Halting State

Charles Stross, Author . Ace $24.95 (351p) ISBN 978-0-441-01498-9

This brilliantly conceived techno-crime thriller spreads a black humor frosting over the grim prospect of the year 2012, when China, India and the European System are struggling for world economic domination in an “infowar,” and the U.S. faces bankruptcy over its failing infrastructure. Sgt. Sue Smith of Edinburgh’s finest, London insurance accountant Elaine Barnaby and hapless secret-ridden programmer Jack Reed peel back layer after layer of a scheme to siphon vast assets from Hayek Associates, a firm whose tentacles spread into international economies. The theft is routed through Avalon Four, a virtual reality world complete with supposedly robbery-proof banks. As an electronic intelligence agency trains innocent gamers to do its dirty work, Elaine sets Jack to catch the poacher. Hugo-winner Stross (Glasshouse ) creates a deeply immersive story, writing all three perspectives in the authoritative second-person style of video game instructions and gleefully spiking the intrigue with virtual Orcs, dragons and swordplay. The effortless transformation of today’s technological frustrations into tomorrow’s nightmare realities is all too real for comfort. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/13/2007
Release date: 10/01/2007
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