Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Review: REAMDE by Neal Stephenson


Richard Forthrast is one of the creators of T’Rain, the ultimately popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. He built it to capitalize on the Chinese tendency to build characters and gather materials and money and then sell them to other players who lacked the time to do so on their own. T’Rain has proved itself amazingly successful, until a Trojan virus begins infecting players. The REAMDE virus is compromising real people’s documents and files and costing them T’Rain gold to get back. And now, Richard’s favorite niece, Zula, and her boyfriend Peter, have been victimized by the REAMDE virus and lost information that Peter couldn’t afford to lose. The real-life quest to find and neutralize the creator of REAMDE will take Zula and Peter all the way across the world, and involve some unexpected political factions.

All because of a game.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

In 1972, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa farming clan, fled to the mountains of British Columbia to avoid the draft. A skilled hunting guide, he eventually amassed a fortune by smuggling marijuana across the border between Canada and Idaho. As the years passed, Richard went straight and returned to the States after the U.S. government granted amnesty to draft dodgers. He parlayed his wealth into an empire and developed a remote resort in which he lives. He also created T'Rain, a multibillion-dollar, massively multiplayer online roleplaying game with millions of fans around the world. But T'Rain's success has also made it a target. Hackers have struck gold by unleashing Reamde, a virus that encrypts all of a player's electronic files and holds them for ransom. They have also unwittingly triggered a deadly war beyond the boundaries of the game's virtual universe—and Richard is at ground zero.


REAMDE is set pretty much in the year it was published (2011) or so, and as such, it really alights on the world at that moment. Threats of terrorism, gaming culture, resistors of American policy— it’s all here. MI6, the FBI, jihadist Muslims, and your average tech nerd all come into play as characters. The people populating this novel could easily be people you see online or in the street, and the places are, of course, real. The events and actions themselves are all feasible in the world right now, with restrictive policies and consequences taken into account. All in all, it’s definitely a modern novel.


I can’t say I was that drawn in by Stephenson’s actual writing. It felt bland to me, although I have to admit his dialogue is wonderful. Yuxia in particular, grabs the ears from the moment she first appears on the scene with her use of American slang, and the exchanges characters have with one another are just as snappy as real conversations I’ve had with people. 

I think my biggest gripe was that the action scenes (and since this is a technothriller, most of the book was action) didn’t grab me like they should have. Oh, the threat to the characters was real, but the actual telling of what was going on didn’t get my heart pumping like I’d hoped. I was, honestly, almost bored with the action. In fact, there were times I was bored. Sadly, this was for much of the book itself. Stephenson is a very masterful plotter, weaving plot threads and character arcs into a tapestry of epicness that I can’t help but admire, but I didn’t resonate with the actual telling of the story.

My Thoughts

I liked maybe about half of this book. It started slow and confusing for me, with me wondering what the heck I was doing with this novel, and then suddenly, T’Rain came into the picture, and I was enthralled. But for about the whole second quarter of the book, I was again wondering why I was still doing listening to it. At that point, I was about 10 hours into it and decided to make good on my investment, so I kept listening. Things picked up for me again right after the halfway point, and for about the third quarter of the book, I was involved again. Then things petered out until I was glad it was over. Basically, breaking the book down into quarters, it was GREAT-boring-GREAT-boring. I don’t think I’m quite the audience for this novel. 

That isn’t to say it’s bad, though. I did still get attached to many of the characters (Yuxia, Csongor, and Marlon being my favorites), and the parts where I was drawn in, I was DRAWN IN! But the book just had too much that seemed to drag on and wander for me to really enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong; the parts that seemed to wander had some good payoffs and made sense later, but it was just too much for me to stay interested and invested.

Would I Recommend This Book? Yes and no. If you like action, then by all means go for this book. If you’re expecting something to really be about an MMORPG, then don’t bother. Actual T’Rain involvement was rare and limited, and that was a big disappointment to me. I give REAMDE an apostrapocalyptic 3 out of 5 stars.

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