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A very American tale.
on 15 August 2011
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!