Thursday, February 18, 2016

4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I was sort of done with Neal Stephenson.  I loved Snow Crash and The Cryptonomicon (the guy who recommended this to me accurately described it as "the kind of book you feel sad about when it is over") but just could not make it through the first book of the Baroque cycle.  So much nerdy diversion that was not in service of the story!  My brother-in-law helped bring me back into the fold first by convincing me I might like Reamde and then by giving it me for xmas.  I picked it up at the end of January and while it was a beast (1000+ pages) I had a hard time putting it down and was able to crank through a huge section during two train rides to Toronto.

It's still really nerdy, but the nerdiness is a light peppering rather than a deep sauce.  Actually, the very foundation of the book is pure nerd ideology.  That ideology says that if only people would base their existence on rationality and skills and not get caught up in social convention, they will then succeed and kick ass in all kinds of situations.  There is some truth to this and it is very appealing to an old ex-nerd like myself.  The dark side of this is the libertarian techbro dolt that we see all too often today and I'm sure a lot of them loved Reamde.  Stephenson doesn't take us down this far because he maintains a human, sympathetic side, but also because the priority here really is the story.

And it's a great, crazy story.  It somehow manages to be both empirical and theoretical at the same time.  It's empirical because he brings in a wild mix of characters and situations, whose behaviour and premises driver what happens next.  Yet at the same time the whole thing is structured into some neat unities (it all takes place in 3 weeks) and maintains several consistent, interesting themes (the virtual world vs. the real world; terrorism as a thing, far right rural wingnuts as real people, family).

Ultimately, it is a teeny bit too American jingoistic and the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped (by the time you get to it, you can kind of guess how things will play out).  But the ride itself was thoroughly enjoyable and I will keep my eyes out for his next book.

1 comment:

Redwing said...

I really liked this book - but I also have to say that since you and Dan recommended Snow Crash I have been a big Stephenson fan. I have not read Cryptonomicon yet, but I did manage to make it through all three books of the Baroque Cycle. I was especially drawn to that thread of the story that included the sailor who fell in love with that girl he rescued from the harem. I guess this show us what I'll do for a good pirate story. I did like the natural science aspect of the story - I still have impressions of Isaac Newton from that story that I consider factual events. And I don't think I would know half of what I know about Liebniz, which is next to nothing - without the Baroque Cycle. Seemed like an exciting time to be alive.

Also, having picked them up after all three were published helped. I don't think I would have gone to Book 2 if I had to wait for it to be published. Too many details, characters, intrigues, etc...

Anyway, I read Reamde in July of 2013 and I loved it; the mix of hackers, terrorists, and virtual reality gave a lot of layering and depth to the story. I had a great deal of affection for the Russian Special Forces guy. I also consumed the book in a short amount of time; the guy can plot a story.