Author Charlie Stross Says The NSA Rendered His Next Halting State Novel Moot

By Nick Venable | Published

halting stateWhile writers of all genres have a daunting task in front of them simply by having to come up with a credible story, science fiction authors are particularly troubled in that they have to tell their stories before the>futures they predict become a reality. Celebrated British author Charles Stross is learning this firsthand, and has publicly deemed the third book in his Halting State trilogy unnecessary, as the universe he depicted in the book has found a startlingly similar counterpart in modern times.

In a recent blog post, Stross explained his point of view to his legion of fans, saying he definitely wanted to make a trilogy for his virtual world series, but he was put off by the recent unveiling of the NSA’s involvement in infiltrating the video game community. (In their neverending quest to listen to everything everyone says, the NSA set up tons of real-world agents working in the virtual communities of games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft.) Stross’ Halting State concerns a band of orcs who rob a virtual bank using a dragon as a weapon, and the following investigation that connects it to a real-world crime. Rule 34, the second book, is about the Innovative Crimes Investigation Unit looking into a rash of homicides sourced to a group of Internet pervs with a taste for the weird.

As Stross puts it:

At this point, I’m clutching my head. Halting State wasn’t intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven’t happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there’s a big fat question mark over the latter — what else are the NSA up to?).

While Stross admits he will probably still set another near-future police procedural in Scotland, any further sequels will be in the loosest sense of the word. Either way, you shouldn’t expect them soon, because the upcoming September 2014 Referendum on Scottish Independence could change the country’s place within the European Union, and Europe in general. He says there’s “simply no point” in starting another thriller before he knows what happens in that situation. We’re lucky that he doesn’t have the paper-thin ethics guiding those who write true crime novels before the court cases are complete.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t be writing, of course. He teases:

If you’re wondering what sort of near-future dystopian panopticon surveillance state/spy thriller I would be writing if I wasn’t setting it in Scotland and writing in the second person, you’ll get to see when I finish it. Ahem. Because that’s the direction the trilogy provisionally titled Merchant Princes: The Next Generation is going in.

Assuming some government agency doesn’t get a whistle blown on them, revealing their past work with merchant prince surveillance systems.

Below is a dystopic cyberpunk panel discussion Stross took part in with Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow, comic author Kieron Gillen, and others.