“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!