Reamde

[Amazon Link]

I've been a Neal Stephenson fanboy ever since I read Cryptonomicon years ago. And I had a great time plowing through this 1000-plus page book.

It's somewhat of a change of pace for Stephenson: it's set in the (more or less) real world, in the (more or less) present day. I've seen an interview where he recalls reading Alistair MacLean thrillers in his youth (just as I did) and that Reamde is his instantiation of that genre. Good job!

The book opens in the most mundane of settings: the Forthrast family reunion, somewhere in northwestern Iowa. (Hey! I've been to family reunions in Iowa!) One of the attendees is Richard, who's the CEO of a computer game company: their primary product, T'Rain, is a wildly-popular virtual world full of myths, gods, commerce, and battle. Also at the reunion is Zula, a young African woman adopted out of a Sudanese refugee camp years back by Richard's sister and brother-in-law. She has her boyfriend Peter in tow, a computer security guy.

Things develop rapidly from there: Peter turns out to dabble in illegality, and this gets him involved with one shady guy. Who is (in turn) in league with some very shady, and violence-prone, Russian mobsters. An illicit deal is thwarted when Peter's sale of sensitive information is accidentally encrypted and made inaccessible by the REAMDE computer virus, held for ransom by the China-based virus-writing hackers. The money is to be repaid, coincidentally, though the commerce system on T'Rain.

But the Russians are not meek ransom-paying types: Zula and Peter are abducted, and flown off to Xiamen, China, to assist in tracking down and bringing the hackers to justice, or at least the Russian gangster version thereof. This culminates in utter disaster, death, explosions, and shifting alliances. But more colorful characters are introduced: an honorable and resourceful Russian "security consultant"; a large Hungarian computer expert; a beautiful spy working for MI6; an enterprising Chinese tourist guide, who bonds with Zula.

And that's just the beginning.

The book is a page turner (or, on the Kindle, a button-pusher) with plenty of action throughout. But I didn't want to zip through it too fast, because Stephenson's prose is really something one wants to savor, full of sharp observations and wit.

What I especially liked: The primary bad guys are murderous Islamic terrorists, with zero redeeming qualities. Were Stephenson interested in writing a more Politically Correct work, it might be revealed at some point that the bad guys were actually controlled by shadowy capitalist moguls, or by our very own government. Nope. In fact, the head good guy, Richard, is a shadowy capitalist mogul (albeit with a pot-smuggling past). Other characters on the side of the angels include heavily-armed right-wing survivalists.

Caveats: I read it on my Kindle, and it had enough oddities in punctuation to make me wonder if even the corrected edition was an accurate representation of the text. The glitches, if they were actual glitches, didn't detract much from the reading experience, however.

What I really wanted was maps, especially of the area where the grand finale takes place. Preferably topographic. There's a lot of traipsing around the countryside by multiple groups; it's kind of tough to keep track of their various positions and progress with only the text descriptions to go by. (Did the printed version have maps? I'll have to check, if I ever set foot in a bookstore again.)


Last Modified 2012-09-24 3:40 PM EDT