Now in paperback—from the author of Saturn’s Children.
In the year 2018, a daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates. The suspects are a band of marauding orcs, with a dragon in tow for fire support, and the bank is located within the virtual reality land of Avalon Four. But Sergeant Sue Smith discovers that this virtual world robbery may be linked to some real world devastation.
Essay by Charles Stross
Halting State feels like a very "now" novel—but really, it isn't.
One of my more vivid memories from 1986, the year I graduated university, is of watching the sun rise over the back of a computer terminal I was using very unofficially. I was logged in over JANET (the UK's Joint Academic Network, which had recently begun exchanging data with an odd network of foreign computers called the "internet"), to a mainframe at the University of Essex, which was running a game called MUD—Multi-User Dungeon—the text-only predecessor to today's World of Warcraft. You had to use your imagination in those days: the network was flaky and slow, there was no graphical content, just text, and the whole thing ground slow with only a handful of players logged in... but it was there, and I had a feeling that it was going to be big.
Fast-forward to 1996. My home PC was probably about as powerful as the old DEC PDP-10 mainframe that used to run MUD. Graphical games like DOOM were all over the place, and the internet had sprouted this weird efflorescence called the World Wide Web. I was a bit faster off the mark—I'd figured that the web was going to be big back in 1993, and by 1996 I was doing consultancy work for an internet service provider while keeping an eye open for a new dot-com startup to join.
Fast forward to 2006, and I was getting my ass handed to me on a plate by some monsters I'd invented (the ignominy!) back in the prehistory of Dungeons and Dragons (rewind to 1976, when I was a spotty teen), rendered in loving colour, on a multi-player graphical computer game that eerily preserved many of the sensibilities of those earlier media. (And my mobile phone was probably about as powerful as that early PDP-10...)
The thing about the future is this: it creeps up on you stealthily, then springs with terrible force, and it's only after it's happened that you realize it was there all along. Halting State happened that way; I had a feeling that the logic of games was going somewhere very strange. I had an itching in my fingterips, a gut feeling that the promise of virtual reality (invented back in the 1980s) which had never really come to fruition, was about to bear strange fruit in a most unexpected way. Then I began paying attention to MMOs, and realized that it was already happening. People were asking divorce judges to divide up their in-game loot; people were being prosecuted for fraud for selling magic items on eBay that didn't work! When this kind of phenomenon bites you on the ankle, you pay attention: the tiger is already tensing his muscles to pounce.
I decided to get there before the tiger did. And that's where Halting State comes from.
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