Halting State is only my second Charles Stross novel but I think it’s already clear that he and I are going to have a long and productive relationship as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both reads so far (see this review for my previous foray).
So we are in Edinburgh and Sergeant Sue Smith has been called to the office of Hayek Associates, a company which produces and supports online games. There has been a robbery, but not one of your usual smash and grabs; this time the robbery has taken place inside a game, and has been carried out by a marauding but organised band of orcs, supported by a dragon.
Add to this mix Elaine Barnaby, a forensic accountant with practical skills in weilding very large swords in medieval role playing games, and Jack Reed, a games programmer who just happens to be unemployed at the right time and with the right skills set to assist in the investigation, and you have the three main characters in a tale of gaming, programming and international terrorism in a 21st century which is a bit of an advance on the one we recognise. And one of the questions is: when is a game not a game?
I loved this; I’ll admit it took me a day or two of typical reading-on-the-train commuter time to really get into the story but once I was housebound with the dreaded Head Cold 2: This Time It’s Personal, this book was exactly what I needed to escape from the depths of feeling sorry for myself. And what more can you ask?
I’ve never played World of Warcraft or any of its competitors but I can see the attraction it has, and although I’m sure you would get a lot of additional pleasure out of this story if you had a background in online gaming, I found I knew enough to make the story intelligible. The techy stuff was really interesting and was very happy with how the plot all worked out in the end. Another recommendation, and another read for the 42 Challenge.