More than once in the course of reading Neal Stephenson’s Reamde I wondered what exactly the book was about, where it was going, and if I was actually enjoying it. This serves me right. I often don’t bother looking into what I’m about to read beyond the blurb so as to avoid any preconceived ideas often imparted by reviews. There came a point five hundred pages in and a little more than half way through where I realized that this book wasn’t going to spoon feed anything to me.
From the blurb posted on Amazon: “The breathtaking tale of a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game.”
This describes only the beginnings of what transpires in Reamde and doesn’t hint at the rest of the story that bridges a dozen characters through a bewildering set of occurrences around the globe. The tech entrepreneur and his next-gen MMORPG have some very serious fans, including some vengeful Russians who don’t like being swindled of their virtual or even small amounts of real-world money by some player-hackers who have found a way to trick players into giving up their loot. Other players in the tale are introduced, each with skin in the game, including an MI6 agent, an innocent girl, and some serious jihadists with no sense of humor. You now get the idea of the unfolding nuttiness of this book.
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot. Fair warning that the story spends quite a bit of time in places that might not hold your interest, and I was impatient during certain sections as I wanted to get back to the characters I felt the most invested with. Reamde is a big chunk of book, clocking in at almost a thousand pages. Cryptonomicon challenged many with its length (200 pages longer), yet Reamde had more sections that just dragged. Fortunately, there are plenty of good parts, and the best action sequences are spread throughout.
Yes, I praise Reamde for its action. This is not Stephenson’s first thriller. His earlier works, including the 2005 novel Interface, qualify, yet that novel contains the speculative fiction ingredient of a president implanted with a biochip that affects him based on input from his political base. Reamde’s sole speculative elements are the nature of the eponymous computer virus and the MMORPG T’Rain that World of Warcraft players today would sacrifice kittens to be able to play. Otherwise Reamde deals with tech that is very real and often deadly. Stephenson journeys into the world of gun-owners, hunters, and military men. Hiro Protagonist would have a tough time in the harsh Canadian wilds described in the final act of Reamde when all this firepower comes into play.
So even at the novel’s slowest parts where I was wondering why I should care about what seemed to be some marginal character, Reamde remained readable because I thoroughly enjoy Stephenson’s prose, wit, and wordplay. Could it have been shorter? Without a doubt. But if you’ve read his previous works, you know what you’re getting into, and there are some surprises along the way, just more grounded ones than his later straight-up science fiction tales.