Today’s the big release day for Charlie Stross’s new book, Halting State. I had the good fortune to pick up a review copy through work last week, since we’re one of the official stops on his tour schedule (w00t!).

Short review: go buy it. You can thank me later.

Slightly longer review:

Stross is my favorite science fiction (-ish) author right now, and has been for a few years. He’s written a number of amazing short stories, but his novels have been a bit hit-or-miss. The Atrocity Archives is deeply awesome, as is Accelerando (which is basically a collection of 9 of his short stories), but Singularity Sky didn’t really work for me.

Halting State, on the other hand, is the best science fiction novel that I’ve read in years; perhaps since The Atrocity Archives. Like most of his work, Halting State is less scifi then “geekfi”–it’s about people and technology extrapolated slightly into the future.

In this case, it’s set in 2014-ish Scotland, newly independent from England. It all started with a police call. The caller, panicked, reported a theft. Something about a bank robbery, which made the police operator sit up and take notice, until the caller started blathering about orcs and a dragon. They didn’t send anyone out to investigate until the second call, which still had orcs and the dragon, but sounded more insistent. The detective follows the address provided and ends up in the middle of nowhere, at a former nuclear command bunker surrounded by expensive cars, to discover that someone did rob a bank. Not a brick-and-mortar bank, though–this bank’s is inside of a MMORPG. The total take? About 120 million Euros, once you count the ebay-able value of the missing goods and the hit to the newly-IPOed “in-game economic stabilization” company. The dragon blew the doors off of the bank and the orcs grabbed the loot. They escaped into a portal to another MMORPG where the bank’s managers don’t have root access. The cop’s stumped–how do you investigate this? You can’t dust for dragon prints. So she logs back into CopSpace to see what she can find…

By the time Stross is done, he’s wrapped up gaming, gamers, virtual reality, cryptographic security, in-game economics, the nanny state run amok, mobile phones, and something much more sinister then any of the characters expected to find.

Just go read it, and thank me afterwards. Or thank Stross, that’s probably more appropriate.