Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reamde (or not)

Last week I finished Reamde, the latest offering from Neal Stephenson.  To tell the truth I was a little disappointed, since I enjoyed his last book Anathem so much (and also wrote about it on this blog).

What always brings me back to Stephenson's books is the way he plays with ideas about commerce, currency, and technology (sometimes the intersection of all three).  In Reamde, he again picks up on these by setting the novel around a new game (which reminds me of much of what I've heard about Skyrim) and how different groups of people exploit it to generate revenue (the 'gold miners' who find virtual gold and sell it for real-world cash).  When one faction of players creates a virus to scam others out of their gold, all hell breaks loose as both a virtual and real-world conflict ensues.

Unfortunately, Stephenson gets distracted from the interesting ideas in his book by trying to create a cliched commercial thriller.  In particular there are a few problematic points:

  • there is a group of terrorists that somehow gets included in the action; they don't seem to add anything to the plot except action
  • Stephenson adds plenty of gun battles to keep the action going (however feels the need to discuss the workings of said guns down to the most minute detail, resulting in several skim-worthy passages right in the most action-packed parts of the book)
  • an international cast of characters adds intrigue, but it's an unfortunate assumption that every one of them can communicate seamlessly with every other character
  • one of Stephenson's main failings in the past has been his ability to wrap up an ending.  I felt he had been improving, especially with the conclusion of Anathem.  Here however he gets a bit maudlin and a bit too neat.  For example, despite featuring several strong, independent-minded female characters (yay!), Stephenson finds the need to ensure they are all romantically involved with one of the male main characters by the last chapter of the book (ick).  
All that said, the book is an entertaining read and I don't regret the time I spent on it (and given the size, this was a non-trivial amount).  If you are going to give it a go, just make sure you set your expectations appropriately.

No comments: