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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 August 2014
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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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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Forthrast Family - A typical American family? Probably not. Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, ex-small time drug runner, haunted by the Furious Muses (echoes of his previous girlfriends), now the owner of T'Rain, the world's most successful online game; his younger brother Jacob "Jake" Forthrast, a born again Christian and Survivalist; his elder brother John Forthrast, Vietnam veteran with two high-tech artificial legs; his sister Patricia, killed by a bolt of lightning, and his adopted niece Zula Forthrast who walked to Sudan from Eritrea to escape a war.

Normal they might not be, but when Zula is kidnapped by the Russian Mafia after her boyfriend failed to deliver on a dodgy deal, they react as any family would and pull together to try and find a way to rescue her.

This book is enormous! It is 1000 pages long and none of that is filler. What this length of story delivers is a tremendous and detailed back story for all of the vast array of characters, from the Forthrast family, to Abdullah Jones, the enigmatic Welsh Jihadist, to Marlon, a Chinese gold farmer turned virus writer and many many more.

This book is also a very American story. The Forthrast family may not be an ordinary family, and even though a lot of unusual things happen to them, these events are often contrasted with the more ordinary side of American life, including things like shopping at Walmart, RVs, Starbucks, family reunions, Thanksgiving, gunshops etc. At some points in the story I felt I saw some flashes of the writing of that master of the bizarre American story, Thomas Pynchon - but in a much more accessible and readable form.

The story features believable and beautifully developed characters, fast action, a superb plot, a brilliant ending, and even some tongue in cheek humour (A Legendary Deluxe Platinum Collectors Edition of T'Rain - complete with Bonus Material, anyone?) I haven't even mentioned the computer virus from which this book takes its name! There really are stories within stories within stories!

You can probably tell I really enjoyed this book, but I should probably confess to being a huge fan of Neal Stephenson. I have all his books including the wonderful Cryptonomicon, and my own personal favourite The Diamond Age, so this book would have had to have tried very hard for me not to like it. It is different to his other work though and is easily his most accessible book to date. The world in which this story is set is not a world of historical events, science fiction or fantasy (other than the elements surrounding the online game T'Rain), it is simply our contemporary world.

Overall - 5 stars! You will invest a considerable amount of time in reading this book. It took me two weeks to finish it - but I have to say that this was time very well spent indeed!
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on 3 December 2012
As with all of Neal Stepehnson's novels from Cryptonomicon onwards, this book deserved to experience better editing than it received. Overly long, and sprawling across continents, seemingly disparate story lines slowly converge before a dramatic denouement in which the 'good guys' are assisted by some remarkable coincidences which would have been acceptable in a Dickens serial, but feel overworked and an attempt to get the plot over the line in a modern work of fiction. Character development is fairly non-existent, from the capable young woman to the hard-bitten, former special forces soldier, any one character from this novel can easily be cut out from one of Stephenson's other more recent works and transplanted with a mere name change to this one. Read and enjoy if you would like more of the same, but avoid if you'd like something different from a formerly very original author.
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on 2 November 2012
I am a massive Neal Stephenson fan. Cryptonomicon and Snow crash rate as my favourite books of all time. This book was described as a return to that form, but it really isn't. It's a pretty straightforward thriller - I guess it would be a good effort from another author. I felt that the characters had no depth, the plot was contrived, it didn't have anything clever or different about it, and I ended up skim reading to get to the end. Maybe I missed something, but I was disappointed (and went back and re-read cryptonomicon instead!)
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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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on 16 December 2013
Like many readers, I've enjoyed several of Neal Stephenson's books although I did struggle through some of the longer ones in places. Unfortunately, although I quite enjoyed reading through this lengthy tome at the start, the last 20% of the book severely disappointed, which ended up spoiling most of the book for me. The book is overly detailed, describing scenarios and subjects for pages and pages which then turn out to be almost irrelevant, including the MMO game that was used to provide the basic framework for the book. In typical Stephenson fashion there are groups of characters that get up to separate but intertwined activities but for them all to arrive in the same area at the end through remarkable coincidences, luck or at best a moderate hunch is a little hard to swallow. The book ends in a few pages of conclusion with an unsatisfying antagonist resolution and a Disney-esque happy ending chapter, as if Stephenson realised he was about to hit 1000 pages and ran out of steam. Then there are the plot gaps or quick resolutions such as:

(***SPOILERS!!***):

1. Marlon, the guy arguably the cause of everything in the book including the book's title, disappears from the last 30-odd pages of the book and is literally dealt with in an off the cuff remark in the afterword.
2. Moments of peril get quickly resolved using deus ex machina devices such as man-hunting cougars.
3. What happened to the rest of the terrorists? The Forthrast's village? The helicopter pilot? The millions of dollars of virtual gold?
4. The deaths of some minor terrorist characters are explained in heavy detail, but Jake was being spoken to by Jones one minute and the next mention of him is Richard sorting through his things at his funeral. The same situation occurs with injuries - Zula's broken tooth gets a couple of paragraphs of explanation and a mention in the afterword but Richard's gouged eye is only mentioned just when it happens and then is of zero consequence at the end minutes of the book.
5. What happened with the Russian mafia? Clearly a lot of money was lost and the consequences were severe enough to cause Ivanov to act in the way he did but the issue was resolved by stating "Well, the events sent a message to others that the shouldn't try the same thing". Along with Marlon's virus, this situation literally kicks off every other event in the whole book.

There are plenty more issues with the book but this should give you an idea. The book starts off as if it wants to be like Charles Stross's "Halting State" but morphs into an unfocused generic thriller more akin to a Dan Brown novel. If it was edited brutally it could be very entertaining at around 400 pages. I suggest you try another Stephenson novel because when he's on form, the detail he sinks into his books bring the worlds alive.
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on 23 November 2011
This book needs editing. It's 1000 pages long. It has a good plot - this book would have been very exciting at 250-300 pages.
But it's 1000 pages long... and it's no Cryptonomicon. A shortage of ideas (though the few ideas in the book are interesting), characters that don't develop, environments that often fail to come to life.
It's way too long. Not as good as Quicksilver, not even as good as Anathem. In fact, I really struggled hard to finish it - I just kept falling asleep. Not because it's bad - it's not bad - it just goes on for ever. And it doesn't need to. It's a thriller, at heart. I've never had any problem with Neal Stephenson's books before. Prior to this, he was just about my favourite author. This one drags.
It's no Diamond Age - it's way, way too long.
It really goes on.
And on. Page after page of it. Did I mention that it's 1000 pages long? and not in a good way?
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on 21 April 2014
He is my favourite writer of the several thousand authors I have read in my life, so you can't complain. And yet. Reamde mostly lacks the pilates-for-the-mind that is Stephenson's special skill and hallmark. This is much simpler, a thriller. It's great fun, but in the end is just one more on the pile of a world full of 'action' and 'adventure' novels and films. You can only take so many taxis or boats hijacked at gunpoint, or shootouts around mountains, before yawning.

The genius who wrote Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Trilogy is, like his war-game character Egdod in Reamde, mostly slumbering as he strolls across the landscape followed by eager acolytes. Of course it's not a bad book. But unlike those titles, you don't feel obliged to compare it with War and Peace or Barchester Towers, greatest novels that have ever been written. Worth reading? Definitely. Worth forgetting? Sadly.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
From the minute this mighty brick of a book came through my front door my life had to be put entirely on hold, and I scoffed it, as is my won't, late into the night till my eyes were red, day after day, until the thing was done. The result of such a total immersion is that I feel like I have been on a long trip to some of the most beautiful, and some of the weirdest places in the world. Along the way I have made some fascinating friends, not a few of who struck me as highly unsavoury upon first introduction.

Set in the present day, the key premise is a massive multi-player online game, designed from the ground up to have global economic consequences. These consequences then ramify chaotically to have progressively more drastic real-world consequences. The activities of hackers and game-freaks collide with those of gangsters and terrorists, from which unfolds a story that's a bit like a slapstick season of 24. One of Stephenson's great strengths is his facility with large scale action sequences, and in this book he excels himself, as the pace of the action seldom drops. The book is also constructed such that various combinations of protagonists are scattered around the globe, at any given time, and is again rather 24-like in the way we skip between windows, so to speak, dropping in on various groupings, as the hectic narrative careens ever onward. Stephenson also has a superb sense of humour, the dark and fatalistic cynicism of an essentially decent man, long past disappointment with the wickedness of the world. He is never beyond finding the funny side in even the most distressing situations, and there were more than a few belly laughs in the course of my journey. Done with proper attention and production values, this would make a fabulous movie or mini-series.

I toyed with giving this book four stars, because, as some will know, Stephenson is capable of writing truly great literature, as exemplified by his hugely erudite, and microscopically researched Baroque Cycle. This book is not great literature, and I'm sure was never meant to be. Neither is it the high concept Science Fiction of the remarkable Anathem. In general density, both in terms of writing and depth of historical background, it is closer to Snow Crash than Cryptonomicon. But clearly Stephenson has learned so much since the days of Snow Crash, as evidenced by just how soon and how hard one finds oneself caught up in the predicaments of, and rooting for, the novel's sympathetic central characters. Instead, what one has here is a non-stop roller-coaster action-comedy techno-thriller, written with what ultimately turns out to be a life-affirming gusto. Thus, on the basis that I would not be comparing like with like, even if from the pen of the same author, I will not attempt to evaluate it by comparisons with Stephenson's other books. I give it its five starspurely on its own merits and for the huge enjoyment I had from reading it.
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