Reamde by Neal Stephenson

So, the first book I’ve read (listened) to this year was Reamde, Stephenson’s latest novel. I’ve actually owned this book in hard copy form since it was released a couple of years ago, but let’s face it, a 1000+ page tome can be intimidating. It is Neal Stephenson; if he put out a 700 page book, people would think he’s gotten into short stories. But, no way around it, his books are time investments. Specifically 38 hours and 34 minutes as read by Malcolm Hillgartner. I would like to say this book was like listening to a season of “24” – except obviously even longer.

The novel is a straightforward action plot with kidnappings, Russian gangsters, terrorists, and online role playing games. The story starts with a lot of development of the online game T’Rain and the business of goldfarming (developing in-game characters or attributes to sell for real world money). For as much time as was spent elucidating the reader on how this works, it does not come into the outworking of the plot as critically as one would think. This is the main problem of the book on a whole. As is typical, Stephenson spends a lot of time in description, but there are many fleshed out topics and characters that are just dropped when the plot passes them by. The pace is quick and the tension stays so high that you will wonder if you need to start anti-anxiety medication; but still, when big characters just disappear, you notice.

I was convinced to get going on this book after finishing his previous work Anathem – which was probably the best book I read in 2014. While Reamde may not be his best, his “ok” is much better than many authors’ “good.” The plot has no major surprises save for some fascinating developments. But even when you know what’s going to happen, you’re compelled to keep turning pages. It carries you to some exotic locales that you may want to visit after reading like British Columbia or Xiamen. It’s completely enjoyable, and if you’re a fan of action, intrigue, spies, or hackers, you will love this book. The time put in is like a good long movie…or a good long season of “24.”

7.5 stars out of 10.

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