I really had no intention of even picking up Stephenson’s new book, Reamde. I jumped at Anathem, his last book, published in 2008, got about seventy pages into it, and put it down as practically unreadable.
Stephenson’s a real conundrum for me. Some of his stuff is just brilliant. Here I’m talking about Snow Crash and Zodiac, two of his earliest works. Some of his stuff is just plain fun: Cobweb, and Interface here. Some of his stuff is just a mess of what-the-fuck-is-he-talking-about: the Baroque Cycle, for example. I’ve tried, but never been able to finish Diamond Age.
Reamde is highly readable, although it’s not exactly an easy read.
This is what Reamde‘s about (spoilers start here): MMOGs, computer viruses, American fundamentalist Christian gun-nuts, Russian mafia, Chinese hackers, MI6 agents, and an African-Welsh Islamic terrorist.
In a nut-shell: T’Rainn is an MMOG created by a guy named Richard, who used to smuggle marijuana across the Canadian border into Idaho. He made a fortune, went legit, and founded this MMOG (Massive Multiplayer Online Game: think World of Warcraft). He owns a ski-lodge in British Columbia which is where he meets his adopted niece, Zula, for a family vacation. Zula’s there with her boyfriend, a security hacker who’s moonlighting in stealing credit card numbers for a freelancer for the Russian mafia. Except, oops, the numbers he just handed over have been encrypted by a REAMDE file created by Chinese hackers. Basically, this corrupt file encrypts all the data on a user’s hard drive, and to un-encrypt the information, victims have to transform cash into credits which can be transferred to the hackers via T’Rainn (they can then transfer the credits back to cash). The mafia, to put it short, ain’t happy, kidnap Zula, and fly to China with a bunch of ex-special forces types to force the Chinese hackers to decrypt the data (“Why not just pay the funds?” you ask, and the answer’s complicated: basically, other users of the game are intercepting a lot of the ransom payments and the Russians want to actually hurt someone). All goes smoothly until the Russians are ready to raid the hacker’s apartment: they hit the wrong door, and find a bunch of AK-47 totting terrorists. BOOM! BAM! Hard to put down from there forward.
There’s a lot of exposition in REAMDE about this fictional T’Rainn MMOG Stephenson’s created. It can be a bit of a bear to slog through. If you’re digging into this in hopes of a new Snow Crash: forget it. This book is closer in tone to Cobweb, or Interface, which could best be described as techno-thrillers (Snow Crash is hard core cyberpunk).
Anyway, good read. Took me a couple of weeks, and I read some lighter stuff in breaks (including Halderman’s Forever War).