“Reamde” by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, 2011)

This is book review number 600 for BookBanter!

Reamde
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Neal Stephenson returns with one doorstop of a tome weighing in at over a thousand pages, with Reamde, which some computer geeks may have guessed is in fact a misspelling of “readme.”  Stephenson takes a growing sub-genre that is right up his alley: that of the massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG).  Whether you’re a computer fan, a Stephenson fan, or a fan of edge-of-your-seat thrillers, you’ll find something to sink your teeth into and keep chewing on for some time in Reamde.

Richard Forthrast is our approaching-middle-age hero who is one of the big brains behind the multi-billion dollar MMO, T’Rain, which is known throughout the world, whether you’re a rich white kid who likes to pretend he’s an elf, or a gold farmer somewhere in Asia looking to make some good money.  T’Rain was in fact created with that in mind – Richard’s past is not a completely clean one by any means – to be open and available and possibly profitable to just about anyone on the planet with a good Internet connection.  And then a very specific virus attacks T’Rain, known as Reamde, which immediately begins making a lot of money for its creators and screwing over a lot of the regular players.  Richard and his team of brainiacs are now working round the clock trying to bring a stop to this.

Meanwhile, one of Richard’s family members – Zula – originally from East Africa and adopted into the family as a young girl, was hired by Richard to work for T’Rain, and becomes involved in a really big problem when her boyfriend Peter – who happens to be a renowned hacker – is looking to make good money selling credit card numbers to a shady, unknown character.  Things take a turn for the worse, when the Reamde virus hits and screws everything up for him.  Before they know it, the Russian mafia is breaking down their door, kidnapping them, and taking them to Asia by private jet to find the perpetrators of the Reamde virus and get their revenge.

Reamde begins like an expected Stephenson book with computers and an MMO, but then makes a change to a Tom Clancy-style thriller, as the characters travel around the world, getting involved in elaborate shootouts in distant countries.  Eventually Islamic terrorist even get involve, as well as a member of MI6 who seems to appear from nowhere and gets a twenty page introduction.  The crux of the book takes place towards the end of the first third of the book, in what Cory Doctorow calls “. . .an epic, 100+ page climactic mini-war.”  The ongoing saga eventually leads back to Seattle and the northwest, passing into Canada, where the novel began, pulling Richard Forthrast into the mix.

Reamde certainly has a captivating voice that Stephenson skillfully uses to hook people in, with a complex and interesting story, but then the action and thrill-ride goes on and on, pulling in more and more characters.  As can be said for almost any thousand-page novel – though I’m sure some Stephenson fans love that it’s this long – Reamde could afford to lose a couple hundred pages, perhaps be edited in half.  Towards the end of the novel, it feels like the initial drive may have become lost in the mess of people and bullets and traveling.  Readers will be left wondering why this massive cast is now chasing and following the ever-changing villains, in the hopes of getting to Zula – an originally interesting female character who eventually becomes “kidnapping baggage,” when even some of these characters looking to find her have never even met her.  Reamde could’ve used an editor performing some heavy page cutting and some necessary redirection to help Stephenson stay on the rails; the result is a sprawling epic that loses its way on a number of occasions.

Originally written on October 13, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Reamde from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“For the Win” by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2010)

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For anyone who’s ever played an MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game like World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, you know it can be a lot of fun.  What you might not know is that if you’re really good at it, play it just right, and know where to advertise, you can make a lot of money from it.  There are certain quests or missions that can be repeated over and over for maximum experience points and/or gold; that gold can be turned into cash.  People who do this are known as gold farmers; it’s illegal; thousands of people around the world do it for profit.

In For the Win, Cory Doctorow goes into depth with this world, revealing the teenagers that love to play, but also the children in India, Malaysia and China that work nonstop grueling hours for little money.  But those who play these games, learn and know a lot about what they do.  Doctorow takes it up a notch by having these slave laborers fight back, forming unions and protective groups to fight for their rights as employees.  The result is a fascinating and fun story that kids, teenagers, or adults can enjoy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on June 9 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Daemon” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2009)

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Daniel Suarez has designed and developed enterprise software for the defense, finance, and entertainment industries, as well as being an independent systems consultant; he’s also an avid gamer.  So it’s no surprise that in Daemon he has created a world and plot that involves all these facets, resulting in a fast-paced, riveting, exciting novel that is a combination of classic Michael Crichton and The Matrix.

Daemon begins with Matthew Sobol, a renowned computer programmer and video game designer, dead from cancer.  It is upon his death, when the obituary is posted online, that the dormant daemon is unleashed upon the world.  In this world – just like our own – everything is automated and computerized: banking, transportation, defense, government, patient records; there are few things remaining “off the grid.”  The daemon works fast and incredibly efficient, beginning a systematic takedown of technology and world systems, causing deaths and the collapse of companies, and a financial meltdown that is scarily similar to the current economic climate.

It’s up to Detective Sebeck and computer genius Jon Ross to try and stop the daemon somehow from destroying everything.  Then there is The Grid, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game – in the style of World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings Online – created by Sobol, where the daemon secretly begins recruiting the disaffected but brilliant youth who play the game as part of its efforts to bring down technology and society.

Whether you’re a gamer, a computer person, a network specialist, an Internet aficionado, or just someone who likes books about technology and possibly the end of the civilized world, Daemon is the book for you.  Expertly written by Daniel Suarez, who knows exactly what he’s talking about, Daemon is a book that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one to the very end, and waiting for the sequel, Freedom, due out in 2010.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on February 8th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Daniel Suarez check out BookBanter Episode 8.