Friday, February 17, 2012

Review: Reamde

Reamde is the first Neal Stephenson book I've read since Cryptonomicon. A lot of this is because he seems to have forsworn all use of editors, which have made his books huge and ungainly without making them better.

The Hardback edition of Reamde runs 1056 pages, which is enough to kill someone if it was dropped off a tall building. Fortunately, I obtained the Kindle edition. The story revolves around a virus that encrypts all of a user's data on his hard drive with strong encryption, ransomed by dropping gold in a virtual world called T'Rain. The book goes into all the gory details about an MMORPG designed to make gold farming easy and respectable, leading you to believe that there might be some sort of plot involving virtual worlds.

Soon enough, though, Stephenson drops in Russian mafia, jihadhists, MI6 spies, survivalists, Hungarian hackers, and Chinese women, in rapid succession and in higly improbable situations, leading the reader to sort out where the plot is going. The plot then gyrates off one improbable situation after another, leading the characters to diverge and then converge finally, all in one big battle with lots of bloods, guts, and loving description of military hardware.

We do get a happy ending, and everything's tied off nicely in a bow. But the ungainliness of the plot and the improbability all makes you wonder how if this was mainstream fiction, how anybody could consider science fiction or fantasy "speculative". Altered Carbon feels like hard-boiled realistic fiction compared to this stuff.

I spent about 10 days working through this book, and I'm not sure I got very much out of it. It's brain candy, and the feeling I got after reading this book is the feeling I'd get if I were to down an entire shipping container full of hostess twinkie. A lot of artificial ingredients that's ultimately not very nutritious or satisfying.

Not recommended.
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