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3.7 out of 5 stars
Reamde
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Like most people who have worked a lot with computers, I immediately saw the title of Neal Stephenson's book Reamde as a variant on 'Readme' - as indeed it is. I've really enjoyed his science fiction work like Cryptonomicon and Anathem before, and have even managed to overcome my loathing of extremely long books, as in these works Stephenson is not indulging in drivel, but really fills them with content. However, Reamde has left me with very mixed feelings.

I loved the plot segment that the book's title refers to. Reamde is a virus that takes computers hostage, linked to a massive multiplayer online game called T'rain, which was created as a way of using the virtual coinage inside the game for far more than simply buying a new sword. If you are interested in computer gaming, the parts of the story that revolve around the game are brilliant - as is the twist of the virus resulting in an organised crime gang trying to track down its creator.

However, this only accounts for around 1/4 of the 1,000 plus pages, and I was far less happy with the rest. Firstly, while the multiplayer game storyline is borderline SF, the rest is just a straightforward action thriller with good guys versus evil jihadists. This mostly consists of two huge set piece battle sections, each lasting several hundred pages. I'm not particularly interested in this kind of storyline, which despite being page turning in its intensity at the peaks had a lot of dull troughs. It didn't help that where previously Stephenson's expansive writing was a result of having lots of content, in the battles it really did feel like there was far too much padding and I found myself skipping whole pages at a time to get to something happening. I'm afraid he has strayed into late J. K. Rowling-itis - too famous now for an editor to dare to suggest cutting out the woffle.

Two more issues. Stephenson uses a large numbers of points of view, which I find tedious - while the T'rain part of the story was running I wanted to switch back to the main character's view, and got irritated with all the switches away, while in the battle scenes, and pretty much the last half of the book, the main character hardly features at all and is just a minor character of many - this isn't my favourite style of writing.

The final problem probably reflects my being British. The good guys are pretty well all rabid gun enthusiasts, which plays a major part in the storyline. I'm afraid this just leaves me cold - it was, at times, as if two lots of terrorists were fighting each other. I appreciate that this may have been in part to reflect the nature of battle in an adventure game, drawing real world parallels, which was decidedly clever, but it still left me feeling the 'good' guys all deserved to be locked up at the end for the safety of everyone else. Only the sheer momentum of the writing carries you past the fact that their response to have having an armed hoard of terrorists on the loose is not to call in the authorities but to try to kill them themselves.

This, then, was a book with lots of promise in what should have been its main theme, that became hijacked to become a very lengthy action thriller. Disappointed.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2012
This for me was a 5 star book for the first 600 pages, 4-star for the next 200 pages, and then the last part rapidly degenerated into a confoundingly drawn out and highly improbable non-stop action finale, with ridiculous amounts of unnecessary and uninteresting details, as all the book's heroes and villains managed, miraculously, to converge from all over the world onto one spot where they could fight it out amongst themselves (and others) whilst endlessly scrambling up and down mountain paths in a cloud of bullets and blood.

And yet the first section of the book is a finely balanced and well-paced thriller. Inspiring stuff that had me staying up into the small hours not just reading but also investigating Google maps in order to find out more about some of the areas Stephenson was describing in the story.

Such a pity that an otherwise great read became a long drawn out struggle to finish the book - I found myself "speed-reading" through the final 50 or so interminable pages of tiresome forest combat in order to reach the predictable happy ending and move on to something better to read. I only wish I had paid a bit more attention to some of the other reviews here before choosing this particular book as an introduction to Neal Stephenson.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2011
I have been almost worshipfully keen on Neal Stephensons work since I first came in contact with "The Diamond Age", and worked my way through his list. Each piece was differently brilliant, managed to give penetrating insight to arcane areas of the human experience, with amazing characterisation, and a delivery that spanned from techno-fetishism to humour......so it was with Great Anticipation that I discovered that another title was out.
The sad truth is that "Reamde" was ok, but something was missing. The choice to create a straight thriller resulted in a lot of back to back action sequences (which he's always been good at, don't get me wrong) which ended up just feeling a bit tired by the end. The magic just wasn't there, and I know that it'll stay on my shelf for years, while the others get taken out and re-read and lent out to people enthusiastically.

It feels like sacreliege, but I just didn't love it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2012
This is another big fat book from Neal Stephenson. I'm a fan, having enjoyed every book so far but unfortunately not this one.

A very interesting take on the relationship between a World of Warcraft clone (don't worry you need only to know such things exist!), its money earning potential, and the dabbling in a get rich quick scheme which accessed international crime with deadly results, rapidly bloated into an exhausting and almost never-ending chase movie, courtesy of a terrorist cell being attacked in the mistaken belief that it was the bunch of criminals using the game to scam loads of money. Amateurs, criminals, and mercenaries blundered about; slightly rogue US and UK spies did their own thing to a large extent, and gun-toting independents in the woodlands of NW USA blasted a bloody conclusion. The whole was cast with barely believable characters from the US, Europe and Asia, with new ones appearing as fast as they were knocked down, and there were tackily obvious love interests with equally obvious conclusions that would have warmed the frozen heart of any bean-counting Hollywood producer. Frankly, I was bored and exhausted by the end, and at no point cared about any of the characters. It would make a fast moving and violent mini-series - perhaps that's what the author is trying to get into?

This was writing by numbers - throw in enough characters and crises and you're going to appeal to enough people enough of the time I suppose. The only reason I finished it was a perverse desire to see what ludicrous schemes were used to resolve the plot.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2012
Neal Stephenson's "Readme" was published on September 20th, 2011. I don't know if it was intentional to publish it in anniversary month of 911, but given the international terrorism element of the story it is somehow fitting. "Readme" is a large book, with a story which arcs from a computer virus which extorts gold in a computer game (which can be turned into money in the real world) to the Russia Mafia, to international terrorism, but the core of it all is the relationship between Richard Forthrast and his adopted niece Zula.

Given that the title of the book refers to a computer virus, one would expect that the virus and the game that it involves would play a more central role to the story than it actually does. Not to say that the Reamde virus isn't important to the story, quite the contrary, it is the virus which sets off the entire chain of events. Stephenson clearly spent a lot of time coming up with the concept of the virus, and the computer game it uses to extort funds from those infected, and the early part of the book incorporates the discussion of the game, and its underlying premise. The strategy behind the development of the game is told in some detail, and is important to the character development of Richard.

The virus works by encrypting the user's data, and informing the user that to release the data they must deliver a certain amount of gold (in the computer game) to a specific location. Where it goes wrong is when Zula's boyfriend has promised some data to a buyer, but then cannot deliver because his data stick has become encrypted by the virus. It then turns out that the person interested in the data is a member of the Russian mafia, which results in an attempt to find the programmer who created the virus. The story then heads to Xiamen, China to bring in the hackers, but as they attempt to capture the hackers, Zula's attempt to warn them results in the involvement of some Islamic terrorists, who just happen to be in the same building. The chain reaction doesn't stop there though, as the terrorists, led by Abdullah Jones, a black Welshmen who also is being tracked by MI6, manage to take Zula as a hostage.

The Islamic terrorism plot dominates the story the rest of the way, and of course it all comes back to an attempt by the terrorists to get back into the U.S. from Canada by using Zula's rich uncle. In my opinion, this is unfortunate, because the terrorism plot was the least interesting to me, and outside of the Abdullah Jones character I found it to be rather cliché. Most, if not all, of the terrorists are two-dimensional characterizations, while the characters in China, and those associated with the Russian Mafia were much more interesting, as was the concept of the game and the virus.

The end result is that this is a solid book, and it will keep the reader entertained, but my personal rating can't go above three stars. Even Stephenson's books which are not at his peak are well worth reading, and this one is no exception. There are many great characters in this book, though I thought that it was a bit unrealistic how much everyone (except for the two-dimensional stereotypical terrorist characters) were so entranced by Zula to be a bit over the top. Because I wasn't that interested in another "terrorist" story, I thought that the story dragged for a substantial section, but for those who want that type of story it may not be an issue.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2011
I really like Neal Stephenson, to the degree that the Baroque Cycle trilogy is still one of my favourite series I've read. However this latest work while enjoyable was not up to the usual standard. Unfortunately I was thrown out of the story on a number of occasions due to continuity errors, and descriptions of a computer game that was beyond ludicrous.

To say that a large part of the storyline is an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) it is obvious that the author has never played one, or at least no more than a cursory exploration. Neal treats his online avatars as though they could act/do pretty much anything they would in real life like grabbing someone by the collar before performing a magical feat.

Also I would have to say that it was a bit too long, by half way through the rest of the book was pretty obvious, and wading through endless descriptions of the American outback did nothing other than make me want a fast forward button.

Buried in all of the above negative criticism is a good story, and the fact that I made it to the last page is a testament to Neal's often superb writing. It's just in this case it could have done with a better editor to sort out the mistakes and cut some of the redundant passages
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2012
I think that perhaps 3 stars is too low for this but then I can't really quite bring myself to give it four stars. For me its a solid 3 and a half. Being a bit of a Neal Stephenson fan I had high hopes for this book, I loved Anathem and hoped for something on that level, but sadly it could not live up to monks in space and indeed was a bit, how do I say it? ho hum.

This is at best an action book set more or less in the present, not a visionary sci-fi or technology driven historical novel. There is none of the sparkle of ideas that illuminate Anathem, the Baroque cycle, Cryptonomicon, The diamond age, or Snow crash. I would rate this alongside zodiac perhaps even behind if I was asked to rank Stephenson's novels. That said I mostly enjoyed Zodiac, and I mostly enjoyed Reamde, but its a big step down from his last half dozen efforts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2014
I'll echo some of the other reviews in that the book is far too long. It lacks the explorative depth of his other works in which anything from creating phosphorus, tempered steel, binary language are woven into a rip roaring narrative dragging you through an inspiring adventure.

I just didn't get that from this novel. There is no Shaftoe, Waterhouse, Hiro or Nell to fall in love with here. The characters are well rounded enough and Stephenson resists any real stereotyping, but nevertheless, the chopping from narrative threads seems often unnecessary and a device within itself in this book, whereas in his other novels you always felt you were changing at the right time, at a moment you needed to know what another character thread was doing.

I actually like the plot concept, and overall enjoyed the overlapping of virtual and real worlds, and the creation of virtual economies, however it just doesn't develop into anything that blows you off your feet like the Baroque Cycle did, or Snow Crash.

In essence, in my view all the comments about editing I'd agree with. I'd say the book could have been 2/3rd's if not 1/2 the size of the finished article and been much better for it. Whereas his previous coffee table breakers were filled with various philosophical, mathematical, scientific investigations and explanations, this book just appears to be padded out for the sake of it.

I've already read Snow Crash and Diamond Age twice (almost unprecedented for me to read a book twice), and will one day read the Baroque Cycle again, and to my mind Neal Stephenson is a literary genius, but this is very much a book that he has missed the target with.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2012
At 900 pages it's a very long slog. As usual well written and full of ideas and original characters, although without the sweep and originality of Cryptonomicon or even Snowcrash, both of which it resembles rather than his last four door-stoppers.
The concluding very extended dénouement in the mountains goes on far too long until it finally runs out of steam and the final wrapping up chapter is positively cheesy. All in all, and very regretfully, at such a length it is not really worth the effort.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2011
Fascinating to read a few of the earlier reviews, as they confirm what I've been thinking whilst reading Reamde. Reviewers seem strongly divided on Neal Stephenson's earlier works - there's the SnowCrash camp and the Baroque Cycle camp, and fans of one rarely like the other... This book is very much of the SnowCrash variety, though with the emphasis very much on the action thriller elements rather than the speculative fiction angle. There's an expansive and enjoyably implausible thriller plot, but very little food for thought. For me Stephenson's strengths (apart from cracking action scenes) have always been in brilliant, eye-opening ideas (all those inter-connections in Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle, the whole plot of Anathem) and vivid, detailed descriptions of alien places and/or times (his description of 17thC London in the Baroque Cycle for example), whilst he has a tin-ear, frankly, for dialogue, and his characterisation is defined by what people do rather than who people are - I'm afraid, with the lack of brain-food and 1000 pages to churn through, these flaws stand out more this time.

Never less than readable though (more cliff hangers than a Welsh caravan site), and I'd watch a movie of this too. But back to the sci-fi/speculative historical fiction next time please, Neal!
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