The first, and eponymous, novel in the Halting State series – [a:Charles Stross|8794|Charles Stross|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1218218373p2/8794.jpg]'s stories set in a slightly futuristic Edinburgh. Scotland is now an independent European state; the Police wear augmented reality glasses connected up to CopSpace; and a gang of Orcs have robbed a bank. A bank in a computer game. Think World of Warcraft (I assume, although I have seen the adverts), and a bunch of Orcs stealing game items from the safety deposit boxes in the game. Obviously, like now, these in-game items have actual value in the real world – the news is always keen to tell us tales of people buying and selling in-game stuff, on eBay, out here in the real world. Unfortunately (for the company that runs the bank) somebody decides to call in the police rather than keeping it quiet and our story begins.
We follow the story through three point-of-view characters – Sue, a sergeant in the Edinburgh police; Elaine, an auditor at the company that insure the company that run the bank, she is brought into the case due to her gaming hobby and then the rest of the team promptly dump the case on her; and Jack, a recently sacked genius game developer, just back from a somewhat bleary trip to Amsterdam to try and forget his firing, who is brought in as a consultant to the auditor Elaine as he just happens to have exactly the right skills. Initially, we're introduced to them apart; with Sue in Edinburgh, Elaine in London and Jack in Amsterdam but it's pretty obvious that they are all going to meet up before too long. And this is where it gets messy.
Each of the characters take turns to tell the story – first Sue, then Elaine, then Jack; and back to Sue again. However, each of the three points-of-view are shared with us in a second-person narrative. Instead of the much simpler "Sue did this, Elaine did this, Jack did this, someone else did something else" we're treated to repeated shocking leaps from inside one character on to the next. Each one, in turn, described to us as if it were us – "You do this, then You do that, then you do the other". Which would be less confusing if it were just one character for the book, but with three characters, you have to mentally keep track of which character you're supposed to be. There are fewer clues in the prose than with other narrative styles.
I can see why Stross thought it would be cool. With the major theme of the novel being immersive gaming it took me back to those choose-your-own-adventure books as a child – "You are standing in the nave of a seventeenth-century church, its intricately carved stone surfaces dimly illuminated by candles." etc. And to be fair to him, it kinda is a little bit cool. I think Stross is the only author I've ever read to use the technique (choose-your-own-adventure books aside), but it does get a little frustrating at times. And I'm not convinced it was every cool enough to justify the second book, [b:Rule 34|11775671|Rule 34 (Halting State, #2)|Charles Stross|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1335834059s/11775671.jpg|13728393]
, being written in the same style.
I read the two out of order, but that certainly didn't matter. While Rule 34
is set in the same universe and uses one of the non-PoV cops from this story, there is no dependency or spoiler potential. Of the two I preferred this one. The second-person narrative seemed less awkward here. The use of geeky terminology seemed less forced. I think [b:Halting State|8259044|Halting State (Halting State, #1)|Charles Stross|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348921574s/8259044.jpg|930563]
is just a better story. I think I may have overrated [a:Charles Stross|8794|Charles Stross|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1218218373p2/8794.jpg]'s Rule 34
. I liked it too, but I'm not sure I really
liked it as much as this one.