Finally slogged my way to the end of Halting State by Charles Stross. In a cyberpunk near future various characters investigate a break-in at the in-game bank of a MMORPG.
Stross has the stereotypical strengths and weaknesses of the skiffy writer. He's great on knowing science and technology. He can be pretty good at plotting. His prose is workmanlike He's terrible at character and relationships.
One major problem with "Halting State" is that he tries to alternate between the points of view of three characters: a geeky sarcastic wisecracking computer programmer; a geeky sarcastic wisecracking accountant; and a geeky sarcastic wisecracking policewoman. All of them are written in exactly the same style. For some reason he uses the second person: there's a computer game theme and presumably he wants the reader to imagine playing characters or something. But overall this just draws glaring attention to Stross's worst weaknesses. The romance is amongst the least plausible ever written.
Normally he's good with ideas, and there are a couple of good ones here: I like the cars driven by remote control from a kind of call centre. But the problem is that if you subscribe to BoingBoing and Slashdot most of the other ideas: virtual communities, flash mobs, augmented reality and so on are all very familiar. It might be more interesting if you don't read these, but the book's very heavy on jargon and you might just find the whole thing hopelessly confusing.
Was hoping things would tie together at the end, but Stross never really manages to reconcile the in-game stuff with the real-world stuff. Real cybercrime just isn't dramatic, and the orcs-robbing-game-bank-of-gold thing turns out to be purely peripheral. The hackers taking control of an entire country's infrastructure isn't particularly gobsmacking: it was the plot of the last Die Hard movie.
Overall, a pretty awful book, best avoided.
Have just ordered the new Dresden Files book: Small Favor.
Currently reading "True Grit" and going through the "Legacies of Great Economists" TTC course.
What I'm Watching
Saw the John Carpenter version of The Thing (1982) on DVD. Good horror movie: tense and with suitably gross-out physical effects.
Dug up some of those Orange mobile phone cinema ads. I've probably just been Pavlovianly brainwashed because you always see them just as the movie starts, but I like them. Joan of Arc/Mena Suvari, Stephen Seagal, Darth Vader, Snoop Dog, Macauley Culkin, Patrick Swayze, Spike Lee, Carrie Fisher, Val Kilmer, Roy Schneider, Lord of the Rings/Sean Astin, Michael Madsen.
Articles. Cheerleading: "When and how did cheerleading as a culture/pursuit shift from peppy pom-pom shaking to hardcore acrobatics?"
Politics. Apparently we have a UK Libertarian Party now. Good luck with that.
US politics. What happens to the White House losers? What the hell is going on inside the Democratic Party?
In a similar vein, Bai traces the rise of the blogger-activists. These first emerged into public recognition in 2004, as supporters of Howard Dean’s meteoric rise-and-fall attempt to obtain the Democratic presidential nomination. Many bloggers entered politics a few years before, say in 1998, during the impeachment hearings, or 2000, when Bush supposedly ‘stole’ the election from Al Gore. Bai writes that ‘one of the hallmarks of the netroots culture was a complete disconnect from history - meaning, basically anything that happened before 1998... It wasn’t just that bloggers didn’t know much about the political world before impeachment; it was that they didn’t want to know, either.’ Their views are fairly simplistic: they generally believe, according to Bai, ‘that Bush was tilting towards dictatorship’ and that supporters of Clinton-style compromises are ‘Vichy Democrats’.Economics. EU and Chinese trade.
We identify a specific pattern of Europe’s specialisation that may allow it to better resist the competitive pressure of the South. As illustrated in Figure 1, the EU recently managed to defend or even to slightly increase its position in the upper market segment of the standard goods (as opposed to hi-tech goods). This performance contrasts with that of Japan and the United States, which declined as China made rapid progress in the bottom segment of the market...
If varieties exported by Germany and China are too different to be in direct competition, then workers in the two countries do not compete in production of the same varieties.
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