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Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Reamde: A Novel (edition 2011)

by Neal Stephenson

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2,4591562,482 (3.89)177
Title:Reamde: A Novel
Authors:Neal Stephenson
Info:William Morrow (2011), Hardcover, 1056 pages
Collections:Fiction, Your library
Tags:fiction, thriller, 75 book Challenge, April 2012

Work details

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

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    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (mhcityplanner)
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    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (Anonymous user)
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    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Anonymous user)
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    Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (Galorette)
  5. 20
    For the Win by Cory Doctorow (kjforrest)
    kjforrest: Both books cover gaming, gold farming and economics in an interesting way. For The Win is much shorter and a better read, but Reamde is good too.
  6. 20
    Halting State by Charles Stross (infiniteletters)
  7. 00
    The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross (Anonymous user)
  8. 00
    Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay (themulhern)
    themulhern: There has been some talk about Stephenson's female characters and some assertion that he is anti-feminist. My feeling is that he is, perhaps, writing his female characters as "bad feminists" in the sense that Roxane Gay uses that term in this collection of essays.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 155 (next | show all)
I could not finish this book, so this review is based on just the first 525 pages.

Reamde was an enormous disappointment. I read good reviews and was really looking forward to a new Stephenson after the fascinating Anathem. But what for a while seemed like an interesting plot against the background of a MMORPG devolved into a turgid, poorly-paced action/thriller with cardboard characters and an almost complete lack of narrative drive. I persevered for hundreds of pages through a tedious action sequence in Xiamen, hoping desperately that somehow the characters were being maneuvered into situations that would let the author return to something interesting, but it was not to be. I cheated, and read a few reviews on Amazon to see if I could get a hint about the second half of the book, but abandoned all hope when the reviews talked about a long shootout sequence at the end.

If there was one interesting takeaway from the book, it was to see how an author as gifted as Stephenson could do such a bad job with action/thriller, a genre handled much better by less talented writers in any number of pulp airport books. ( )
  quokka70 | Apr 24, 2016 |
Years back, ex-pot smuggler and WoW addict Richard Forthrast developed an MMO, T'rain, that took the world by storm. Now, he's a billionaire. At the latest Forthrast family reunion he reflects on the legend (and wiki entry) that has grown up around him, then reconnects with his niece, Zula, and her geek boyfriend Peter. Shortly thereafter, Peter's illicit hacking gets him (and by extention, Zula) embroiled in a Russian mobster's vendetta against a hacker team that is using T'rain to propogate a computer virus called Reamde. To get revenge, the mobster flies Peter, Zula, and a team of mercenaries to China to take out the hackers. But instead, the mercenaries accidentally attack a group of Islamic terrorists, which starts an international hunt for the terrorists.

There is a lot of everything to this book. Epic adventures and violence are accompanied by the most prosaic of details; the page after a bloodbath, there's a full page detailing the kind of shoes an MI6 agent has chosen to wear. The almost plodding level of detail both grounds the action, making it seem more believable and realistic, while slowing down the novel as a whole. So on the one hand, I knew each of the (many, MANY) characters very well by the end of the novel, even though only a few weeks at most have passed. On the other, I don't care in the slightest what kind of modifications someone made to their gun, or some random mercenary's pizza order, or the history of a fictional mine, so I was constantly fighting the urge to skim.

Stephenson is great at peppering his scenes with characters having profound realizations about oneself and the world and making it seem natural. He has a terrible tendency to infodump, or have a character monologue for far too long. And his action scenes are just awfully written: a character will twist his hips one way, twist his ankle another, this finger will do this, his head will slightly duck, etc. and meanwhile I the reader will have lost any focus or sense of urgency. Same with the plot--Stephenson has a tendency to introduce some new character, plot thread, or idea and then pursue it ad nauseum, while all the other plots the reader is already invested in are ignored. In his defense, the characters really are compelling, and the way the various plot threads come together is impressive. And it seems like he did try to do his research and put as much realism as he could into this novel. That said, [b:Reamde|10552338|Reamde|Neal Stephenson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1305993115s/10552338.jpg|15458989] feels like an odd patchwork of all the things Stephenson thought were cool at the time he was writing it, with a big dollop of guns and terrorists for spice. It has some great moments and a lot of really boring ones. If I could use only one word to describe it, it would be "uneven." ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Oh, I sure do love Neal Stephenson.
Here's my new and revised list of his books, in order of how much I like them:

Snow Crash (1992)
The Diamond Age (1995)
Anathem (2008)
Cryptonomicon (1999)
Reamde (2011)
Zodiac (1988)
Interface (1994) & The Cobweb (1996)
The Big U (1984)
The Baroque Cycle (2003-2004)

I considered bumping Reamde up past Crytonomicon, but then decided, no, I really can't, because although Reamde is non-stop fun, Cryptonomicon was more interesting and in-depth, as far as its subject matter.
Reamde is an action-packed thriller. It's a very clever, intelligent, geeky thriller, but it's basically an action movie in literary form. A friend of mine compared it to the books he wrote with his uncle (Interface and Cobweb). I can see the comparison, but those books were both very mainstream in outlook - almost something you'd expect to pick up at an airport newsstand - and Reamde goes miles beyond that.

It's over a thousand pages, but it doesn't feel long at all. (Although it does feel heavy - I was actively envying people with Kindles as I was reading this.) It's got: gamers, hackers, Russian mobsters, Al-Qaeda, businessmen, spies, right-wing militias, nerds, things that blow up, people getting shot, kidnapping, hostages, China, the Philippines, Canada, large amounts of cash, airplanes, boats, and many other People and Things that are Bad-Ass and Awesome.

Great both for Stephenson fans and as an introduction to his work. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
A computer virus gets everything started, we meet members of the Russian mafia and some jihadists, fly on a private jet to China (and back from the Philippines), and get stranded on drifting boats. Lots of fast-paced cliffhangers later, we find everyone focused on the Pacific Northwest for a nail-biting finale. Rather than imagining some near-future, Stephenson makes up a captivating thousand-page chase set in the present day. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
I always find Stephenson's books effortless to read, they're page turners that combine the best aspects of thriller novels with some interesting speculative elements, even when lengthy. That's fortunate considering Stephenson often turns out massive tomes, Reamde being a prime example. Unlike some of Stephenson's other long works, though, Reamde doesn't feel like a story that needed over a thousand pages to tell (Anathem and Cryptonomicon). Instead, it feels like several shorter books stapled together, and unfortunately I think that some of those constituent books would have been better on their own- and that others shouldn't have been written at all.

The first book that Reamde contains is a thriller about a man getting entangled with a Russian crime organization and getting his newly ex-girlfriend tangled up with him. After a deal goes bad this former couple is abducted by the Russians, more specifically a crime boss, his chief of security, and a good deal of hired muscle. A hacker who has worked with the Russians in the past is also along for the ride. The twist is that the chief of security isn't that bad of a guy (he actually wants to protect the abducted woman), and that the crime boss is slowly going insane. Add in an exotic locale that makes everything uncertain and a manhunt of a questionable nature and you've got one heck of an interesting book. This would have been great as a standalone novel, and it's the best part of Reamde.

The second book is the story of a mercenary and a spy that separately stumble upon one of the world's most wanted terrorists, and through chance and a shared goal of bringing him down they team up, first to escape his attempts to murder them and then to track him down. The terrorist, meanwhile, takes a hostage that he believes will allow him to sneak into the United States, where he plans on conducting a huge terrorist attack. This book isn't nearly as dynamic as the first one, hewing a little too close to airport thriller boilerplate, but it's not bad.

The third book, which is mostly interspersed throughout the other two, is the story of a past-his-prime former pot dealer who is now very wealthy thanks to investing and helping design a massively multiplayer online role playing game named T'Rain, the main draw of which is its accurate geology. The man's thoughts are haunted by nagging ex-girlfriends, and he occasionally plays his video game (where he's the most powerful character in the world), and stirs up shit between two satirical but all-too-accurate takes on fantasy authors. This character's climax involves him falling down several times, and features a mountain lion in the role of a deus ex machina (the mountain lion actually fulfills this role twice). At one point, while the climax of the first book and the beginning of the second book are occurring, Stephenson goes at least 150 pages without throwing in a chunk of this third book, and I didn't miss it. Several of the plot lines of this story never resolve and the stakes never feeling significant enough compared to the other two books; this one's not very good.

Stephenson combines these three books, and the strength of the first is diluted slightly by the less impressive nature of the second, and then that is diluted much more significantly by the pointlessness of the third. Early on the books spends pages info-dumping of the workings of T'Rain, which are a bit of a slog to read through, and which never matter to the story: T'Rain's role in the plot is minimal and completely superfluous, it could have been excised entirely with no ill effect. It's clear that Stephenson had an interest in writing about an MMORPG, which he clung to long after the plot had gone in a vastly different direction. Not a great foundation on which to set up the man who's supposed to be the lead male character. The third book should probably have been edited out, but it remains, making Reamde feel like a Frankenstein's monster of a volume.

Even if it had been excised, however, Reamde would still be a bit of a mess because the first book doesn't naturally flow into the second. The sudden introduction of the terrorist who becomes the main antagonist occurs due to random chance, and that terrorist's abduction of the female lead occurs on a whim, and she is kept around by him without a sufficiently strong explanation for hundreds of pages. When all the characters from the first book become hell-bent on stopping the antagonist of the second Stephenson is hoping you don't think too hard about why, because their motivations are mostly paper-thin. At times Stephenson points out the coincidence-driven nature of Reamde, but the reliance on coincidence is just too glaring and all-encompassing for him to be able to hang a lantern on it. At one point the book suggests that the female lead, Zula, has some sort of almost superhuman ability to make people care about her, and that's why people keep dragging her around the world and why hordes of other people keep chasing her and trying to rescue her. Such an attempt at explaining away the pure bizarreness of the plot falls completely flat. Stephenson shoehorns in connections and through-lines in the plot in order to sew the constituent books into one whole, but it never feels cohesive.

Is Stephenson trying to say something with the incredibly long and coincidence-driven story of Reamde? Does the inclusion of vastly different stories chopped up and squished together into one book say something worth hearing? Perhaps Stephenson is talking about the interconnected nature of the modern world with those coincidences, where a random hacker in Asia can, with a line of code, start a massive series of unpredictable events. Maybe Stephenson is trying to talk about the role of randomness in all of our lives when going into one door instead of another leads to an astronomic body count across multiple contents. Maybe Stephenson is- you know what, I'm not going to pretend to think of another, because even if Stephenson was thinking about those things, he doesn't say anything new or interesting about the interconnected modern world or the role of coincidence in life with Reamde, and furthermore it's more than likely that Stephenson didn't set out to write a book with those themes in mind, those are just the themes that arose out of Stephenson writing a massive book and throwing in a lot of the things he thought were interesting all together without thinking of a way that they would naturally intersect. Cryptonimicon is Stephenson's closest work to this one in terms of structure, but it felt far less like an amalgam of several different stories, and more like one coherent story that happened to have several very different threads. Stephenson doesn't achieve here what he did in Cryptonomicon.

Reamde would have been better if it had been shorter (more specifically if it had been a tighter, 500 page book focusing on a woman surviving a mafia abduction instead of the rambling book it ended up being) simply because the additional length adds nothing to the book. Even if the pages go by quickly, if they're pointless or editing could have led to a better book, then I give readability little credit. Reamde has its high points, but it isn't one of Stephenson's best, though if it had focused on its strongest sections and abandoned the parts that were pointless or didn't work, it might have been. As it stands, the weakness or unremarkable nature of the majority of its pages counterbalances the stronger beginning sections, making it hard to recommend this book, especially compared to Stephenson's other work. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 155 (next | show all)
All of Stephenson's fiction has thrilling moments (and as his novels tend to be big, those moments can go on for many, many pages), but this is the first of his books that is nothing but a thriller, one that will sit comfortably on shelves weighed down by, say, the complete works of Robert Ludlum.
added by dcozy | editThe Japan Times, David Cozy (Nov 27, 2011)
Sci-fi geeks flock to the master's wildly complex novels -- but his latest, "Reamde," is maddeningly conventional
added by bertilak | editSalon, Andrew Leonard (Sep 19, 2011)
REAMDE, Stephenson's latest novel [...] is a book that represents a new kind of equilibrium in Stephenson's literary canon: a book that is simultaneously as baroque as System of the World and as cleanly and crisply finished as Anathem. It is, in other words, a triumph, all 980 pages of it
added by r.orrison | editBoing Boing, Cory Doctorow (Sep 14, 2011)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hillgartner, MalcolmReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Iacobelli, JamesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Richard kept his head down.  Not all those cow pies were frozen, and the ones that were could turn an ankle.
"Fate has given us a totally awesome foe." -Qian Yuxia
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Book description
Four decades ago Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of his Iowa-based family, fled to a wild and mountainous corner of British Columbia to avoid the draft. Quickly realizing that he could make a lot of fast cash carrying backpack loads of high-grade marijuana across the border into Northern Idaho he began to amass an enormous and illegal fortune. Living an affluent but lonely and monotonous life in B.C., Richard became addicted to the online fantasy game World of Warcraft and like many serious players of the game he also fell into the habit of purchasing viral gold pieces and other desirables from Chinese gold farmers—young men who make a living playing the game and accumulating virtual weapons and armor that can be sold to American and European buyers who have more money than time. Luckily for Richard, it was the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin a new business venture to further expand his fortune.

Now the head of a major computer gaming group called Corporation 9592 with its own super-successful online fantasy game, T’Rain, Forthrast is caught in the center of a global thriller and a virtual war for dominance that is accidentally triggered by a young gold farmer.
Haiku summary
A fast-paced thriller
Hackers, mobsters, terrorists
Done Stephenson-style


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When his own high-tech start up turns into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family who has amassed an illegal fortune, finds the line between fantasy and reality becoming blurred when a virtual war for dominance is triggered.… (more)

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