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Thu, 23 Aug 2012

Halting State, by Charles Stross

Stross has written several times in his blog of the difficulties in writing near-future science fiction. By the time a book has meandered on its way through being written, edited, and published - a process that can take two or three years - it can be out of date as the real world catches up with the world and the gadgets that the author imagined, or wanders off in a direction that makes the author's imagined world inconceivable. In fact, that happened to Halting State's sequel, so badly that he had to throw it away and start again. And then nearly had to do it again.

In the four years since Halting State was published, the real world has indeed caught up in some respects. In particular there is now a thriving market in virtual goods from video games, and there really have been crimes committed - real world crimes - in video games. But it doesn't matter to the reader that this science fictional story isn't quite as science fictional as the author intended. Science fiction doesn't have to be about our future to be entertaining (Jules Verne is still a good read) or about wondrous technologies (Earth Abides has none), it's about modern (post-Enlightenment) people doing or creating plausible things and may explore the ramifications of technology and science (as does A Canticle for Leibowitz). Authors worry about their technologies and the characters' situations being novel because they don't want to appear - at the time of publication - to be incapable of coming up with new ideas, but readers should care mostly about whether the book is entertaining. And this one is. Stross rarely fails to deliver.

I only really have one nit to pick. The political arrangements of Scotland, England, the UK, and the EU are obviously a bit different in the book than they are in our world, with Scotland having rather more independence, but also being somewhat tied to English apron-strings - and both are rather more subservient to an apparently federal Europe. The lack of clarity here was a bit irritating, and more irritatingly it could have been done away with entirely. Every single bit of that, even Scotland's greater independence, isn't particularly important to the story and the politics's role in the story could easily have been taken by purely domestic bodies.

But that's a very minor concern. The book is great fun, and you should read it.

Posted at 21:06 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | sci-fi
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