Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Halting State's Sharpening Focus

I purchased Charles Stross' Halting State a while back but only got to reading it while on vacation last week.

It's a fun read. Not a great read, but a fun one, and one that should be required reading for those in our industry.

The book is a story of a couple reluctant heros that get wrapped up in an investigation of bank heist that unravels into a story of international espionage, etc, etc. On that basis alone, it's kind of a 'B' read. It's not a superb story as far as heist or spy stories, and doesn't have the page-turning action sequences of, say, Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash, though there are parts that almost get there.

However, what makes the book interesting, and makes Snowcrash a good point of comparison, is that the bank heist takes place in a virtual world, with a band of rogue players cleaning out a bank and then selling off the items for millions via online auctions. The heros' sleuthing takes place in both the real and virtual worlds.

Where the book succeeds, as Raph Koster pointed out a while ago, is in how well it nails all the details and issues around virtual worlds. To quote Raph:

Among the stuff that pops up, “namechecked” so to speak: PvP sploits. God mode. ORLY. Zombie flash mobs. Leveraging ARGs for real work. Impositional game design. VC bubble shenanigans. Cross-world avatar portability. Cons and cosplay. Discworld. LARPing. 4th edition D&D. Second Life. Mirror worlds.

... add to that Augmented Reality, cross-platform gaming, serious games, using VW's to launder money, etc, etc. Stross shows that he really gets it, and as great science fiction should, projects the possible implications that stem from the 'science'.

The thing that struck me most was this: If Stephenson's Snowcrash drew us a picture of the metaverse (and excited a bunch of people enough to run out and start VRML companies :-), then Stross, some fifteen years later, uses his book as a lense to sharpen that picture for us.

Highly recommended. Go Get it!

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