Review: Reamde

Author: Neal Stephenson
Length: 1,044pp
Published: 2011

First, two things.

1. Context: prior to this book, I’d read Stephenson’s previous efforts, Snow Crash (1992) and The Diamond Age (1995). Both are excellent. I’d never read any other works of his.

2. Endings. Neal Stephenson has a reputation for terrible endings – or more accurately, nonexistent ones. Stephen King has at least heard of a denouement; in the aforementioned works, Snow Crash ties up its plot threads and leaves immediately, and The Diamond Age simply halts, almost mid-action, as if it is half of one of Stephenson’s later works, awaiting its second 500 pages.

Reamde, in this regard, doesn’t do much better. Given twice the space, it adds eight pages of an actual denouement, after a lengthy ending. The book also loves its descriptions of the Idaho panhandle, lengthy, detailed, kinda skippable.

But enough griping. The rest of Reamde contains all the strong elements Stephenson brings to the table, albeit not quite at maximum strength. The wide-ranging interests this time include said aforementioned Idaho pandhandle, the island of Xiamen, MMORPGs, the economics of digital currencies, and Islamist extremism. Not all of these get thoroughly explored – Abdallah Jones’ motives are hinted at, but never fully revealed – but Stephenson never runs out of interesting takes on the themes in question.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of basic entertainment. The climax brings together plot threads in steady, inexorable logic, but the standout is the attempt of Russian gangsters to hunt The Troll – the creator of the REAMDE virus within T’Rain (the MMORPG in question) which has stolen their funds. It doesn’t go to plan, wonderfully – for the reader, that is. The characters suffer.

Reamde falls short in too many higher respects to be a masterpiece or a magnum opus – for that honour, I’m still going with Snow Crash. It is, nonetheless, worthwhile.


UK elections, 2015: Futile Election Predictions, Part 1

So, as is semi-legally required for anyone pondering politics in the UK this year, I’m gonna try figuring out an election forecast. Of course, the difficult in the UK is that, unlike the USA, there are far more than 50 considerations on the table. Even Nate Silver couldn’t pull off an accurate forecast in 2010; the word “futile” is in the title for very, very good reasons. And so:


One of the interesting things about the status quo is the reveal that the Conservatives aren’t quite as concentrated as they initially seem. For sure, they dominate the South East – but right now, they also have East Anglia and Essex sewn up, are dominant in the South West, and have an advantage in the Midlands. Even in the rural North West and London, the Conservatives have a competitive number of seats – but this may change.


Northern Ireland: the easiest one of all, given the lack of the three main parties. UKIP stands in Northern Ireland, but there are few signs of a breakthrough – and so the 18 seats can be put aside as their own category.

Wales: there may yet be a breakthrough for Plaid Cymru, but an SNP-style resurgence seems unlikely. Labour’s dominance should continue, and the Lib Dems might disappear, leaving LAB 30, CON 7, PC 3, or thereabouts.

Scotland: the press talks up the SNP surge, but I’ve seen this before – the Lib Dem revolution was about to sweep all before it in 2010. That’s not to say the SNP won’t make huge gains, but talk of a Labour wipeout seems unrealistic, to say the least. The Lib Dems, however? Another area where utter carnage can be expected – they were polling in the mid-single figures in Scotland long before anywhere else. Overall, I’d guess at SNP 25, LAB 31, IND 1, LD 1, CON 1.

North East: with just 29 seats, and most of them already Labour, the North East simply won’t be that important in the forthcoming election. Nonetheless, there are a couple of Lib Dem seats to target – and at least one should disappear, if Labour has any campaigning ability. LAB 26, CON 2, LD 1

North West:┬áLabour already dominate the North West, but as noted above, it’s a rural/urban split. Half a dozen Lib Dem seats will mostly go towards Labour – and some of the old Labour seats will prove “complacent” instead of “safe”; LAB 50, CON 20, LD 2, UKIP 3

Yorkshire: Respect may well lose their single seat in Yorkshire, but in the new climate, who knows? The temptation to assume reversion to the mean is probably a false one. The Lib Dems are again likely to face trouble, although I reckon Sheffield Hallam will just about stand. There’s no evidence, thus far, of Labour losing out in Rotherham. LAB 35, CON 18, LD 1.

West Midlands: the first of the real battlegrounds, when working north-to-south, between Labour and Conservative. I’m betting on Conservative losses, but less than might be hoped for. LAB 28, CON 31, LD 1.

East Midlands: Lincoln may swing towards Labour, but Grimsby will counterbalance it. More importantly, however – the East Midlands is now UKIP country, and the gains should happen, if they happen, here. CON 25, LAB 16, UKIP 5.

East: more UKIP country, although gains are likely to remain small under first-past-the-post. CON 47, LAB 4, UKIP 4, LD 2.

South West: the Lib Dems hold up better in the south, although Conservative campaigning will push this very, very hard indeed – they do, after all, have far more money and even the Tories’ emaciated grassroots organisation is more numerous. Even so, the Lib Dems should hold on – CON 37, LD 13, LAB 5.

South East: for all the talk of multi-party politics, the South East dabbled in it first, with the Greens and now UKIP having seats here. If the situation splinters further, it may be from the South East too – bad news for the Conservatives, but not an unalloyed good for Labour. Across 84 seats(!) I’d say CON 65, LAB 12, LD 3, UKIP 1 and GRN 3.

London: London is, increasingly, a Labour city, as the EU elections last year showed. On the same day, however, Labour also gained Councils and seats in some very unexpected places. I expect Labour will be strong in London – which will only fuel UKIP accusations of metropolitan elitism elsewhere. LAB 44, CON 26, LD 1, GRN 2.

So the end result of all this speculation is LAB 290, CON 270, LD 26, SNP 25, UKIP 10, GRN 5, OTHER 25. Which, gosh, sounds realistic, but once again means nothing. If true, it puts both parties in the shitter – the Conservatives can cobble together the Lib Dems and UKIP in a sure-to-collapse coalition for 306 seats, i.e. what they have on their own now; Labour can add the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Greens for around 345 seats, or a majority of 40 (30 without the Greens); this would be workable, but on a certain level, even more compromised.

So talk of a Labour-Conservative coalition is not, in this context, completely insane; talk of the two recent referendum issues (the voting system and Scottish independence) returning with a vengeance is very realistic in this scenario, and talk of repealing the stupid-ass Fixed Term Parliaments Act would be the most sensible thing that could emerge.

Manor Multiverse: Origins

So, for the last few years it seems there have been at least a few scattering mumblings everywhere else in media about the Death of the Blog, about how it’s been usurped, become outdated, niche, or with the general implication that it’ll generally vanish (it’s the Death of the Blog, see, not the Decline).

Well, screw that. All this’d look hideous on Twitter. And the less said about Tumblr, the better.

But enough about that. On this blog, however anachronistically, incongruously or otherwise, the following:

– Politics

– Society

– Marvel Comics

– Reviews

– Occasional random crap

Admittedly that covers everything, but the top four are most likely, if this gets past three posts. And here… we… go!