are still a far-distant dream, on the order of flying cars).

Let me preface my next comment by saying that Charles Stross is one of my favorite writers ever, and I own nearly every single book he’s published (most in hardback). But I had a familiar sensation reading this book: about 2/3 of the way in, I got lost, both in terms of the plot and the characters. It’s still whacking good fun, but who the hell is Joe Schmoe and why is it a surprise when he comes barging in to the room full of blinkenlights? Ooo, <distracted> electromagnet quenching! I still have this sensation even on the third or fourth reading of many of his books. Maybe part of it is that most characters have fairly generic names and appearances; I especially can’t keep the middle-aged male bureaucrats apart in my mind.

I was thinking of keeping a cast list the next time I read one of his books so I can refer back to it. Any tips from fellow Stross readers out there? Is it just me?

6 thoughts on “Halting State

  1. This sounds like it might be deliberate on his part, rather than a failing on yours. I would assume that many similar characters with generic names are being used as a literary device.

  2. I read this one recently. I also have read a ton of his stuff but his portrayal of relationships (in the “between humans” sense) always rubs me the wrong way. I guess I shouldn’t expect non-plastic characters out of a story I’m reading for its crazy ideas. (Now that I’ve written this and reread your post, it’s maybe the same problem you refer to with “fairly generic”.)

    FWIW, he’s .

  3. I get his characters mixed up too, though I noticed it more in the Laundry books and Accelerando/Glasshouse than in Halting State.

    His blog is a good read too.

  4. just a funny note – I was trying to recall the title of the this book and simply put in this quote: “They’re tunnelling TCP/IP over AD&D!“ that made me laugh out loud when I read it. Your site, and the reference I needed, popped to the top of Google. Thanks!

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