Learn more Download now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more

Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£18.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

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.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 27 September 2011
Any novel by Neal is a big thing for me ever since Snow Crash and Diamond Age. REAMDE was no exception. It takes place in the near future and it is your basic action story about a billionaire MMO inventor, his spunky niece, a Hungarian hacker, a Chinese gold farmer, a former Soviet special forces operative, an unlikely British undercover terrorist hunter and a big-footed mountain girl. All great characters which are something you have learned to expect from Neal Stephenson.

The science fiction parts are more short extensions of our current world with the possible exception of T'Rain, the game that made Richard a billionaire. But it is the fantastic well-developed everyday world and the characters that makes the book. This near future world really comes alive in Neal's writing.

A large part of it is also of course the characters, including the villain of the story. My personal favorite is Zula, Richard niece that takes being kidnapped by the Russian mob and Terrorists with the same kind of inner strength you want to see in a heroine. Sokolov the Russian security consultant is another. All the characters are really well-developed and easy to like with the exception of the villain, he just makes sense.

The story takes us all across the world from rural America and Canada to a milling city in Southeastern China and back again. Much like in his other books the many plotlines and characters split up and catch up again and again until they reunite in the last climactic shoot out.

Neal builds on current affairs like terrorism, the success of World of Warcraft, gold farmers, cyber viruses and crime to weave this long tail (it is 1042 pages) and he does it really well. I really enjoyed REAMDE and I warmly recommend it. It is more human interest and action than science fiction though like most of Neal Stephenson's latest books.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 25 December 2011
Reamde is arguably Neal Stephenson's simplest, most accessible book since he found fame with brilliant sci-fi like Snow Crash and Diamond Age. It is not brain-hurty like Anathem nor even mildly challenging like Cryptonomicon. It is not even sci-fi. Reamde is an adventure saga featuring Chinese virus-writers and Muslim terrorists, with a chain reaction of action sequences. In other words, it is 24. An intelligent 24 that is also a respectable info-dump about obscure subjects such as geological formations and international flight corridors.

For any other writer, Reamde would be an achievement. For Neal Stephenson, it is a disappointment. His reader base has come to expect the sort of brilliantly innovative stories and intelligent storytelling that made Snow Crash one of the 100 best English-language books of all time (said "Time" magazine).

Still, even a mere thriller from Stephenson is preferable to most books. Pitting Muslim terrorists against gun-toting American families that reject US government & modern life is pure genius. So is the world & details of T'Rain, the explanation for the existence of materials with magical qualities in T'Rain, and the author's telling of the complete storyline through various viewpoints of the book's myriad characters. The latter is perhaps necessary, in order to explain how on earth so many characters who were blown apart (in some cases, literally) in urban China manage to converge weeks later in the same spot of the US-Canada border. It also makes a 900+ page door-stopper of a book, but us fans are used to that.

Oh and of course he is right. As Richard Forthrast says in Reamde, Google Earth is "based on an idea from some old science-fiction book": Neal Stephenson's own Snow Crash.
22 Comments| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 26 August 2014
This has got to be one of the most boring books that i've read (didn't finish it)
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 7 October 2011
Having read Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle and Anathem, I am a huge Stephenson fan and pre-ordered this enthusiastically. Having just finished I am left unsatisfied. The whole book is essentially one long action scene, chasing gangsters and terrorists around the world. It touches on some potentially interesting themese and subjects but never really gets to grip with any of them. Where the Baroque Cycle managed to be about the birth of modern science, currency and trade, and modern forms of government, and Anathem is about knowledge, learning and physics (and a whole lot more), Reamde doesn't manage to ever get above the level of a trashy novel. A brilliantly executed, funny and endearing trashy novel, but still a trashy novel. It's a real disappointment after the highs of Anathem and the Baroque Cycle. Some have compared it more to Cryptonomicon but that novel had incredible time shifts and absorbing code breaking plot lines - reamde is basically linear thriller writing. The best bits about Reamde are actually the bits about the massively multi-player game that is a big subject of the book - but it doesn't develop very far.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 9 October 2012
An excellent book. It has it all. Good plot as well as terrorists, gamers and spies. Massive book as well at just over 1000 pages.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
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!
22 Comments| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 5 November 2011
Mixed feelings about this book, I'm afraid. I should say right away that I did enjoy it, and it certainly kept the pages turning at a good lick. Also good to see Stephenson developing as a writer - the sense of geography and place in the last couple of hundred pages was outstanding, I thought.


The whole thing felt, and I'm well aware that I am saying this about a 1000+ page book spanning continents, just too small-scale and unambitious. Yes, it's well told, and exciting in many parts, but still a very pedestrian story, especially once you remove the computer virus and MMORPG trimmings. These were the most interesting parts of the book for me, but ultimately just a MacGuffin for Stephenson to get certain characters into a certain place at a certain time. You could probably walk into any airport book store and pick up some thick thriller about rogue Islamists, and with not too much more effort find one where those rogue Islamists were halfway convincingly depicted. I thought Abdallah Jones was a potentially great character, but his fascinating background was thrown away in a paragraph or two, and then he basically became identikit bad guy.

It's very readable, but it just doesn't have the head-expanding awesome sensawunda that most of his other books do.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
VINE VOICEon 17 November 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've long been a Neal Stephenson fan ever since I read Snow Crash. I have to admit that the Baroque Cycle was hard work though, very long and packed with information.

This book, I'm glad to say, is Stephenson back on form. An epic techno-thriller of global proportions, with a heady cast of characters from Russian Mafia, Chinese hackers, MI6 spies and dozens of others. The plot rattles along for a thousand pages, coming together neatly in a glorious climax.

It's a beast of a book, it weighs a ton. Get yourself a copy on Kindle, much lighter!

Highly recommended. A proper page-turner by a master on top form.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on 3 October 2011
His past output proves that Neal Stephenson is one of the best and most imaginative writers of recent years, regardless of genre. But this novel, like Anathem, proves disappointing overall, although, like Anathem, there is much to enjoy. The characters are somewhat stereotypical, the plot depends on a number of improbable coincidences, and the final third or so, an extended battle in the mountain wilderness on the US/Canada border between the good guys and the bad guys (with a cougar appearing at intervals to rescue the good guys), seems to go on for ever. Once the bad guys have been defeated (oops, sorry!), the author brings matters to a conclusion with unseemly haste, as though a deadline is looming. Unless I missed a page or two, one minor character, a helicopter pilot last seen lying near a crash site with suspected spinal damage, is left in limbo, his fate unknown.

There is also the suspicion that the author is aligning himself with the right hand end of the US political spectrum ... the likes of Ann Coulter and Michelle Bachmann would no doubt find themselves in full agreement with the black and white portrayal of evil Islamic terrorists on the one hand and fine upstanding citizens of the rugged, self reliant, gun toting variety on the other. This seems at odds with the clever and original way issues of "good" and "evil" are handled in the sections dealing with "T'Rain" .. maybe there is irony here, but I failed to spot it.

There is much to like, however. The theme of the interrelationship between an on-line multi-role game and the real world is genuinely interesting, before the plot moves off in a different direction and "T'Rain" is disappointingly sidelined. The sheer pace, excitement and unpredictability of the plot draws the reader along, at least for the first 800 pages or so, and the quality of Neal Stephenson's prose, with trademark spectacle, humour, and unexpected digression, makes for an enjoyable read.

Overall, I think 3 stars is about right.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Customers also viewed these items

Snow Crash

Need customer service? Click here