Thursday, February 25, 2016

Review: Reamde

Reamde Reamde by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my two favourite Stephenson novels to date.

Snow Crash was awesome, but it was awesome in a slightly comic-booky way. I don't mean that to be an insult in any way; I like a well-done comic. But the style I mean is just that the characters are generally a bit exaggerated and larger-than-life. Everything is in high contrast; more artistic than realistic.

In Stephenson's later books (all of which I quite liked) he goes for a more realistic style, but loses some of the focus on story. He's constantly wandering off into genuinely quite interesting side junkets that don't really seem to have a lot to do with the main plot. And since they are interesting, you don't really mind as such, but the books just end up a little unfocussed.

In Reamde, he gives us, in my opinion, the best of both worlds. Realistic characters mixed with believable but still somewhat larger-than-life characters, like the crazy writers, or the Russian mercenary, or the eccentric video games billionaire with a history of drug running. Their quirky characters make them seem exaggerated, but the details make them still feel real. Likewise with Stephenson's tendency for side-stories in incredible detail; in this 1,000-odd page book they're definitely still there, but this time he has better-harnessed them to the central story. They feel less like distractions and more like relevant back-story.

The plot starts with a WoW-style computer game, and a ransomware scam to make money off of it. Starts, I say, because it quickly evolves into something else altogether, which I will not spoil. I'll say this about the pacing; it feels as if this was actually a trilogy compressed under one cover. There's a story, with a clear climax, which leads to the buildup of a second story, with a (perhaps slightly less-clear) climax, which leads into the final buildup and end. This is not one of those rambling tomes that thrashes around aimlessly for 800 pages before cramming all the action into the last 100. (I want to say "Wheel-of-Time-like", because I know Jordan was famous for that sort of thing, but as I've never actually read them myself that seems unfair...)

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