Warning: This review contains some spoilers for “Halting State” by Charles Stross. If you want to avoid spoilers, do not read this review. If you’ve already read the book or you don’t mind spoilers, go ahead and read.
I’m back with another book review. This time, I’m taking a look at “Halting State” by Charles Stross. Here’s a summary so you know what the book is about:
“In the year 2018, Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in on a special case. A daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates — a dot-com start-up company that’s just floated onto the London stock exchange. But this crime may be a bit beyond Smith’s expertise.
The prime suspects are a band of marauding orcs with a dragon in tow for fire support. The bank is located withing the virtual land of Avalon Four, and the robbery was supposed to be impossible. When word gets out, Hayek Associates and all its virtual “economies” are going to crash hard.
For Smith, the investigation seems pointless. But the deeper she digs, the bigger the case gets. There are powerful players — both real and pixilated — who are watching her every move. Because there is far more at stake than just some game-head’s fantasy financial security . . .”
What I found interesting about “Halting State” was that it was written in second person from the perspectives of three characters; Sue, Elaine and Jack. Usually a lot of fiction is written in first or third person, but rarely is it written in second, and usually if it is written in second person it’s only from one person’s perspective—you, the person who is reading the book. “Halting State” differs because not only is it written in second person, but the “you” in the book is not you in reality that it reflects, but instead is you through being three other people and seeing things through their perspectives. I just thought that was a really creative take on using the second person point-of-view, from a stylistic perspective when it came to the writing.
Given that the book is in second person, however, that also leaves a risk for the reader (you in reality that is) to get confused if they don’t realize that they’re switching characters for every single chapter. I had to read carefully to make sure I knew which character I was seeing the situations in the book as. This got a little annoying at first, but by halfway through the book I managed to get the hang of it and enjoy reading it more.
It was interesting seeing through all three perspectives when they were looking at the situations going on in the book. Sue is perplexed over virtual characters robbing a bank, Elaine is trying to investigate who in the world would stage such a thing in the first place, and Jack is just somehow pulled into the entire struggle. All three of them had their varying perspectives and gave what they had to say on the events of the book, which was nice, but I wish there had been more character development for all three of them. The experience of the events in the book could’ve been more interesting to read if there had been some development for the characters rather than them just staying the same all the way through.
In terms of the actual worldbuilding of the book, I liked how they used RPG elements and referenced augmented reality and other virtual reality games, too, which made the world of the book feel a bit more realistic. 2018 might be a bit soon before something like virtual orcs and adventurers from an MMORPG go and rob a bank, but given that the book was published around 2007-2008, I’ll give that a pass.
Plotwise, the book felt a bit disjointed at times. Sometimes I had no idea as of what was going on, so I would have to try to re-read the past one or two chapters to try to understand what had happened and what the characters in the book were about to do next.
Overall, I’d give this book a solid 2.5 out of 5 stars because of the somewhat-disjointed plotline, and the slightly confusing second-person point-of-view. However, it’s a decent example of some futuristic sci-fi worldbuilding, and worth a try to read.