Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why I Stopped Reading Halting State

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Halting State is nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel and is yet another generally well regarded novel from Charles Stross. So why did I pull out my bookmark around page 85, close the cover, and place the book on the pile to return back to the library?

Well, first, because it is due in three days and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to finish the book given that I spend the last week and a half reading the first 85 pages.

Second, because once again I find a Charles Stross novel to be far more exciting for its ideas than for the actual writing. I loved the concept of the police being called in to investigate a theft that took place within an online video game and the further explanation of exactly why this was a serious crime and what the real world repercussions were. Fantastic idea. The actual execution of that idea? Not so fantastic. Halting State is told in Second Person Perspective (where the reader is the character and the word "you" is used frequently...think the Choose Your Own Adventure books). Again, another great idea and actually well done, but somewhere in the midst of the Second Person narration I got a little bit lost. 85 pages, three viewpoint perspectives, and no real clue how it all fits. Yeah, Stross was beginning to bring things together and I know that I missed the real story of Halting State, but I felt that 85 pages was a little bit too long to get into it for Halting State. My other problem? The use of Scottish Dialect. At times it was damn near incomprehensible. The language might be English, but I had to work to parse sentence containing dialect.

But the real reason, and the main reason I stopped reading Halting State is because no matter how much I was interested in the idea of Halting State, the reality of Halting State was not a satisfying reading experience. I had copies of George R. R. Martin's The Armageddon Rag, Justina Robson's Selling Out, a couple of Elizabeth Bear novels, short stories from Lucius Shepard, Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen: Book of Ambergis, a zombie western from Joe R. Lansdale, and however many thousands of great books I've never read....and I really didn't want to spend the time reading Halting State and be frustrated by what I consider is not the man's best work.

I have something of a love / hate relationship with the fiction of Charles Stross. I believe his two Bob Howard / Laundry novels are absolutely fantastic. His Merchant Princes series is hit or miss, but is still overall fun to read. And then there is his more technical SF, I didn't finish Accelerando, I forced myself to read all of Singularity Sky, and I gave up on Iron Sunrise.

I know that Stross is extremely well regarded in the SF community, and I know that I am clearly not his target audience, but I really wanted to like Halting State and sign songs of praise about it...and I can't. I may be a bit simplistic in my reading and it may be that Stross just runs at a level way over my head, but I can't recommend that folks pick up the book.

Now...if Stross writes a third Laundry novel (following The Atrocity Archives, and The Jennifer Morgue), well, I'd be all over that.


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