Sunday, November 11th, 2007
10:22 am - You Are There, Part 2...  
It took me a couple of chapters to get comfortable in Halting State, by Charles Stross. The book is told using second person narrative, and it took awhile to get used to it. (Well, that and because the first character the reader takes on both speaks and thinks in Scottish.) The device makes perfect sense, since the book is about the investigation of a crime that takes place in a virtual world, so just as the investigators have to take on avatars to investigate the crime, the reader in turn takes on the investigators as avatars.

It's ten years into the future, and the net is now almost entirely the province of mobile devices. PCs are now considered quaint artifacts of a simpler time. Web enabled spectacles provide the interface for most users, and these can overlay the real world with various virtual spaces. The crime in question takes place in game space, an assault on a virtual bank by a posse of orcs backed up by a dragon. The crooks make off with huge quantities of loot—magic swords, armor, artifacts, that sort of thing—and then vanish without a trace. In real world terms they hacked into a supposedly secure database and made off with the contents. The loot itself has considerable value in the real world, but the key to the crime is that it occurs on the eve of the IPO of company that secured the bank and many others like it in game space.

The police are called in to investigate the break-in from the outside, and they are soon joined by a team hired by the company's underwriter to investigate from within. The reader sees the events through the eyes of the police sergeant who was the first responder, the underwriter's forensic accountant, and the out of work game designer hired by the insurer to act as sort of a native guide (and also because someone needed to take on the role of captain exposition). The sergeant is a lot like Lenny Brisco, if Brisco was a Scottish lesbian. The accountant is selected because she's a gamer, although her experience is more with LARPs than MMORGs. She swings a mean sword. The designer is one unhappy geek, with a couple of dark secrets in his past, although they turn out to be more WTF than HS.

The ten years in the future bit may eventually be a weakness. I doubt this book will age well. It name-checks lots of real corporations that are currently involved with the interbunny, but given the way things change who knows if those will still be the big players ten years from now. Likewise, the technology is bleeding edge, but lots of technologies predicted to be in place by now have never materialized, usually because things went off in a totally unexpected direction. There is one good bit about actual nature of the changes going on even today. It has nothing to do with the gizmos, and much more to do with the infrastructure behind them.

After you get past the novelty of the presentation, the book is a page turner. Unfortunately the ending doesn't really measure up. It's a bit convoluted, and there's a whole lot of exposition needed to explain it all. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

---
More rooting around in the library's local history section. Quonset Point Naval Air Station - Gem of the Atlantic, by Sean Paul Milligan, is part of the Images of America series. You may have seen these at Borders or B&N, small volumes of photographs on subjects of local historical interest. The local Borders stocks dozens of these, most focused on the photographic histories of individual Rhode Island towns. This one is typical with a hundred twenty-five pages of captioned photographs, two to a page. It's split into chapters by era, pre-War, WWII, Korea, etc., but otherwise there's no organization to the photos. What's disappointing is that a lot of the photos (if not most) weren't taken at Quonset, but are photos of planes and ships that were based here but taken elsewhere. For example, one photo shows U.S.S. Cabot, a carrier once based at Quonset, entering Havana's harbor in the fifties.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy looking a photos of ships and aircraft. If nothing else, this book introduced me to an operational WWII USN aircraft I'd never encountered before, the TBY Seawolf. But since I work at Quonset, I was more interested in pictures of the base itself as it once was. There are a few of those, but not enough to really satisfy.