Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Four decades ago, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family, fled to a wild and lonely mountainous corner of British Columbia to avoid the draft. Smuggling backpack loads of high-grade marijuana across the border into Northern Idaho, he quickly amassed an enormous and illegal fortune. With plenty of time and money to burn, he became addicted to an online fantasy game in which opposing factions battle for power and treasure in a vast cyber realm. Like many serious gamers, he began routinely purchasing virtual gold pieces and other desirables from Chinese gold farmers—young professional players in Asia who accumulated virtual weapons and armor to sell to busy American and European buyers.

For Richard, the game was the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin his own high-tech start up—a venture that has morphed into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Corporation 9592, with its own super successful online role-playing game, T’Rain. But the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred when a young gold farmer accidently triggers a virtual war for dominance—and Richard is caught at the center.

And here's what I thought:  I haven't read anything by this author, other than Snow Crash (and that was years ago), so I wasn't sure what to expect when one of my book groups chose this book.   While Neal Stephenson is known more for writing science fiction, this book is a pure thriller, complete with loads of interesting characters, an intricate plot, and loads of action.

While I don't usually read a lot of thrillers, I found this book to be pretty enjoyable.  I liked that Stephenson worked in some gaming details, even though the game didn't turn out to be as much a part of the story as I had expected.   I liked that there were good female characters, and in fact, two who were particularly smart and independent.  I liked how the pace of this book built at the beginning and remained steady through the whole story, which I can appreciate as something that's tricky to accomplish (especially in a book this big).

However, I sometimes found it a little hard to keep track of all of the characters --- Stephenson introduces characters throughout the book, and while he does a great job of developing them, I found I sometimes had to remind myself who was who.   I'm sure this is mainly because I kept putting the book down, and picking it up a few days later ..... if I had devoted some serious chunks of time to just spend on this book, I'm sure I would have had a different reaction.

I did feel like perhaps the book could be a bit shorter.  While I liked the author's descriptive writing style, at times, I thought parts of the story could have been shortened just a bit, and tightened up.  However, I think this is a book I'll return to for a future re-read, just because it was a lot of fun.

By the way --- there's an excellent review of this book in the New York Times, so if you think this book sounds interesting, check it out, as well.

First lines:  Richard kept his head down.  Not all those cow pies were frozen, and the ones that were could turn an ankle.

Chunkster Challenge info:  This book fulfills part of my challenge, as it is 1042 pages.  In fact, after getting through this, I almost feel like it should count as 2 books.

And what's my level?  Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? - this option is for the reader who can't resist bigger and bigger books and wants to commit to SIX Chunksters from the following categories: 2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length.


Justice said...

Okay, this book has officially hit the "blogger review threshold" for me. So many bloggers I follow have given this positive reviews that I have to add it to my TBR pile now!

Unknown said...

I love Neal Stephenson, but usually find myself slogging through about 1/5 of the content to get to the good stuff, which is always worth the slog. The 'slog' is due to my own intellectual shortcomings, as not a brilliant mathematician, but I always learn new things. So while I understand some of the concerns of other viewers, I found REAMDE hugely entertaining and by far the most complex and engaging thriller I have read in years. Thank you, Neal!
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