Opening salvo in a near-future Information War, from Stross (Glasshouse, 2006, etc.).
In 2018, in the People’s Republic of Scotland, Wayne Richardson, marketing director of Hayek Associates, a new dotcom startup involved with online virtual-reality gaming, calls the cops in a panic. He attempts to explain to dogged Sergeant Sue Smith that he’s been robbed by Orcs, who’ve raided the bank of VR game land Avalon Four. It emerges that Hayek acts as a stabilizer for the economies of numerous online reality games, and if word of the robbery leaks out, their share price could plummet. Meanwhile, Hayek’s backers, sensing an attempt at stock-price manipulation, send forensic accountant and gamer Elaine Barnaby—who, once she grasps the situation, insists on calling in programmer and games expert Jack Reed to assist. As Elaine and Jack probe the robbery, it becomes clear that something else is going on—as evidenced by an anonymous threat to kidnap Jack’s niece, then an attempt to kill them both. The world’s three information superpowers—Europe, China and India—are poised to go to war. Chinese Intelligence dreamed up a way of subverting the computing system of a medium-sized European nation using hackers and VR game-players. Elaine and Jack learn, however, that Hayek itself is a front for British Intelligence, which has used the VR/role-playing game SPOOKS to train a cadre of willing and utterly unsuspecting counter-operatives—including Jack and Elaine!
The book is written using three second-person present-tense narrators (for no apparent reason except that Stross, convincingly, can). Throughout, he displays a knack for turning outrageously improbable speculation into certainty in this fast-paced, skillfully constructed computational mirror-maze.