Neal Stephenson is well-known as one of the near-future sci-fi/cyberpunk masters. I have always liked, if not necessarily loved, the books of his that I have read.
Much like the other books that I have read from his catalogue, REAMDE is an amazing central idea. Being an avid gamer myself, particularly in the massively-multiplayer space, the world of T’Rain is astounding in its implications – if pretty much entirely implausible. There’s never anything mentioned about the monstrous server infrastructure which would be required to run an ‘Earth-sized’ virtual world the way it is described. However, we accept that this is our nod to science-fiction, our central suspension of disbelief, and so it is allowed to carry on.
Around this central idea is a fairly standard modern-thriller plot, replete with many of the cliches we’re used to hearing about if you read or otherwise consume that sort of media. The crux of this plot, though, is the game (played by seemingly everyone in the world, save for a few of our main characters).
In the hands of a lesser author, this would be a snoozefest. Instead, Stephenson delivers powerful, strong and interesting characters which carry us through this suspenseful-thriller-plot without putting us to sleep. It is one of those strange confluences – even though you know as you’re reading that the tropes and cliches invoked by the story should be dull, they end up being engaging instead. This is a testament to the power of Stephenson’s characters, because even in the midst of a story at times burdened by unbelievable coincidences, background-dropping exposition and plot twists that might have come out of a desperate NaNo writer’s quest for more words, you can’t help but care about these characters and want to know what happens to them next.
Don’t get me wrong – I really liked this book. It was long enough that it stretched into three days of reading, for which I am exceedingly grateful. However, for those who are not drawn in by character drama or those who cannot appreciate the central video-game idea, this book would probably not be a recommendation.
If, like me, you love the MMORPG genre and characters are enough to keep you going through stories of the Russian mob and jihadists – or if you’re a massive Stephenson fan, you’ll definitely want to read this one.
Pros: Engaging characters, cool central idea, makes you want to know what happens
Cons: At times exposition-y, improbable plot twists, standard modern-thriller plot sometimes seems tacked on
Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars