January 29th, 2012


Book Review: Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

Hackers, gold farmers, pot smugglers, Russian mafia, terrorists, gun nuts, fundamentalists, and man-eating cougars in a sprawling, swollen 21st century doorstopper.


William Morrow, 2011, 1056 pages

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 role-playing 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.

Racing around the globe from the Pacific Northwest to China to the wilds of northern Idaho and points in between, Reamde is a swift-paced thriller that traverses worlds virtual and real. Filled with unexpected twists and turns in which unforgettable villains and unlikely heroes face off in a battle for survival, it is a brilliant refraction of the 21st century, from the global war on terror to social media, computer hackers to mobsters, entrepreneurs to religious fundamentalists. Above all, Reamde is an enthralling human story - an entertaining and epic pause-resister from the extraordinary Neal Stephenson.

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Verdict: Stephenson fans will be glad that he's returning to his roots with this book, which is whatever the now-meaningless term "cyberpunk" has evolved into in the 21st century where "Virtual Reality" has become Facebook and WOW and organized crime and terrorism are the major sources of international bloodshed. Reamde is a long, fun read that's almost stupid, but just smart enough that you suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy the huge cast of improbable characters colliding, separating, and colliding again throughout the novel, shooting things and blowing shit up from Canada to China.

My complete list of book reviews.