Aug 28 2008

HaltinG StatE

Published by at 8:26 pm under Books

‘Extropolative(?)’ Fiction by Charles Stross (odd capitalization is from the book cover)

It is vacation season and for my vacation I’ve been escaping to fiction. First with “Consider Phlebas” and now with “Halting State”. I plan to continue escaping with my next book.

“Halting State” is a mystery or detective story placed against a background of an imagined 2018 Edinburgh Scotland. Technology plays a large part in the story and a lot of the book describes a future Scotland with tight controls, ubiquitous surveillance, and massive computing networks which are part of a highly network world. But, the world is not a friendly utopia and the usual national rivalries, spies, etc. retain a dominant role. Essentially “today” laid on a different technological background which emphasizes massively parallel computer games; cooperative games played by many people using computers over networks. Such games play a major role in the story and the incident that starts the story and drives the plot is a ‘robbery’ in one of those games.

Real and potential security issues are described and made part of the story. The dependence of the world on computer networks most obviously. What would happen if a nasty guy or nation could get control of a countries networks. Chaos would ensue even today. Banks, big stores, governments would come nearly to a halt. Somewhat more esoteric is games even in the form they exist today. They allow private groups to form and communicate for game playing purposes, but there is nothing to prevent them from being used to communicate about nasty deeds. Halting State puts several similar threat on a big screen!

I was first attracted to Halting State by the title which has echoes of computer Science in it, but I didn’t see any connection between the title and the story except maybe a pun: Scotland a state nearly brought to a halt?

A good summer or airplane read. A fast moving story set against the background of one possible near term future. But, if you don’t have a more than superficial knowledge of computing technology, much of the “local color” that makes mysteries interesting could be missed.

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