Friday, 10 January 2014

book review: Reamde

Neal Stephenson.
Atlantic. 2011

Richard Forthrast is an ex marijuana smuggler, and now millionaire owner of Corporation 9592 that markets the massively multiplayer online game T’Rain, a world with accurately depicted geology and a massively detailed backstory, designed to incorporate earnings from Chinese gold farmers. A member of his extended family, adopted niece Zula, is kidnapped when her boyfriend accidentally infects a Russian gangster’s computer with the REAMDE virus, T’Rain-based ransomware that has encrypted the wrong files this time. But when the Russian gangsters collide with Islamist jihadists while searching for the virus writers in China, being monitored by an MI6 covert ops agent, things rapidly spiral out of control into bloody violence.

Like Cryptonomicon, this 1000 page brick is a techno-thriller with an SF vibe (but a lot more gun-porn). It seems to simultaneously run at breakneck speed whilst the plot advances with glacial slowness, due to the typical Stephenson-esque crazy eye for detail. This detail is rendered with an SFnal style, describing all the “alien” cultures, from urban China, via Oxford colleges, to backwoods Idaho. Stephenson also manages to make several of the characters more sympathetic than you might at first believe possible.

And Stephenson has mastered endings. Unlike earlier offerings, this doesn’t merely stop; it has a conclusion. The conclusion isn’t totally satisfying – there seem to be copious loose ends left in T’Rain, and several small guns left hanging on real-world walls. But the overall story ends.

What is for me the best part is the way everyone’s “best laid plans” are thwarted by the others executing their own best laid plans. There is no easy linear progression of the hero: all the different arcs interact to scupper, or sometimes support, each character’s intentions. And most of the characters are competent – even the mad guys and the bad guys – which is so refreshing after the usual issues of plans not surviving scrutiny by a 4-year-old.

Definitely worth reading. And best use of a Love Actually DVD ever.

For all my book reviews, see my main website.

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