Reamde: 32 hours of fun on audio

SFF book reviews Neal Stephenson Reamde audiobookNeal Stephenson Reamde: A NovelReamde by Neal Stephenson

“Fate had given us a totally awesome foe.”

When Richard Forthrast was young, he was the black sheep of the family. It seemed like he was wasting his brain by playing videogames and smuggling dope across the Canadian border instead of pursuing more dignified and intellectual occupations. But then he turned his money, knowledge and skills to the development of his own MMORPG called T’Rain. He hired a kid with Asperger’s syndrome to construct a realistic and meticulously detailed planet and brought on two famous fantasy authors to develop the world’s language, history, and mythos. Because of his own experience in underground markets, Richard created his world’s economy to allow players to extract money they make in the game. So, Chinese teenagers can actually make a living by mining gold or developing and selling their characters to players who have more money than time, such as wealthy middle-aged American men who play T’Rain to fulfill their desires for world-building and dominance. T’Rain is now the most popular MMORPG ever.

Things are going well for Richard and T’Rain until his niece Zula, who works for the company, discovers that her new boyfriend is a criminal. Along with the illegal information he’s just sold to the Russian mafia, he has also inadvertently passed along a new computer virus called Reamde. Now the bad guys’ important files are being held hostage until they can drop off a ransom in T’Rain. The Russians want Zula to help them track down the hacker.

At this point, Reamde turns into a fast-paced action-packed globe-spanning twisty geo-political thriller. It’s not really a speculative fiction novel at all, but because some of it takes place in an MMORPG and it enjoys poking fun at fantasy literature clichés, it’s especially appealing to SFF readers. And it doesn’t just make fun of geeks, RPG addicts, fantasy tropes, and those of us who feel ridiculously nostalgic for ancient times we’ve never actually experienced, but it also takes amusing but good-natured swipes at Walmart, Midwestern “recombinant cuisine,” linguistic purism, right-wing extremism, and nagging ex-girlfriends whose voices won’t go away. Best of all, though there’s plenty of information in Reamde, Stephenson manages to sneak it all in without making you feel like you’re in a college classroom — a habit that was an issue for me in his BAROQUE CYCLE.

Neal Stephenson’s villains are a little over the top, but I loved the characters that I was supposed to love. They were a diverse group from all over the world and yet they each felt real to me. (Except that I’m still not believing that a clever Chinese hacker wouldn’t have used a proxy or some other method to hide his IP address — this bugged me all the way through.) We followed this large cast of characters, sometimes alone, sometimes in a group, and I never once got bored with any of them. I’m even having trouble picking my favorite. I adored Zula, an Eritrean refugee adopted into Richard’s family when she was young. She is smart, motivated, and determined to do the right thing. Then there’s the Russian “security expert” with a conscience and amazing skills with guns, and, of course, Richard Forthrast himself, who’s intelligent, worldly-wise, and has a fascinating history that’s revealed bit by bit. I feel a bit guilty that I was also fascinated by the Islamic terrorist…

Reamde is informative, amusing, and tense all the way through — quite an accomplishment for a book that took me 32 hours to listen to on audio. The audiobook was produced by Brilliance Audio and read by the impressive Malcolm Hillgartner who handled this huge cast, with its diverse array of accents, beautifully — I highly recommend this version.

I loved Reamde. It’s may not be exactly what Neal Stephenson’s devoted fans have come to expect from this author, and I expect that some readers will think it’s too light, but if I’m going to judge a book by how much fun it was to read, there’s just no denying that Reamde is 32 hours (1052 pages) of pure fun!

Reamde: A Novel — (2011) Publisher: The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Neal Stephenson is continually rocking the literary world with his brazen and brilliant fictional creations — whether he’s reimagining the past (The Baroque Cycle), inventing the future (Snow Crash), or both (Cryptonomicon). With Reamde, this visionary author whose mind-stretching fiction has been enthusiastically compared to the work of Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Foster Wallace — not to mention William Gibson and Michael Crichton — once again blazes new ground with a high-stakes thriller that will enthrall his loyal audience, science and science fiction, and espionage fiction fans equally. The breathtaking tale of a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game, Reamde is a new high — and a new world — for the remarkable Neal Stephenson.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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5 comments

  1. Awesome novel. 32 hours though – I couldn’t do it! By comparison, I zipped through the 1,000+ pages of the book in a few days. Couldn’t put it down. I would have had to speed up the narrator to a chipmunk-like voice for it to go fast enough for me :)

  2. I admit to speeding up the narration at many points (I do this for all books I read on audio unless I’m listening with my kids). If you do this with a good player (iTunes, WMP, Audible, etc) it does not change the voice, just the speed. I adjust it to the speed at which I’d read it in my head. I slow it back down to normal speed when there is a lot of new information to consolidate — just like you’d read slower in these spots in a print book. So, I guess it wasn’t technically accurate to say that it took me 32 hours. It didn’t really.

  3. I was just looking at this on Amazon. I may have to go ahead and take the plunge. I think I may go ahead and get it. I’ve got several plane rides in the near future that this would be great for.

  4. I liked it a good bit, but yeah it’s definitely not speculative fiction at all. My biggest problem with it is that it’s too long by about 1/3rd. I knew about 1/4 of the way into it where Stephenson wanted to have the climax at and he spent the rest of the book getting everybody there.

    If I wasn’t having so much fun while reading it I’d be upset at the ham-handedness of the plot.

  5. I agree, John. It was obvious where they’d end up, but that was fine with me because it was so entertaining.

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