Reamde by Neal Stephenson Review

I’m a huge fan of Neal Stephenson’s work. Snow Crash is one of those books that has had a huge effect on my own writing and remains one of my all-time favorite novels. In addition, I’m a longtime player of MMOG’s like the one Stephenson describes in this book, T’Rain. The concept of one of my favorite authors exploring the intersection of virtual worlds with the real world was intriguing.

Unfortunately, Reamde did not hold together well at all. Most of Stephenson’s work is somewhat obscure, as well as practically laborious reading. He tends to make very long-winded tangents in the middle of action to explain some concept or mechanism and despite their length and interruption of the narrative, they often prove to be worth it once everything is said and done. While there are certainly many of those types of interruptions in this novel, most of them end up being just that, tangents without any real payoff. Stephenson is often criticized for his abrupt endings and this book is no exception. What makes this book’s ending stand out is how insignificant it makes the entire narrative feel once it’s over.

As I said, the concept of T’Rain is outstanding. In fact, it’s a game I’d love to play. However, once the reader gets a sense of the entire story in hindsight, the entire game world and the characters interactions with it feel entirely unnecessary. It’s role in the narrative could have been fulfilled by any sort of community site that exchanged currency – a gambling site, digital download service, music sharing. The unique properties of game worlds didn’t ever really have much impact and the book could have been at least 200 pages shorter with some less obscure mechanism for gathering the characters together.

Once that realization becomes clear, the novel reveals itself less as a “cyberpunk” thriller than as a standard, boilerplate, Tom Clancy-esque terrorist/spy novel. Even worse, most of the characters who manage to make it through the entire novel shouldn’t. At least three or four of the characters should have exited staged left midway through the book yet somehow everyone comes together in the end, which ends up feeling more implausible with each new narrative coincidence that makes them turn left instead of right. At times, the coincidences reach an almost sitcom level of implausibility, especially compared to the naturalistic take on the terrorists in the story.

This isn’t a bad novel by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly isn’t a great one. It’s easily 200-400 pages too long and all the best concepts get left by the wayside. If you are a fan of Stephenson’s work, it’s good enough and if you aren’t, there are better examples to read.

October 16, 2014 at 10:18 am | Books | No comment

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