Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: Halting State

Halting State is very much a novel for the modern human.  It's a near future sci-fi crime novel where the crime, a bank robbery, takes place on a virtual world inside an online role-playing game by a band of orcs with a dragon on hand for back-up.  As the case gets investigated, what seemed like a waste of time for the police, turns into a crime that has severe real-world implications.

For a technologically challenged dude like me, who can barely figure out how to properly operate a blog, the ramifications of the crime that is the centerpiece for this novel were a bit hard to wrap my brain around.  That being said, Halting State is a fast paced crime story that melds the crime and sci-fi genres extremely well.

Despite my short-comings, Halting State was a pleasure to read.  For one, Stross used a rotating cast of three point of view characters.  Each character had a different connection to the crime that is being investigated.  Their vastly differing lives collide thanks to this virtual bank robbery, and their various backgrounds add depth to the story.  I enjoyed the rotating points of view; they kept the story feeling fresh, which kept me turning the pages.

In Halting State Stross takes a unique writing approach, and utilizes the ginger-haired step-child of perspectives, the Second-person perspective.  Sure, it took me a bit to get used to, but I quickly came to enjoy this unique point of view.  Often when I read, I perceive the events of the story from a movie-like distance.  However, with the second-person perspective, I felt like I was looking directly through the character's eyes at the events of the story.  That may seem like only a slight change, but for me, it made me feel like I was closer to the action, and it made the three point of view characters seem more alive as they perceived and reacted to events differently.

I've been making an effort this year to branch out and read more sci-fi this year.  In the past, I've had a hard time delving into the genre mostly due to two big stumbling blocks: I either 1) don't "get" how technology works, and don't care to read info dumps that explain it. Or 2) get depressed by the author's imagined future which is far shittier than the present.

Lucky for me, for the most part, neither of those beasts reared their ugly heads with Halting State.  The novel is a near future story, so things aren't all that different, thus I understood how most of the technology worked, and Stross' future didn't crush my seemed alright.  I did struggle a bit some of the technology stuff, but that's to be expected for a guy like me who can barely work his own cell phone, and Stross provides enough detail without being overwhelming and dull.

The kicker for me was that at the heart of things, Halting State is a crime novel, and I love me some crime.  The investigation that takes place in Halting State is an interesting one, with all the twists and turns you'd expect from a non sci-fi crime story.

I had a lot of fun reading Halting State.  The rotating perspectives and short chapters kept the story moving along at a nice pace, and the second-person point of view made the book feel very unique and added an element that for me felt very fresh and different.

All told, Halting State is a great read, and I think hardcore sci-fi fans and folks like me who struggle to get into the genre can equally enjoy this novel.  Worth checking out.

Grade: B


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I've been meaning to read some Stross myself. You seem to read my mind sometimes. Thanks for taking the plunge for me.

Ryan said...

Happy to take the plunge. I enjoyed my first taste of Stross. He's definitely a gifted story teller, and I can see myself reading more of his stuff in the future.

As for the mind reading, Great Minds...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, he's good - I've read the first two Laundry novels as well as this and they're probably more geeky in terms of throwing tech-arcane terms at you, but if you can get over that they're fun reads too.

Ryan said...

Hey Tom,
The Laundry novels seem pretty interesting...Lovecraft and espionage. Two very awesome things. Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...

;0)No probs, anyone who loves fantasy and Tool is alright in my book!