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March 14, 2008

Strange Horizons review says Halting State contains "careless, even lazy writing"

David V. Barrett has reviewed Halting State for Strange Horizons. (I don't know David, but he is a former editor of the BSFA journal Vector and a former chair of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which means he's read a lot of SF.)

Unlike me, he wasn't impressed:

"About half way through the novel I realised that I wasn't all that bothered about the resolution of the ever-increasing complexities of the plot. Why? Because I didn't actually care much what happened to any of the characters."

Which is fine, but I really disagree with the problem of British references:

The problem is one of reference. Halting State is littered with cultural references to the Britain of the last two or three years that few non-Brits will recognise.


The proof copy I read was the US edition—at least, in spelling and punctuation. Yet on just one page we have, with no clue whatsoever to their meaning, HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs), TfL (Transport for London), PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships, a politically popular but controversial financing system in Britain in the 1990s and early 2000s), ECB (European Central Bank), Chelsea tractor (slang for what Britain calls a 4x4 and America calls an SUV), the Tube (the London Underground), and DLR (Docklands Light Railway, a particular line linked to the Underground system).

All of this is careless, even lazy writing.

The Attrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue have glossaries in the back for this purpose. But I hate glossaries. If you want to know what it means, then just Google it! There must be plenty of books full of US references? You can't explain every little detail. What Charles Stross does well is throw the reader into a sometimes overwhelmingly strange world. For example Accelerando is so dense with ideas it can make your head hurt thinking about it, but I love that.

I also love the fact that it's a SF novel set in Scotland, and presumably there will be a fair few Americans who love that too. Scotland is so exotic ;-)



I'm American, I read the British edition of the book, and I was somehow able to grapple with unfamiliar terms--AND unfamiliar spelling(!!!)--with no ill effects.

I think most SF fans who read stuff like Stross aren't going to be thrown by a term they don't immediately recognize. Not to mention that most really good hard SF seems to be coming out of the UK these days anyway, so by now we're probably used to it.

Perhaps Barrett just has a very low opinion of Americans' intelligence. (Hardly an uncommon position these days, but we're not *all* idiots.)

Your comment about not needing glossaries because one can always "Google" the term implies that one always has a networked computer to hand when one is reading said books. I personally do a lot of my reading in the evening on a comfortable chair in the living room, or while lying in bed at night before turning off the light. Having a glossary available doesn't mean I always have to use it, but it is handy should I want to look up a term at those times when I'm reading and not at a networked computer.

I find the comments about use of acronyms risible. Look them up or work them out. SF is full of the things, many made up. When I finally get to read Halting State (when it makes it to paperback), if David Barrett's negative comments do not pan out then his reviews will go on my 'ignore list'.

If you like SF about Scotland try some of Ken McLeod's early stuff (e.g. Stone Canal) and Baxter's Moonseed. Living there I do not find it exotic, more deliberately different and occasionally appallingly atavistic. Braveheart has a lot to answer for...