If you have never read Neal Stephenson, this may be a great place to start. Reamde is a nuts and bolts techno-thriller that will have you turning pages and cancelling appointments all the way through it's 1000+ pages.
It goes something like this. Richard Forthrast is a former pot smuggler with a castle on the Canadian side of the US border. In his middle age, Richard has made a substantial fortune as the creator of a MMORPG called T'Rain. Richard's adopted niece is called Zula. She once walked across Eritrea. A computer virus called Reamde causes havoc within the game of T'Rain and even more havoc in the real world.
The plot plays out over 20 days during which time we meet a homicidal Russian gangster and an honourable Russian security consultant. We journey across the world with a Hungarian IT expert and a Chinese video game hacker. We fall in with a brace of spies, one British of Chinese origin, one American of Irish origin. We encounter a slew of Jihadists led by a Welsh autodidact named Abdallah Jones. We travel from Seattle to Xiamen, China and back to Canada. On the way there are side plots in Taipei, Manila, Cambridge and the Torgai Hills in the gameworld of T'Rain. It's pretty manic and almost completely unputdownable, a feat which is mirrored in the book by several online game sessions that last for hours and often require characters to pee in buckets so they never have to leave their seats.
In the past I have read Cryptonomicon and all two and a half thousand pages of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy. I don't think Reamde has quite the literary sophistication of those enjoyable works, but at the same time it's a more accessible book that functioned as a perfect holiday read as I lay by the pool for three days last week in Eilat. And, make no mistake, Stephenson-lite is still a more erudite and thrilling experience than almost any other popular novelist I can think of.
In Reamde, fingers fly across keyboards as bullets fly across continents. Hackers hack, spies spy and terrorists terrorize. Richard and Zula Forthrast make two of the most unlikely heroes and they seem, at least to this jaded reader, as unlike the usual crop of thriller protagonists as it is possible to imagine.
I bought my copy of Reamde in hardback at Blackwell's on the Charing Cross Road for half off the cover price of £18.99. You can buy it now in hardback from Amazon.co.uk for £11.20. It is also available for the Kindle at £8.15 which seems terrific value for money.
Reamde is the latest book from the American novelist Neal Stephenson, the copy I am reviewing was a hardcopy with an RRP of a whopping £18.99. Whilst this seems a lot to pay the book is also quite whopping at 1056 pages plus the hard cover, so not all that commuter friendly. It might be worth looking at a kindle version if you have the option.
The book follows the fortunes of the Forthrast family, initially the main character seems to be Richard Forthrast a middle aged entrepreneur who was the creator of the popular online game T'Rain which is targeted by a group of chinese hackers. The virus they use is called Reamde hence the books title. This plotline is something of a red herring however as the virus storyline pretty much peters out after a couple of hundred pages. The main storyline in the book follows the adventures of Zula Forthrast, an African refugee that was adopted into the Forthrast family as a child. After an unfortunate series of events she is kidnapped by a rogue Russian mafia boss who is trying to track down the Reamde hackers mentioned above. At the point of completing this mission the narrative takes a strange turn and Zula is kidnapped again by the Welsh islamic terrorist Abdullah Jones and his gang who were plotting atrocities from the same building as the Chinese hackers.
This twist really stretches belief in the storyline and the coincidences don't stop there as various characters are introduced to the story and amazingly keep bumping into each other in unlikely scenarios.
The first few hundred pages of the book cracks along at a good pace and I thoroughly enjoyed the book until about half way through. Sadly the second half of the book was unable to maintain the pace and I think could have perhaps lost a couple of hundred pages without detriment. Of course maintaining a book as a 'page turner' for over a thousand pages is a difficult task and ultimately the various strands reconverge towards the end and most loose ends are tied up. Having said that the last fifty pages or so seemed a little rushed and I wondered if the editor had got fed up by this stage and remembered what they were supposed to be doing.
I have read several books by this author and I would class this as one of his more average efforts, sorry Neal I hope the enormous bags of cash you will earn from the book help you get over my comments! The book is very American orientated with RV's, Walmarts, Gun shooting family reunions, scary islamic terrorists and so on. The book could easily have been written by any one of a dozen thriller writers with not as many flashes of brilliance as some of his earlier works.
The book would be classed as techno-thriller although technically perhaps science fiction as the MMORPG T'Rain is probably slightly ahead of todays capabilities. nothing else in the book would classify it as science fiction however. Overall I would recommend the book although not for a casual reader, it took me the best part of a month to read and I usually get through roughly a book a week.
As of today the book is available on Amazon for £11.20 for the harcover and paperback for £15.71.