Book Chat 27: Charles Stross/ Halting State
Evil Editor said...So...I can see how the use of gaming terms, acronyms, Britishisms, made-up words would be intimidating at first. But when you consider that the story is being told in the present tense but is set in the future, you have to concede that the POV characters are using terms they assume their audience knows. Thus the author lets us figure out what the terms mean or ignore them, rather than insert a character who needs everything explained to him or pause with frequent info-dumps. So what was irritating at first, I found brilliant eventually.
fairyhedgehog said...I preferred the "guess from context" method to an info dump.
Dave F. said...I don't mind techno-speak in a book but then, I'm a technical person. While I was reading this I kept the computer next to me and searched out the terms. The colloquial terms were harder. NED for one.
fairyhedgehog said...I think one of the narrators said that "ned" was Scottish for "chav". I admire you for looking things up, Dave. I just guessed and hoped!
Dave F. said...A NED is: Non - educated delinquent Scottish Chav. Different accent ... similar clothing and same attitude.
Evil Editor said...Chav?
stacy said...I had to read Dickens's Great Expectations twice in a row to really get used to the 19th century style. (It was one of the first 19th century novels I ever read). I just found all the techno/corporate speak highly amusing. I'd read it again just for that.
sylvia said...So what was irritating at first, I found brilliant eventually. I found I had the same reaction. I was really dubious about the whole presentation and ended up very much enjoying it. I really hated the second-person present tense aspect to start (I kept waiting for it to ask me what I wanted to do next, adventure-game style) but by the end, I had to admit it was no longer interfering.
stacy said...I was surprised that the whole book was (sort of) written in the second person. I've read over and over that second person never works, but leave it to Stross to make it work!
Robin S. said…The second person stopped me up, too, but after I got used to it, it came in useful for humor. Check out page 269 about friendly pirhanhas and shagging the gamekeeper. I think for this kind of thing, second person was perfect - just that bit separated, so that you felt the self of the character as she herself was feeling, if I said that correctly.
Evil Editor said...Yes, Robby, it's like he's saying, Put yourself in the place of this character; how would you feel?
Dave F. said...I plowed through this second person and didn't even notice it. I didn't finish "And then we came to the end" which is second person because it was just too hard to keep reading 2nd person.
fairyhedgehog said...I loved the way it was written in the style of a video game - 2nd person present tense because it made me nostalgic for the old text based games I used to play! Is there anyone here who can tell me whether the scenario is realistic? In particular I couldn't see why people would need to go in-game to steal game resources. Couldn't they just have nicked the code?
sylvia said...FHH: I felt it was technologically feasible that they would want to break in the way he set it up, where they are using the same game world and underlying code, so the virtual worlds are connecting to each other.
Dave F. said...In reality there's a news paper article on theft from on-line games.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/10207486.stm Police investigate Habbo Hotel virtual furniture theft
Thieves have struck again in the virtual world Habbo Hotel. Finnish police are investigating up to 400 cases of theft, with some members reporting the loss of up to €1000 (£840) worth of virtual furniture and other items, according to Detective Sergeant Marko Levonen. "We have done ﬁve home searches in ﬁve cities in Finland," he said.
In 2007, a Dutch teenager was arrested for allegedly stealing virtual furniture worth thousands of euros on the site, which is believed to have more than 100 million registered "avatars".
fairyhedgehog said...Good link, Dave. It does suggest that the way to steal virtual goods is by password theft rather than by sending in a troop of orcs! That was the one bit that stretched my credulity too far. I kept thinking "but computers don't work like that".
Evil Editor said...It's not enough that people steal identities, now they steal virtual identities. By the way, what do you do with virtual furniture?
stacy said...Does the stealing of something virtual eventually translate to real money?
fairyhedgehog said...People do make real money from gold farming in games. There's an interesting article that touches on it in this week's New Scientist in an interview with Cory Doctorow.
sylvia said...Stacy: it was a finance scheme so yes, it was about real money, in terms of shares/stocks.
stacy said...Ah - that was what I gathered in the book, Sylvia. Thanks! I'm guessing the stealing of virtual goods eventually translates to lost (real) money. The thief steals the goods and then sells them to someone else in the game. That's my guess.
sylvia said...While I was reading the book, I saw a TOR blurb about Cory Doctorow and how exciting that he'd written a novel that took place in the virtual worlds of games. I was glancing at my screen and then back at the book, thinking - umm, yeah that's not so new?
stacy said...Oh, I'm sure that concept has been done before. But I think Stross handled the idea in a pretty original and effective way
fairyhedgehog said...Well, there aren't that many books set in virtual worlds, partly because I think it's quite hard to pull it off. I like Cory Doctorow because of his attitude to piracy and Digital rights.
stacy said...I do think the action got off to a relatively slow start, though. Lots of buildup to an actual confrontation.
Robin S. said...I had a hard time getting into this one because it's so different for me - and because I avoid the technological in the normal course of my life, but I agree, it was well done. I had to get used to it, though.
Evil Editor said...I can see how the game Spooks would attract millions of players. I want to play it.
fairyhedgehog said...Spooks does sound fun but I prefer my games to be virtual.
Dave F. said...I don't play online games. I don't know what is considered valuable in them.
stacy said...Never heard of Spooks. What kind of game is it?
Dave F. said...Spooks seemed to me to be one of those mystery games where an "assignment" pops up on your computer and you execute it never knowing what the true purpose of it is. It's like a giant conspiracy theory set into motion.
sylvia said...Four-square on the iPhone is sort of similar actually - you have to go to real places and do things. I haven't played it (I think it's US only?) but it certainly seems like a precursor to Spooks.
Evil Editor said...It's like a role playing game but instead of taking place in your home or on your screen, you go out in the world. You get a phone call telling you what your task is. Everyone's a spy.
sylvia said...Spooks was the game that Elaine played, with phone calls to do delivery and fake spy missions and other real-time real-world quests. I would totally play it.
stacy said...Right - I remember it in the book, but is it really a game that people play or is it something Stross made up? Too lazy to look it up. ; )
Evil Editor said...I assumed it was made up.
stacy said...I wonder if it's something derived from the BBC series. That sounds really cool. I'd play it.
Dave F. said...And the other really big technical part - the surviellance:
The most visible of those decisions is a network of more than 4 million closed circuit television cameras blanketing the country -- a virtual eye covering train stations, airports, streets, and other landmarks. http://abcnews.go.com/WN/prevent-times-square-terror-bomb-england-security-camera/story?id=10566016
fairyhedgehog said...I love the glasses that overlay reality with fiction. Now those I'd love to have.
Dave F. said...I thought the police dilemma of tapped phones and corrupted networks was a real possibility. The only way around that is the "one time use" cell phones.
sylvia said...Yeah, I loved the idea that the cops ended up having to work around their own network and find disposable communications systems. I also really enjoyed the old-world feeling of Edinburgh's buildings with the virtual glasses giving nav aids with pop-up arrows to show you where to go.
Dave F. said...I've known people who established secure networks and I don't panic at the thought of those networks falling or being hacked. Most ID theft and hacking you read about is the result of stupidity on the user. Of course, I'm totally paranoid. Stross does certain technical descriptions very well and very exciting. In this case it was the failure of the nitrogen containment of the quantum memory drive. There's a chunk of story after that where I was adrift and aimless until the two main characters got back into technology.
fairyhedgehog said...It's amazing how quickly this near future stuff becomes reality. Stross talks about it on his blog (although that entry is mostly about how you deal with wrongly foreseeing the results of an election).
Dave F. said...I did get lost in the last half of the book as to who was doing what double-cross and why. Stross threw in an extra level of complexity there that caused me some grief. Just about the time I wanted a rampaging, action filled chase to the catch the killer, there's another switchback (so to speak).
Robin S. said...Reading about this kind of world - It's the kind of thing that makes you wanna move out into the country, with no Internet access. OR to totally submerge yourself in a game. One or the other.
Evil Editor said...To put all your money in a mattress.
sylvia said...Robin: That's so true. I was torn between really wanting the games and gadgets from the story and wanting to hide away somewhere and become Amish. He's done a good balance with that, I think.
Robin S. said...Amish! Yeah, Sylvia, that was a hoot! I was thinking about being the female version of Jeremiah Johnson out in Colorado, so Amish probably is better! Anyway, I lost the thread towards the end as well. I got confused over what was what, but just kept reading, pretending to be in a game (I never know where I am in those either, when one of my kids has me check one out...)
For me, the true ending came at the end of Jack'a last chapter, when he says "Game over" to Elaine.
Evil Editor said...Viewed as a police procedural, we watch the detectives use their methods to catch the criminal. It's a satisfying ending, as we'd find in any murder mystery.
fairyhedgehog said...I'm quite relieved to find that other people got a bit confused towards the end. I mostly gave up on the plot by the end. I got to the point where Elaine and Jack were more important to me than who did it. I really enjoyed the main characters.
Evil Editor said...Yes, as it went on I started worrying, If the villain isn't Sue, Elaine or Jack, I'm gonna have to read it again just to remember who that person was.
fairyhedgehog said... Computers and the Internet may have downsides but I'd be lost without them now. And Stross's view of the future suggests that our dependence will grow stronger!
stacy said...I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it because I'm not a gamer. But eventually I found myself engrossed. I did also get a sudden urge to reread LOTR, though. So I can identify with what Robin said about wanting to move to the country with no Internet access. But seriously, if I did that, it would suck. I'd be lost without you guys! : )
Robin S. said...You're right, Stace. There world for me would NOT be a better place without you guys! Glad I finally figured out what a blog was when I found EE's place. How about that Nigerian email at the end? Did it feel like old home week to you, Sparky?
Evil Editor said...Yes. It was like he tacked on that ending just for us.
fairyhedgehog said...I didn't understand what the Nigerian email was there for.
sylvia said...The email at the end - I didn't think of that. It is rather perfect :D
stacy said...I don't think Stross mangled the English language enough in the Nigerian e-mail.
sylvia said...The letter is where the real money was hidden - so for once, it wasn't a scam, it was real.
stacy said...Ah ha! That was what I suspected.
Evil Editor said...But no one will get the money because it's been identified as probable spam.
Dave F. said...The Nigerian e-mail -- I had this strange thought that the proceeds of the bad guy's theft went to this Nigerian as misdirected and this email is a very wry and ironic comment on the scams we get all the time. This time, the email is true but no one will believe it. Kind of an ironic twist
sylvia said...The ending felt rushed to me, everything piled on. But I wasn't sure how much of that was because I missed important foreshadowing and clues in the start.
Evil Editor said...It's easy to miss stuff if you don't speak English (as I apparently don't).
sylvia said...I enjoyed it and I bought a copy to give to someone else as a gift. I still think it's a very odd book to choose as an introduction to his work though - reading the blurbs for his other books, they seem more accessible.
Evil Editor said...It was his suggestion, on the grounds that we aren't all SF fans, and thus those who aren't might like it on the mystery/police procedural level.
fairyhedgehog said...It's also a love story, with Jack and Elaine. I enjoyed their bits the most.
stacy said...I did too, I think Jack was my favorite character. I also love how Stross captured the BS that goes on in business-related interactions.
Dave F. said...The Elaine and Jack love story grounded the novel. It's the one constant throughout the book. We want them to get together and succeed.
sylvia said...Yes, Dave, I think that's exactly it.
stacy said...I also love how neither one of them were beautiful or stunning. Elaine was described as rather mousy and Jack was overweight. And I really wanted to see them get together even when they first met.
fairyhedgehog said...I'd forgotten the BS factor, stacy, and yes he did capture that really well.
Robin S. said...Oh yeah, the BS factor. Alive and living in DC, that's for sure.Do you think there might have been one too many layers in this novel, maybe? That he tried on too much? I ask this as a non techie person, I'll grant you, but as a reader, I feel more satisfied if I see the point at the end, even if the end, per se, isn't what I wished for.
Evil Editor said...Yes, amazing that he can capture all that even though he lives in Scotland, which is still in the dark ages. He has the Internet to thank.
Cliff said...> Scotland, which is still in the dark ages..as opposed to the American South? He has the Internet to thank....< which, in part, he helped to develop.
Robin S. said...Ha, Cliff! I just read your comment and EE's that started it, to John, and he got a good chuckle of out that.
stacy said...Charles Stross helped develop the Internet?
Cliff said...Well, bits of it.
Evil Editor said...He was Al Gore's 2nd in command
sylvia said...There were definitely issues that felt core that I didn't really feel I understood - like the "virtual" fight with the Red Team guy in the physical convention hall. I guess what's really amazing is that there are all different aspects that people didn't grasp and yet the novel held together despite that!
fairyhedgehog said...It's unusual that a book that we all mostly liked gives us so much to talk about.
stacy said...I think that's because he has so many layers in it, FH. What didn't work for one person worked for another, and parts of it worked for all of us. So to answer Robin's question, no, I don't think he tried to pile on too much.
sylvia said...FHH: I agree!
Robin S. said...I agree, FH. Makes me think I need to reread this novel - that I missed explanatory bits while trying to understand the tech. And maybe then I'd see what I think of as the 'good ambiguity' in endings of novels I've read and loved.
Stacy said…I read somewhere that cars with Internet access are subject to braking and system lock-up via smart phones. Meaning, a person with a smart phone can hack a car's system and jam the brakes or the steering. That's scary, but what a great plot point for a Bond film or something.
Dave F. said...Stacy, the computer controlled cars maintain a record of the way the car is being driven and warning lights and speeds and all that. Certain ONSTAR cars can be shut down remotely. And if there is a GPS in the car, it can be tracked online. Kinda too much -- We know what you are doing.
stacy said...Fortunately, I have purchased a 15 year old Chevrolet Cavalier. So I'm neither in danger of being watched by Big Brother through it or in danger of the car getting stolen.
Dave F. said...If you drive through toll booths and use the electronic pay systems, the police have access to your times and direction.
Evil Editor said...That stuff comes in handy when your car is stolen.
stacy said...Good point, EE.
Robin S.. said…Dave, I'm with you. Getting nannied to death ain't my cup of tea, and it also leads to screwups.
Robin S. said...Insurance comes in even handier when your car is stolen, EE, and they can't track your every movement like some Orwellian societal fuckup.
Evil Editor said...Insurance doesn't help when you're carjacked while your baby is in the car seat.
Evil Editor said...In any case, I assume GPS is optional or removable.
Dave F. said...And just to stoke the paranoia some more -- Google and other programming organizations are going to release "facial recognition" software in the next year or two. So if you have a face you want to ID, you can find it anywhere on the internet. That's neat for the facebook generation or the professional photographer who wants to control his images but ...
fairyhedgehog said...Dave, that's scary.
stacy said...At certain grocery stores in Chicago they had thumbprint recognition. Some people are really wary of stuff like this. I had a roommate who refused to get his cats chipped because he thought humans would be next.
sylvia said...I have to admit my cat is chipped. But I was completely shocked when a friend of mine (in his 20s) was asking why people didn't get chipped as the technology was there. It seemed to him obvious that this would be a good thing.
stacy said...I think that's why I liked Jack best, but identified with Elaine the most.
Robin S. said...Yeah, it is scary. You really have to think about how engaged you want to be in this stuff, and stand back from some of it. Google is under pressure for its tactics, here in the States and in Europe. They don't give a rolling fuck about helping us ya know - it's all about profit. I'm not ever against profit, mind you, but I am against profit when it's covertly earned at my literal expense.
Evil Editor said...If everyone who had an unpleasant divorce had their kids chipped...
stacy said…It would certainly bring down the kidnapping rate. But once we go there, we can't really go back.
fairyhedgehog said...That's the trouble with all technology - you can't go back. On the whole I wouldn't want to but there are downsides and the police state the UK is becoming is one of them.
stacy said...Yes, FH. The legal system (at least here) is very open to manipulation. We're creeping away from the fail-safes we've had in place to protect the innocent.
stacy said...But even those aren't enough, sometime.
Evil Editor said...That's why none of us is on Facebook.
stacy said...I agree, Robin.
stacy said...Hey! I'm on Facebook, actually. My entire self-worth is wrapped up in how many "friends" I have on FB. ; )
Evil Editor said...Your worth to advertisers is wrapped up in how many friends you have.
stacy said...Oh, thanks, EE. I feel loads better.
fairyhedgehog said...I'm on facebook under my real name, mostly as a way for friends to find me. I always ask them to go to email but not many of them do, so I don't use it much. I don't link my facebook account to my blog!
stacy said...But that brings me to another point: The Internet has really screwed up my concentration. I'm much more ADD than I was a few years ago. My attention span is much shorter.
fairyhedgehog said...I'm guessing that we might concentrate for shorter spans now but we can multitask better.
sylvia said...I would still play Spooks.
stacy said...Oh, absolutely, Sylvia!
Dave F. said...I don't so anything wrong so I don't care how much they watch me. I'm really boring.
fairyhedgehog said...It's not true that if you're innocent you've nothing to fear. Read Doctorow's Little Brother - it's fiction but I'm guessing the facts aren't too different.
stacy said...I've not read LITTLE BROTHER yet. Looking forward to it.
Robin S. said...Agree about the innocence being a non-factor. The gov likes us to believe that, that life is well in hand, and organized thusly - but staying off radar is better than only innocence, and even that is no guarantee. Sylvia, that chip thing from the friend in his 20's is frightening. I think it's a painful choice that makes you take sides within yourself. I was worried to death about my daughter when she first hit 16 or so and could drive around etc but we still didn't opt to Big Brother her with the trackable thing on her cell. It was a gut reaction to thinking back on my own life at her age.
fairyhedgehog said...It wasn't even an option when my boys hit that age. It was scary to let them go and I liked them being able to get in touch through their mobile phones. Not that they were very good at it! We tried using parental filters online and found we couldn't get onto any site that didn't have a licence - including some BBC children's programs. So we gave up and relied on educating them about the dangers and I suspect that was in any case the better option.
Robin S. said...Agree on both counts, FH. The cell is there and that's more than any other generation ever had - and as for filters, I agree, education and learning is a better life lesson.
Evil Editor said...Cell phones are as big brotherish as anything. They can tell where you are, who you call and who calls you. I know because they do it all the time on Law and Order.
Robin S. said...Yeah, I think they have records of texts, too. I told The Blondster that, just so she knows there ain't nothin' secret if it's in the hands of someone who's not you yourself. Anyway, privacy issues seem to be brought to the fore with this novel, and that in itself is a good thing, I'm thinking.
Dave F. said...I know a guy whose chipped, bodybuilder - muscleman type. His partner wanted it and he agreed. You can feel this little bump under the skin at the base of his neck.I think the younger generation is more open and online than the older generation (read "we" old folk). My paranoia stems from 15 years ago and AOL's stupidity.
stacy said...How come his partner wanted that, Dave? Wow.
Dave F. said...Stacy, They play Master/dog games. The chipped one dresses up like a dog - tail and all. Don't ask me why. It's their shtick, They're good guys and treat me well so I just don't ask about that anymore than I can avoid.
stacy said...Wow, people's kinks, huh?
Dave F. said...Kinky? Hey, I sit for hours at a blank piece of paper or a computer screen to put 500 words on the page and then edit them obsessively for months on end. That's kinky too.