Aric's Reviews > Reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson
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's review
Jun 07, 2011

it was ok

I was excited to start Reamde, as I have loved everything Neal Stephenson wrote since Zodiac. I wondered if it would be more like Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon. (Answer: Definitely Cryptonomicon, but without the WWII plot.)

Reamde is a present-day global techno-thriller, chock-full of hackers, gamers, mobsters, spies, survivalists, and terrorists. (Sorry, no pirates this time.) The beginning sets up a bit of backstory to “stock the fridge” with yummy stuff that will be important later. But once things kick into high gear, Reamde just doesn’t let go, and I found myself procrastinating on basic life stuff in order to keep reading.

The writing is probably as good as anything Stephenson has done. But ultimately, I was deeply disappointed with the story. I’ll confess, I don’t read a lot of formula thrillers, because they tend to oversimplify complex conflicts into cookie-cutter plots and good-guy/bad-guy shoot-outs. However, knowing Stephenson’s global awareness and prior work, I was hoping for something that would entertain while sneakily subverting the thriller formula. Reamde disappointed, in that regard.

In short, Stephenson seems to do a good job with Russian, Chinese, and English characters, but totally blows it when it comes to Muslims (no matter where they are from). It’s as if he put a lot of work into making well-rounded antagonists/shady/bad characters *unless* they’re Muslim. In that case, he went to the formula thriller resource library and checked out some cardboard cut-outs of crazy Muslim terrorists. There are no non-terrorist Muslim characters in the book.

But it gets worse. If having flat, unsympathetic villains wasn’t bad enough, he then bends over backward to point out that right-wing fundamentalist Christian anti-federal-government survivalist gun nuts are perfectly normal. Every time another point-of-view character interacts with the survivalist characters (and there are a lot of point-of-view characters), their inner dialog marvels at how normal these survivalists are. A big deal is made of the fact that they’re *not racist.* If they hadn’t opted to live off the grid, these hardy survivalists would no doubt be running businesses and be pillars of society. The double standard would perhaps be funny if there weren’t real people like Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and Anders Behring Breivik in the world.

Somehow, all the Muslims are irrational, bloodthirsty savages, but the anti-government survivalists are just a bunch of good ol’ boys who collect artillery and live off the grid.

Perhaps this bothers me because we already have too many negative portrayals of Muslims in the Anglophone world already (and one-sided portrayals of Muslims who resort to violence). Perhaps it bothers me because I grew up around John Birch Society members and anti-tax types. My childhood was spent in the fundamentalist Christian theocratic movement that supports policies of bigotry and hate. Handling characters like this with kid gloves while tarring all Muslims with the terrorist brush doesn’t make for good storytelling. And it left this fan deeply disappointed.
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