I had to write a review of this for two reasons: one to express my disappointment, two so that whoever finds the copy I bought and left on the plane on the way over knows not to waste their time.
If you follow Stross’ blog you’ll see that that guy’s probably a victim of his own success. He seems to be under the pump to produce novels quickly, and it most definitely hows in this novel. I was stupid enough to part with $40 to purchase this of the shelf on the strength of his reputation, but now feel cheated (more so because the first thing I did was forget it in the rush to get the hell away from Air New Zealand…)
Halting State itself, now that I’ve finished the whinge, is about a bank heist within an online game. Some Orcs and a Dragon rip off a bank, and two teams assemble to try and solve the crime. The idea itself is interesting, but the novel itself has the feel of an author going through the motions and essentially writing by numbers. While there are some great ideas that emerge in the book, the kind of ideas that influence the way things like MMO’s might evolve, he’s sacrificed what might have been a great story on what I can only label, “the altar of banalities.”
I can’t explain that statement more, other than to say “it was the vibe of the thing”. There are numerous points, for instance when explaining the developing romance between two main characters, when too many words are written, obviously in haste, that should have been left out. Then, the ending is rushed and laid out as a massive confession by the bad guy, and lame device from another era. The intrigue in the book is treated like a poor cousin, while the details of the interaction between characters is a constant focus. But the interaction should not be the skeleton, it should be the window-dressing. Halting State reverses that, and badly.
Here’s and example. WARNING, SPOILER: The two protagonists are trying to escape the bad guys to get online and find some data one has hidden that could crack open the case. So they go through a convoluted journey around Edinborough (?) sans online gadgets in the hope of losing said bad guys. But, within minutes of getting to their hidey-hole bad guys find them. But this isn’t explained. So why waste the paragraphs getting main characters from A to B?
Answer? I dunno. But it read like the author said, “let’s just publish the fkcer…”
All in all? Bad, and a little boring, with some glimmers of great ideas.