A great story - I loved it as it rollercoastered through a contemporary interconnected world. Complex plot with plenty of detail, but also fluid enough to easily draw the listener along at a breakneck pace.
I was a bit put off by Stephenson after Cryptonomicon, but he more than makes up for it in REAMDE. The characters are cerebral and distinct, each with their own quirks that come out brilliantly in the dialog.
The plot is continuously shifting, and each turn is punctuated by the resilience of the book's primary protagonist. No slow muddled storyline (which was my biggest gripe with Crypto) in REAMDE. Also, Stephenson show off his real 'nerd cred', which is as always technically accurate and non-embellished.
The narration is second to none. Hillgartner pulls off Russian, English, and CHinese accents with authenticity, and he often does it in the same breath.
Driving over 100,000 mile a year since 1983, I got hooked on audible books on tape 30 years back. I now listen from my bicycle 2 hours a day
Some great characters and an interesting story line extended a bit beyond optimum but worth the credit and a satisfying thriller none the less. It could have been trimmed a bit but that's a quibble that cost it one star IMHO. It's quite unlike the more dynamic Snow Crash still it shows Stephenson's range and he is quite at home with this rather convoluted series of crisis inducing mistakes.
I picked up Reamde because the Audible blurb for this story involved an online game world, hackers, and a virus and it seemed like an interesting topic for a novel. That premise is just the tip of the iceberg and this tale veers all over the place. The main characters wind up all over the globe, and the online world of T'Rain, as spies, terrorists, smugglers, and the Russian mafia all get entangled into the plot. Every step of the way Stephenson ups the ante and the plot almost seems to run out of control.
Reamde moved along nicely but it was always just on the wrong side of being believable for me. The relationships formed by some of the characters were just too strong too quickly and the mechanics of the online gaming world of T'Rain were also just a little bit off. If you aren't an online gamer the latter may not be of concern to you at all; however, if you are picking this up because of the online game connection then you should know that it is only a small part of a much larger story. It is not as central to the tale as it was in "Ready Player One".
Reamde can be a fun thrill ride that will head in directions that aren't obvious but only pick it up if you are willing to embrace a chain of highly unlikely occurrences. Malcolm Hillgartner does a decent job of narrating although he deals with a lot of different accents to various degrees of success.
I am an entertainer...so I spend a lot of time on the road. I take my audio seriously. I appreciate great writing and outstanding narration.
I was expecting to read a novel about Silicon Valley. I really wanted to go there in this book...but there's none of that. There IS a lot of other stuff: terrorists, cyber terrorism, guns, engaging characters and a story that you will (at least ONCE) sit in the car in the driveway to hear what happens next.
The remarkable thing is that -- despite all these hefty hours -- not a whole lot happens.
This is essentially one long chase.
But the time passes by very quickly. A very good read.
Ok, I love long stories. However, this one went on way too long for the plot. I kept finding myself drifting off only to realize I hadn't actually missed anything integral to character or plot development. There was lots of back story to justify future actions that I really don't think added anything to the story. And lots of meandering around or waiting for things to happen.... and not in a Tolkien "the journey is the story" way.
Having said that, the book does have interesting twists and well written characters that definitely draw you in. From the synopsis I was expecting something more sci-fi, but the story has more of an espionage/terrorist bent.
The narrator is ok, but I agree with others about his deficiency in portraying accents. He used a generic British accent instead of a Welsh one for one of the main characters. The Hungarian accent was atrocious & Russian accents were cartoonish. Thankfully, he didn't even attempt Chinese accents.
In the end, I suggest you give it a try. Although it's not my cup of tea, it didn't suck.
Say something about Yusef. Uh...he was a great horn player?
1 Too many numbered and lettered lists
2. occasional middle-aged man phrases, even when it's not Richard (no, I don't have to provide examples)
3. if it's going to be this long (which I like - in this case, the length and detail almost feel like an attribute of the plot and the worlds it describes, and it doesn't hurt that I'm listening on a 3 week business jaunt with two weekend breaks) and it's going to rely on a combination of preposterous but entertaining coincidences, sometimes the speculation by the characters ought to be more off the mark; everyone is just too dang smart.
4. Seamus - Mr. Hilgartner needs to dramatically improve his Boston (southie says the narrator) accent. It would have been much less distracting to simply speak basic American English.
5. Too much love for firearms. I mean, it sounds like Mr. Stephenson loves them. I like nice guns too but the net effect is that almost everyone in the book, at least characters who get more than cursory descriptions, are in love with guns.
6. I forget.
I'm a designer (interiors and graphics) with an English degree. I recovered my love of reading after a disastrous bout with grad school.
Neal Stephenson, my favorite speculative fiction writer, is back in form with this one, perhaps because he's back in his own century, and back on his own territory (literally: we are in places with which Stephenson is deeply familiar -- the Pacific Northwest, Manila and the coast of China, as well as the world of massive multiplayer gaming.) His speculations, thus grounded, are more entertaining than usual and focused on a variety of strategies and scams. How can you make real money in an imagined world? How can a terrorist fly out of China without a flight plan or manifest? How does one spend millions of hours writing/playing online games and maintain a slim figure? To which a delighted reader might respond: how do you write a 100-page gun battle that a reader can actually follow? how do you maintain multiple plot lines and dozens of characters without dropping (or drooping) the narrative pace?
Stephenson has invented a genre unique to himself: a big dumb nonstop action thriller packed with provocative ideas and insights, and rich in humor based on characters and their interactions. (Yes, I've read William Gibson, whom I like. But Gibson is the vegan at the feast compared to Stephenson's full-throated omnivore).
There is a large international cast of characters, whom the narrator keeps distinct with reasonably plausible accents that (mostly) don't go overboard.
There's a recent, but small trend in Science Fiction: stories set in present day. No aliens, or space ships. No time travel. No speculation about "the future".
This new breed of SF novel deals with the here and now. The assumption here is that technology is changing our lives so quickly, that the traditional themes and explorations of SciFi can take place without changing the setting. Our current society is alien enough!
William Gibson's Pattern Recognition was an SF book famously set "5 years in the past" and managed to be cutting edge while dealing with the culture and technology of the mid 1990s.
ReamDe can be seen as that type of book.
The basic plot: unknown criminals and/or terrorists write a tiny little virus meant to operate in the virtual world of an online, multi-player game. This has unforeseen consequences on people who live their lives in the real world. We follow the action as the chaos spreads across the entire world. Both our world, and the virtual world.
ReamDe is definitely a thriller. The sense of danger is real, and exciting. Still, there is humor, mostly based on the idea that huge world shaping events are mostly triggered by a collection of accidents, coincidences, and decisions made by key persons; and that it all could have been avoided if anyone involved had a view of the bigger picture.
It's also a whodunnit, and not even the "villains" know exactly what they've actually done.
Like all Neal Stephenson books, the devil is in the details. The obsessive/compulsive detail of Geeks and their tech.
In this world hackers are "computer geeks", billionaires are "money geeks" and spys and assasins are "gun and combat geeks". Stephenson seems to make the point that the only difference is what they've happened to focus on.
Compared to Stephenson's other books, Reamde is a summer blockbuster action ride. Like something Michael Bay would produce... if he had a background in math and computer science.
Of course this is a Neal Stephenson book, so it's still packed with plenty of tech, philosophy, and politocal commentary for the academic types, and hipster science nerds that are probably his main audience.
I'm actually a day old tart, filled with maple custard. Perhaps, this reads as a rational introduction to others, and you are deliberately misreading it, because, come on, maple custard.
I can't imagine all the research that went behind writing Stephenson's Reamde, but it's an incredible looping ride. It takes it's time, it could definitely be classified as an 'epic' fiction, as Stephenson uses deliberate extrapolation and minute details to explain some of the more unlikely scenarios in the novel. There are many scenes that are made, in my opinion, unmanageably realistic, especially toward the end, which drags the story on.
It hit close to home when one of the characters are revealed as a child of Sudan. One of my best friends growing up turned out to be adopted from Sudan, and I never knew until he gave a speech for a community college I attended, years later. He lost his entire family, and the details of his march aren't my business to share, but he never mentioned it, he did his best to move on, and made the most of his life, which is a really cheesy and harsh thing to say. When you dwell on your problems, you're only inviting them to continue to hurt you. A lot of North American kids could learn a valuable lesson from him, and from Zula.
I almost wanted to say Stephenson tried to write the Richard Forthrast as a genius level asperger spectrum, but it's actually really doubtful. The way he organizes his life, and his detachment from reality was probably written this way to detail the repercussions on his personality from years of experience with T'Rain, and from managing a huge industry at it's foundation level.
Overall it's truly a great story, and I've listened to it twice since I bought it, although I usually don't repeat huge novels unless I'm reaaally head over heels for them. I don't recommend trying to quote any of the anthropological fiction-facts without at least a Wikipedia trek.
A lot of the research behind Reamde is sound, such as flying low to get under the radar, and wangbas. Some of the research may be true, but is more opinionated, such as the differences between Go and Chess. But, all of it together gives you a small glimpse into what it may be like to grow up in another country, and the culture shock even open minded youths come across when removed from their accustomed environment. The circumstances that carry the story are as likely as winning the lottery, several times, in the same year, and the plot at times gets hair thin, but with Stephenson's deliberation, it's easy to accept the looping piecemeal situations as a more likely scenario then some of the easy answer fast fire action novels.
This book is sticky, and the humanitarian lessons will keep with you long after the epilogue. It's entertaining and masterfully written, and to be honest it was a relief getting a break from novels where the hero uses his arsenal of one-liners to punctuate explosions.