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Reamde by Neal Stephenson
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Oct 03, 11

bookshelves: science-fiction
Read from September 23 to October 01, 2011

Reamde seems to be aimed directly at me as the target audience. Being me, I appreciate this. It might not fly so much for others, but if you resemble any or all of the following, you'll want to take time to check it out.

-- Likes complex storylines with many characters
-- Technology saavy
-- Gamer (specifically MMORPGs)
-- Reads quickly enough that 1000 pages isn't an impossible task
-- Doesn't mind moderately graphic violence and language
-- Has no problem with the use of jihadist terrorism used as the story's "bad guy"

I fit all of the above, and so I loved Reamde.

I found myself caring what happened to every one of the primary characters, which is a tribute to Stephenson's ability to make a character come alive. I especially liked Richard Forthrast, who can be considered the main character inasmuch as there is one, because I could identify with almost all of his internal dialog.

The terrorists who are the novel's primary antagonists are primarily treated as faceless bogeymen, although with his usual completeness Stephenson does provide most of them names and a few personality quirks. The exception is the leader, who does get a good deal of attention. What is not explored in this book is their motivation; they are simply bad guys out to cause Bad Things to happen. If there's one complaint I have about this book, it is that the motivation of the terrorists isn't well explored. There's a few references to their pasts, but nowhere near the same depth as the other characters, so you're simply left unsure what social currents or personal experiences led these men to become jihadist terrorists. It feels a bit as if a Stephenson needed an overwhelming threat, and the Magic 8-Ball came up "jihadist terrorism".

The concepts behind the game world T'Rain were thought-provoking and interesting. The idea of reversing the current flow of real-world money into game currency isn't totally new, but Stephenson took it to a more detailed level than I'd ever seen before. Some of the details around how the game worked probably could have been left out without seriously damaging the story, but Stephenson is nothing if not complete. If he includes a concept, he includes everything about it.

The book contained any number of improbable coincidences, which it shares with almost any modern adventure story. The identity of the "neighbors" in a Chinese apartment building is the most obvious of these. It requires some suspension of disbelief, but then, what good story doesn't? It's a fun read all the way through, and highly recommended.
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