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on March 1, 2013
"Reamde" is, the author tells us, a twisting of the words "Read me" which appear with most software programs. They are twisted because of a virus flooding the Internet's fictional game world of T'Rain. Players in that world compete in medieval dream battles for digital gold. The Re4amde virus hijacks the game and forces players to pay fees to recover their loot. Hence we are introduced to "ransomware" and the ongoing intriguing worlds of Neal Stephenson. You don't have to be a Net nerd to understand this - Stephenson does a very good job of indoctrinating the reader into high technology.

I am allowing four stars here not because I think it is as good a novel as "Cryptonomicon" (I don't think it is), but because Stephenson is simply one of the most provocative and entertaining writers out there. So the credit here goes to his bold, funny, epic, hugely descriptive and all-encompassing barrages of characters and scenes. Some readers are put off by Stephenson's asides and diversions - I wish there were more of them. But eventually, even this wide-reaching adventure seems to get bogged down in so many gun fights and stalk-and-destroy episodes that the head whirls and the senses are numbed. The first half, set in southern China, is the best portion. I do not fault Stephenson in any way for any of his narratives; I do fault my own patience when I have encountered a whole 1056-page realm of shoot-outs, blow-ups, hostage-bashing, hi-jacking and waylaying. That's where the senses get numbed, from overkill, even if well-described as it is here. Yet even Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy cannot/do not hold a candle to this sort of yarn weaving.

This could easily have been called "Zula's Story" as it is the feisty and unforgiving character of this little Eritrean woman, Zula Forthrast, who completely carries the novel. We do also get to like the Russian, Sokolov (no first name), a veritable James Bond of energy and resourcefulness, and to a lesser degree the Hungarian, Csonger Takacs, the reluctant bodyguard. While I understand the authors blunt detailing of, complete distaste for, and non-sympathy for terrorists (nothing could possibly make me like them, not even Abdallah Jones), I found myself liking the Chinese hacker, Marlon, in spite of the fact that I think creators of viruses should be strung up on an anthill and forgotten. And there is the tenacious and endurable Chinese guide Qian Yuxia (another reluctant heroine), and of course the fatherly Richard Forthrast, whose reminiscences into his smuggling days on the Idaho-B.C. border could make an interesting novel by itself.
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on September 24, 2011
A fine read, not nearly as complex as Anathem. As indicated above, it is much like Zodiac, in that it is a fine adventure yarn, but much longer (some things won't change). All within one generation as well.

Lots of plot (and someone else can do the spoilers), but not many Captain Crunch moments.

Come to think of it, Stephenson has done a Gibson. Very strong female characters, and less cyber-tech than one would expect given the initial marketing.

For those who consider getting the Kindle version, be aware the punctuation lives up to ebook standards. Quite annoying for those who care about such things (myself), but you mentally adjust. The hardcover is in the mail.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 6, 2012
"Reamde", Neal Stephenson's latest novel, is a poor echo of such earlier great work like "Snow Crash", "The Diamond Age" and "Cryptonomicon". But in a year that saw rubbish like Ernest Cline's "Ready Player One" and Colson Whitehead's "Zone One" published, Stephenson has demonstrated that he's not only a far more insightful writer than Cline or Whitehead will ever be, but more importantly, that he hasn't lost his superb gifts for storytelling and writing very good prose, and that both will keep interested readers in suspense until the very last page. At slightly more than one thousand pages in length, "Reamde" isn't a novel for the faint-hearted casual reader, but those willing to take the plunge will discern quickly that Stephenson has inserted so many riveting plot twists and turns that he'll keep not only fans of cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk fiction intrigued, but even those who are accustomed to reading techno-thrillers from the likes of Tom Clancy. One of the reasons why "Reamde" is so long is Stephenson's steadfast adherence to realism which permeates the novel; whether that realism is devoted to computer gaming, fanatical Islamic terrorists, or the proper handling of pistols and rifles. His descriptions of these are among the best I have encountered in recent fiction, even if there are still many instances where Stephenson's writing could have benefited from some judicious editing.

Richard Forthrast found his personal sanctuary in a remote corner of Idaho in the 1970s, while illegally smuggling pot from Canada as a draft dodging émigré. That sanctuary becomes a tourist resort, and then, years later, the headquarters of a multi-billion dollar empire based on his bestselling computer game, T'Rain played online by millions of fans around the globe. But the game's success has also made it the target of a hacker who has designed REAMDE, a computer virus which encrypts all of a player's computer files, holding them for ransom. A desperate search for the hacker will take Forthrast's young Eritrean-born niece Zula on a continents-spanning trek, as an unwilling accomplice and later, captive, of Russian mobsters and Al Qaeda-linked Islamic terrorists. While "Reamde" doesn't match the high literary craft of "Snow Crash", and especially, "The Diamond Age", it is still a well written, fast-paced thriller that many will find most compelling.
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