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.