Bookbanter’s Best Reads of 2017

 

Reviews:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Darkness of Evil by Alan Jacobson

Change Agent by Daniel Suarez

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, 2015)

Seveneves
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Good books are the ones that start out with a captivating premise that sucks you in and then the characters have to accept said premise and deal with its ramifications. The bad ones are the those that feel forced, where the characters are artificial, and each scene feels forced and unnatural. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson kicks off with one of the best opening lines to be written in some time: “The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.”

The book actually focuses very little on why or how the moon is obliterated, other than the people of Earth calling it the work of “The Agent,” about which little is known and it’s not really important, because there are more important and terrifying things to consider. A fictional equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rufus MacQuarie has made his name as a public figure who helps explain science at its most basic levels to the masses. When a billionaire wanted to take a trip into space, MacQuarie was chosen as the backup should the billionaire fall ill or be unable to be ready on the day. Rufus documented the rigorous training he and the billionaire went through and it made him renowned.

Now he’s about to become even more renowned. All that remains of the moon are seven large pieces hanging up there spinning around. MacQuarie makes some mental calculations and then watches his predictions come true as some of the pieces collide and become smaller pieces. Then he makes some bigger calculations and eventually meets with the President of the United States to reveal his dooming prediction. Over the next two years those pieces of the former moon are going to keep colliding and breaking into smaller pieces in the millions and then billions causing what he calls the “White Sky” when all those small pieces fall out of orbit and make their way towards Earth in what he calls “Hard Rain.”

In a little over two years, the planet will be destroyed, every living thing on it killed in the fires of these lunar meteorites. No one will survive. And the planet has two years to decide how to keep the human race alive in some form.

Hope lies in the International Space Station. Those who are already up there automatically get a “get off the Earth and survive” card free. Over the next two years they will create the Cloud Ark, manufacturing many smaller “arklets” that will be habitats for people. Everything needs to planned and thought out. What supplies will be needed, what fuel, what items they will take with them to remember the history of humanity. Over the two years there will also be a drawing of two people from every country on the planet, the ideal pair representing their nation and culture. Of course, things do no always go to plan.

Neal Stephenson has created a story here that is enthralling in every sense of the word. The research at times is mind boggling as he goes from complex aerospace technology to well calculated genetics to thought out sociology. He literally brings the human race to the brink of extinction. The Hard Rain destroys the planet just as MacQuarie predicted and there are about 1500 people in Earth orbit tasked with the job of keeping humanity alive for the next 5000 years when the rain will finally end and they can possibly return to Earth and begin terraforming.

The first third of the book is about the lead up to the Hard Rain. The second third is about how the survivors survive and deal with the everyday problems of living in a small ship in space and where they’re going to get all their resources from. The final third of the book is what humanity looks like 5000 years in the future.

The book is full of female characters, because women have less of a drain on resources as compared to men, but also because Stephenson is creating a realistic world here and not one where men do everything. Diversity is omnipresent and just part of the rich fabric of this world, as it is in ours. Sadly this is something that has to be pointed out in books that do this well, because there are still far too many that feature nothing but white dudes doing everything.

The cast is interesting and entertaining. The science is fascinating and forces you to turn the page and keep reading. And the story is just a wonderful ride you won’t soon forget. It is the epitome of the ideal work of science fiction and even though its 880 pages, readers will never want it to end.

Originally written on July 31, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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

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Reamde

Bookbanter Column: The Long Read (June 22, 2012)

Books come in all shapes and sizes and most importantly, in various lengths.

A variety of authors write and publish a variety books with a variety of page numbers. Some are small and seemingly pathetic 200-page novellas, some are your average 300-400 page-turners, and then there are those special authors that like to write those 800-1000 page behemoths.

Now, mind you, books will vary in length depending on genre: children’s books will usually be within that 200-page mark, young adult pushes it to 300 (unless you’re Harry Potter!), mysteries tend to be in the 300-400 page range, and a number of fantasy authors like to write those really long ones.

This column is about those special heavy tomes.

In the last couple of years there have been a number of these long books published by a variety of authors in various genres, and I’ve read a fair number of them and they’ve all been pretty good.

So if you’re looking for that long 800-1000 pager to get sucked into, check out the titles below.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (849 pages)

Jake Epping is a thirty-five year old high school teacher living in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He enjoys his simple life, conveying to kids not just the beauty of the English language, but discussing and enlightening the teenagers with some of the great works of literature.

In the opening of 11/22/63, the reader learns about Harry Dunning’s past life. Dunning is an adult student who got his high school diploma a while ago; Jake still has that very special essay Dunning wrote. It wasn’t grammatically correct, and was filled with spelling errors; but it was also the story of the day Dunning’s father came home drunk, when he was a child, and brutally murdered his mother, sister and brother with a hammer, while Dunning barely made it out alive with his life, suffering a smashed leg.

It was a moving story that Jake has never forgotten.

He enjoys his days after school going to see his friend Al, who owns a local diner, where he enjoys one of the most delicious burgers on the planet, and the amazing thing about it is he hasn’t raised his prices in decades. A customer can still enjoy a burger with fries for the ridiculously cheap price of under $3. It seems like something Jake should be suspicious about, but the burgers taste too damn good. The following day Jake meets up with Al again and finds him to be a changed man, incredibly aged overnight and he looks like he’s dying; that’s when Al tells him his story.

In the back of his diner is a portal to 1958.

Al himself has been back a number of times, and each time he comes back through it to the present, everything resets. He’s narrowed everything down to one important event he believes will change everything: the assassination of JFK. He tried once, spending five years back then, but it didn’t work. Now it’s up to Jake. And just to prove that anything is possible, Jake’s first mission is going to be to go back and stop Dunning’s father from killing his family.

Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (1008 pages)

Readers are returned first to Kote at the Waystone Inn with his friend and apprentice, Bast. A new day begins, after the stories and surprising events of the one before. Chronicler sits ready to record the story, while Kote has already been up many hours, preparing fresh cider and newly baked bread. And so Kote continues the story of his life, the story of Kvothe the arcanist.

The sixteen year-old continues his studies at the University, struggling to get by. He has spent his recently acquired monies on a new lute and now has little to show for it, but the instrument is an investment. Now raised to the next level of arcanist, Re’lar, his tuition is considerably higher, and his must borrow money to pay for it. Fortunately, he has his incredible talent as a musician and singer, and is able to make some money this way through a clever scheme at the inns.

Then there is the Fishery, where all manner of arcana are made. Kvothe has spent previous terms learning and inventing simple items such as sympathy lamps that bring in a decent amount of money, but this term he is challenged to create something truly unique; it will take him many months, but the result will fetch a high price.

Kvothe is also finally granted access to the priceless Archives once more, and after learning how to travel its complex, labyrinthine halls, corridors and stacks; begins his incessant research on the unknown Chandrian, for they are the ones who murdered his family and friends.

Meanwhile, Kvothe’s relationship with Deanna continues to go nowhere fast, as he does all he can to make her happy and feel special . . . everything that is except confess his love for her. He even breaks into the rooms of his mortal enemy to steal back Deanna’s ring and proceeds to get himself into a whole mess of trouble.

At the end of the term, Kvothe seems to have everything in order, but has a couple of options: he can continue with his studies the following the semester, and risk having the gossip of his involvement jeopardize his studies; or he can leave town and try something different for a while. Fortunately at that moment, there is a rich noble from Vintas looking to woo a certain lady and needs one skilled with words. So begins the second half of the book, as Kvothe is soon on his way and finds himself involved in the noble courts, as a different world is revealed to the reader of manners and ways and courtly intrigue. Kvothe is also employed into a gang to stop a band of bandits terrorizing the tax collectors. In this gang he befriends a unique man and seeks to learn his ways and culture.

The question is whether he can understand and learn this man’s language, as well as stop these bandits once and for all. Meanwhile, in the back of his mind, Kvothe wonders and hopes if the rich noble who has employed him may wish to take him on permanently as his patron.

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (1040 pages)

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of. He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far East.

Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehensible as the great continent of Westeros. Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine. He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen. Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.

She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons. Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.

The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons. It does not end well for him. Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson (1056 pages)

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.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1008 pages)

Our story focuses on two characters.

One is Kaladin, a young man in his twenties who has seen much of life already. Raised by his surgeon father to become a brilliant doctor, he instead turns to the life of a warrior, with hopes of getting his hands on a Shardblade, and soon sees his fair share of death and bloodshed.

Now he is a slave, for reasons unknown, with little to hope for in life. He soon becomes a member of the bridge crew, a group of slaves whose job it is to carry a giant, heavy bridge across great distances and to lay it across the chasms to allow the soldiers to cross and attack the enemy. Kaladin becomes part of bridge team four, which is renowned for losing the most lives each time it races into battle. Kaladin finds a unique luck on his side, as he manages to continue to survive, and then chooses to work for his team, train them, create survival tactics for them, and he discovers something he thought he’d lost for good: hope and his will to live.

Then there is Shallan, a young woman whose family has fallen on hard times after the death of their father. The family is in possession of a Soulcaster, a unique magical device that can essentially create just about anything out of nothing, only now it is broken. However, Shallan has a plan: to become the ward and student for Jasnah Kolin, sister of King Elhokar of Althekar, with plans to replace Jasnah’s Soulcaster with her own; her only problem is she has no idea how to use it.

A number of interludes throughout the book help to introduce some minor characters to explore some more of this overwhelming world, such as Szeth-son-son-Vallano, who is an assassin from the land of Shinovar, possessing a unique magic to flip gravity around. And then there are the spren, which are spirits that seem to be caused by or drawn to specific happenstances and emotions, such as fear, pain, music, rot, and glory to name a few.

Little is known or understood of the spren, other than they exist, while Kaladin finds himself befriending a specific spren that seems to be evolving.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (1074 pages)

Imagine the quintessential American town – Chester Mills, Maine – where life has rolled along at its own sedate pace since the beginning of time; it is a simple life that many envy and yearn for, while others disregard and ridicule.

Now imagine that an invisible dome forms around the boundaries of the town, trapping everyone and everything inside, as well as preventing anyone and anything from entering; all that is able to pass through is air since it’s composed of tiny molecules. From now on the humble citizens of Chester Mills must live off of whatever supplies and reserves they have.

Then add some classic, unique and outright bizarre Stephen King characters; you’ve got yourself a very special story, weighing in at over a thousand pages.

There’s Dale Barbara, an ex-military man who came to Chester Mills to get away from everything, working as a cook at Sweetbriar Rose. After getting into a serious fight with the town bullies – who include the sheriff’s son – he’s all set to quit town, but the dome comes down before he’s able to make his escape. Now he’s trapped inside with a whole mess of people who hate his guts and would sooner see him dead.

Jim Rennie – known as “Big Jim – is the town’s Second Selectman, a member of the three-member team that makes up the governing body for Chester Mills. Only Big Jim has everyone in his pocket, owning him favors, and he’s also been running an underground scheme that’s making him a very rich man. He thrives on power and being in charge, and when the dome comes down he thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world; his calling from God to take charge once and for all.

Julia Shumway is the editor, publisher, and devout writer for her very own Chester Mill’s Democrat, continuing the family business, and always looking for a great story and a way to reveal the true, seedy underbelly of Chester Mills that she knows exists. After Dome Day, she knows Jim Rennie is up to something and will stop at nothing to expose him for the fraud he is.

And 13-year-old Joe McClatchey, a good-looking nerd with all the answers, but he also has some important ideas about what exactly the dome is and what might’ve made it happen. While the town slowly devolves into pandemonium, he spends his time trying to find out the cause of it all.

Stephen King conceived this book, originally titled Cannibals, early on in his career, but was never satisfied with the story.

Now he has delivered the weighty tome of Under the Dome, where lines will be drawn, sides declared, alliances forged, and enemies and allies made.

Many people will die – which is no surprise for a King novel – but the wild thrill ride will keep you addictively reading, aching to find out how it all ends.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

Bookbanter Column: In an MMO Far, Far Away (December 16, 2011)

There are many people on this planet who know what an MMO and/or an MMORPG is, but by the same token – like so many things in life – there are also many people who don’t what those acronyms mean.  MMO stands for Massive Multiplayer Online, and MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  Some examples of these MMOs include EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and the forthcoming and constantly-growing-in-popularity Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is still in beta and scheduled to be fully released December 20.  They’re essentially online video games that allow for much more ability and opportunity than usual console-based video games, and have no real end point: with each new expansion, players have higher levels to achieve, more quests to do, and more of the world to explore.  Players get all this and more for a monthly fee, or some MMOs are free to play (ftp), but payment is required for certain quests or items.  There are literally millions of MMO players across the planet, and I’m proudly one of them.

What’s interesting is that MMOs are starting to show up in fiction, mainly science fiction, usually as a construct of the fictional world the author has created.  Sometimes it is a quasi dystopian future where playing the game is all there really is, while other books have the MMO be a main part of the story and play off it in the real world.  It is an interesting growing sub-genre of science fiction that seems to get new additions each year.

Below are the books featuring MMOs that I have come across in my reading and reviewing, though I am sure there are more out there and invite anyone reading this column to elucidate on them in the comments section.  As you read about these books and their respective MMOs, what do you think it says about our world and our society?  More importantly, what do you think it says about where we’re headed?  How likely is it that some form of one of these MMOs will come to be our reality?  You be the judge.

Reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson: 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. (Read the full review.)

Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: In the not-too-distant future, the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket.  It’s very much a dystopian world, but within this gloomy, depressing place is an MMO that just about everyone plays.  OASIS is not just a game, but a way a life for most, where you can have fun, meet friends, got to school, and pretty much lead a full and entertaining life under the guise of your anonymous avatar (whose façade is of your choosing).  Depending on what people can afford, the experience can be fully sensory so that players feel as if they are actually existing in the world of OASIS and experiencing it in just about every way possible.

James Halliday, who grew up in the 1980’s when computers were beginning to take off, quickly became addicted to video games and then began making his own.  He is the creator of OASIS, which has gone from a game to life and reality for so many people in this world, and he is many times a billionaire.  When he dies, he activates his will which states that whoever finds the three keys and solves the puzzles will be entitled to his entire fortune.  Wade Watts is an eighteen year old nerd who has hopes of finding all three keys and gaining those untold riches.  His parents are dead and he lives with an aunt who treats him terribly and he cares little for her, scraping by in abject poverty.  And now he thinks he might’ve just found the location of the first key. (Read the full review; read an interview with the author.)

Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane: There are two worlds here: the compelling fantasy world of the massive multiplayer online game (MMO) Omnitopia and the real world where video game companies fight to keep doing what they do best and keep the fans hooked, and make lots of money.  It is the near future and when one sits down to play an MMO – like Lord of the Rings Online or World of Warcraft – they can use the familiar screen and keyboard set up, or there is the full immersion into the game, akin to virtual reality only better, where one experiences almost all senses of the game.  It is an incredible complex world of fighting and raiding, of gaining levels and increasing your wealth, and even eating and drinking with friends, while discussing your next strategies.  But Omnitopia is unique as every once in a while it selects one of its subscribers to create their own unique world of their own choosing and actually make money from it.  So there is the world of Omnitopia, and then there are the thousands of other user-created worlds covering all of history and the imagination.  The result is a game that one can quite literally be completely absorbed by, almost forgetting the real world.

Rik Maliani is an ordinary person with an ordinary job who’s been a fan and player of Omnitopia for years.   Then he gets selected to create his own world; it’s a dream come true, especially with the possibility of making serious money, but the question is what type of world to make?  What would make it truly unique and encourage people to come see and play?  As Rik begins creating his world, he notices some unusual events happening in the world of Omnitopia that seem to affect the one he is creating, but at the same time to be affected by his world somehow.

Dev Logan is the CEO of Omnitopia and started the whole enterprise many years ago as a college student, and is now the eighth richest man in the world because of it.  He has a crack team of computer whizzes and geniuses who spend their days monitoring Omnitopia, making sure it’s running as smoothly as possible, and preventing the constant attacks and hacks against the worldwide popular MMO.  And now things are really heating up, as the new expansion is about to be released.  Everyone is working pretty much nonstop and none more so than Dev, who forgets to even eat at times.  Delia Harrington is doing a story on Omnitopia for Time Magazine about the company and the expansion.  As Dev deals with the reporter – who seems to be snooping around a little more than she should be – he’s constantly being barraged by updates and news on what’s happening with Omnitopia.  It seems there are an absurd number of attacks building against the MMO, more so than usual, even for an expansion, but then that’s all in a day’s work for the CEO of Omnitopia.

Finally, there is Phil Sorensen, who was a good friend of Dev’s in college – they were going to revolutionize the gaming world together, but then had a falling out – and is the CEO for Infinity Inc. with his own giant, money-making MMO.  He would like nothing more than to see everything that is Omnitopia come crashing down, and have Dev come crying back to him.  He’s going to stop at nothing to make this happen. (Read the full review.)

For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow: For anyone who’s ever played an MMO 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. (Read the full review; listen to an interview with the author.)

Daemon

Daemon by Daniel Suarez: 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. (Read the full
review
; listen to an interview with the author.)

As you can see, each MMO is quite different in each book, and in how the MMO is used as a construct.  Sometimes it is a tool for good, sometimes a tool for evil, and sometimes a tool for something completely different.  Regardless of what the future may hold for us in the growing world of MMOs, and whether any of these possible and seemingly plausible realities will come into being, the fact that this subject is being written about by a growing number of different authors sends a message that this is not something we can just ignore or assume will go away.  MMOs are here to stay, whether some of us like it or not, for good or ill; the question remains: how are they going to stay and what affect will they grow to and continue to have on our lives.  Only the future knows.

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

This is book review number 600 for BookBanter!

Reamde
starstarstar

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.

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09/19 On the Bookshelf . . . “Wonderstruck,” “Vacation” & “Reamde”

Wonderstruck    Vacation    The Great Sea    Reamde

A great trio received: the new illustrated novel from Brian Selznick, Wondertruck (after the fantastic Invention of Hugo Cabret); a cool sounding horror story; a nice big book on the history of the Mediterranean; and the latest tome from Neal Stephenson.