February 16, 2009

Review of Charles Stross' Halting State

A while back I read my first Charlie Stross book, Accelerando. I really liked it, so much so that I bought a few more Charlie Stross books. This is the second one that I read.

I was hopeful, because the title refers to a classic decision problem that basically asks you to determine whether a given program will complete when given a certain input. In the general case, this is a very hard problem, and leads to all sorts of Goedel, Escher, and Bach type questions about how much you can infer about a system from inside the system.

The book has a very EU feel, and in fact it was hard for me to get into the first chapter because of the strong colloquial language. It actually turned me off a bit, and I had a lot of difficulty relating with the (near future, modern-day) world and characters. So it took me a lot longer than usual to make my way through this book, but about halfway through it really picked up.

I have talked about this before, but this book is basically about a theft that occurs in a virtual world (an alternate reality) and the investigators in the real world. I'm not really a big fan of these kinds of things, and even less when it is a virtual alternate reality. I ended up enjoying this book though because there was a lot in there that a programmer can enjoy and Charlie really knows what he is talking about when it comes down to bits, bytes, pointers and databases.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which didn't give much closure, and didn't let the reader feel like there was a real victory. The story just kind of wraps up (in a logical way) but there wasn't any sort of comeuppance for the "bad guys" (who were very ill-defined - intentionally - in the first place.) I did enjoy the book, but not nearly as much as Accelerando. I have a few more Charlie Stross books on the file though, and I'm looking forward to them.

Interesting quote: "Nobody ever imagined a band of Orcs would steal a database table..."


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