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Unfocused and rushed at the end - could have been edited right down
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:
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.