Neal Stephenson writes very long books, and it is a measure of his talent that he can spend pages describing a series of very complicated events - every sideways roll, every ejected cartridge - that go to make up, say, a twenty-five second gun battle and not have it seem verbose and tedious. And it had better not, because there are an awful lot of cartridges ejected in the course of this thriller.
The stand out characters are the women. Our hero (the real hero - not the Richard Forthrast referred to in the blurb but his niece Zula) is a fantastic (in both senses) creation - conditioned by experience and upbringing to be resourceful and self-reliant. Thank goodness, as she is about to find herself unwillingly in the company of a lot of genuinely menacing and scary men in circumstances that would have anyone else whimpering in a corner with terror (provided the chain round one's neck would permit one getting to the corner). The other great female character is Yuxia, Chinese tea merchant and force of nature.
Filled with characteristic Stephensonian passages - an explanation of installing Linux and a Tor browser, descriptions of the underlying economic principles of a MMORPG, et multiply cetera - this is, despite its length, a taut, fast-paced fingernail biter of a read, lavished with loving gore and peopled by terrific characters. It isn't as funny as Cryptonomicon, nor does it overflow with ideas like that that earlier work (or The Diamond Age) but it's a winner, and Malcolm Hillgartner's narration is absolutely perfect. It only just misses out on five stars because I know that Stephenson can do better - but you probably only get one Cryptonomicon in any career, so perhaps that's churlish.
As a Clancy-style techno-thriller, this is a very good book. As usual, with Stephenson, the characters are unique but believable in the "real people are weird" view of the world. I enjoyed the flow of the book, the writing approach with its "okay, now I'll give you the backstory you need to understand what just happened," and the story itself.
My only real disappointment is that I expected something sci-fi or fantastic to happen, and it never did. In my mind, this is not a typical Stephenson book for that reason. Not that he always writes in genre, but it is what I expected. After ANATHEM, I was prepared for another "this book should win the Hugo" experience. So don't expect that, and you'll probably be pretty pleased.
Treating it as a techno-thriller, I think it is the most fun I've had with a book like that since HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.
I am completely enthralled by this book. Neal creates moving pictures from each characters view as the book rumbles along uniting 21st century technology with 6th century militant religion culminating in a face to face showdown with modern American extremism.
I drive a truck hauling fuel oil or asphalt products in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
I would be so involved in the story that I was passing my exits off the interstate.
I would sit in my driveway to hear what happens next.
All in all, one of the best stories I've heard.
Neal Stephenson is among my favourite few authors. When he's good, he's very, very good. When he's not so good - as in this case - his novels flow along at a good, action-packed pace, but there's little depth to them, and we might have to avert our eyes from the plot holes.
If this were science fiction (rather than a contemporary thriller), it would fit squarely in the part of the genre favoured by Analog. A bunch of individualist, superior, libertarian heroes save America. The bizarre miss-mash of plot elements keeps us entertained in this action story, but could just as easily form the basis of a raucous comedy.
I enjoyed Reamde, but was disappointed, because I was hoping for more.
Reamde is about as reminiscent to a Snow Crash modern novel as you can get. Set in a more contemporary time than I've grown accustomed to with Stephenson, I found this book to be a great story with engaging characters. At times I felt like I was reading about James Bond who happened to know a Jack Ryan-Steve Jobs-esque billionaire who was related to a young Foxy Brown - all of whom happened to run in to Osama Bin Laden. Loved every minute of it.
As with his other works, the level of detail and richness of character traits makes me think Stephenson must spend most of his free time visiting these locations and writing about people in his family. I went with the audio book this time and was not dissapointed. The narrator did an excellent job switching from character to character - all with pronounced accents - conveying a fantastic degree of "suspension of disbelief" that I rarely get in an audio book.
I originally selected this book because several reviews compared Mr. Stephenson's storytelling to that of Robert Ludlum. I did not find this to be the case. I did end up enjoying the book, but the author continually found twenty words to describe something that could have been said in just a few. I commute for my job and I try to purchase books that are fairly long recordings; this has been the longest so far. So I suppose I jinxed myself by picking a long book. In the end I enjoyed the book very much and the performance was excellent. But, due to the lengthy prose, I had to re-listen to chapters because I ended up falling asleep. So in short, it is a good book, but it is really just too long.
Reading is a passion. Holding a book is not practical in the car. Sure glad I signed up for Audible all those years ago!
Seriously! Spend the CREDIT!
This story line is like watching a Ballroom Dancer doing the Foxtrot. Sometimes the plot change footwork is so fast you have to back it up to make sure you caught it.
BACK it up! It is worth it! I cannot recommend this one enough.
The main character, Richard Forthrast, is very human and normal, for a guy in 1972. He just wants to be able to live his own way and make a living like everyone else. Over the years, stuff just happens to him and his friends, and family and strangers… Somehow, the characters are all brought into the plot as if they were the other dancers spinning and dancing with Richard, unknown to each other until they spin together, picking up partners, switching plot lines, blowing up buildings by accident.
Ok, yes, this has a Virtual Game plot twist. But do not let that possible little miss-direction of the description fool you. This is a reality based mystery-action 3-D book with great heroes and villains who are not as in-human as they seem at first, well not all of them anyway. There are enough computer geeks for all and lots of flying in airplanes, hijacking boats, and escapes by foot.
This book is adult themed and has lots of cool fight scenes, stolen money, bad guys, miss-communications, multiple languages, guns, cultural shifts of view, exotic locations, all the stuff that makes Neal Stephenson so very clever and interesting to read. I promise, if you like smart, funny, fast paced, but not easily solved or resolved story lines, you will enjoy this one.
The book was really well read by Malcom Hillgartner. I can honestly say it was a pleasure to listen to his characterizations. They were an addition to the prose.
Sequel to this one - please?
There is no doubt about it, this is a long book. But I'm use to it from Neal Stephenson's other works. Its got virtual worlds, hackers, terrorists and mobsters! And feels like some of his earlier works (Snow Crash) and the pacing and characters keep you going. My only gripe is the reader isn't very tech savvy and hasn't been coached on how to say certain technical jargon which takes me out of the story for a bit and I have to tell myself to let it go :)
This was my first Neal S book and it will not be my last. Great premise and a great read/listen. A little long for my taste but due to the cast of characters and complexity of their involvement I'm not sure how it could have been shortened. Stephenson writes well and his descriptions are excellent. -- Thanks for a great time, I was almost sorry to have the book end.