Confession time: I do not admire Charles Stross’ writing. Since his first book Singularity Sky he has followed a simple model. There is a brilliant start, with fine ideas and interesting milieu, with not so interesting characters (women are particularly unconvincing). Then there is a reasonably good initial development of the plot, albeit with greater use of cliche than one would like, and with a few more ideas thrown in to keep things interesting. Then there is a sudden realisation that he has no idea how to end the book, resulting in wild plot swerves followed by a collapse into crapulence and the negation of the ideas from earlier.
And ‘Halting State’ does it again. Unfortunately, Stross has as little idea of politics and economics as he has of plot construction, and in this case the ludicrous set-up contributes nothing to the plot, but detracts from credibility. I might add that Stross doesn’t know half as much about computers as he thinks he does. Likewise, characterisation is weak: one character is lesbian, seemingly for no reason other than that he believes it provides ‘characterisation’, and yet it is never used, so it stands out as just that: a bad writer’s attempt to add depth by sign-posting characteristics rather than actually writing characters with depth.
And the ideas? Yes, some are good, but what’s the use if the novel is a dog’s dinner? I’ve got a better idea: if you wan to read a conspiracy-theoretic thriller involving something much more frightening than cyberspace, go read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or A Maze of Death.