In REAMDE, Neal Stephenson puts aside big ideas and philosophical discourses in favor of action, adventure, and lots of shooting. It’s a thriller, fast-paced and exciting, and it’s as much fun to read as anything he’s written.
Of course, it’s still a Stephenson book, and characteristically epic. When Chinese hackers write a virus targeting T’Rain —it’s called “REAMDE,” a misspelling of “README”— it affects a huge cast of characters, including Russian Mafia thugs, a British secret agent, an Eritrean orphan, American survivalists, and one extremely dangerous Welsh jihadist.
REAMDE is also characteristically lengthy; at over 1,000 pages, it’s Stephenson’s longest book yet. But the plot moves so quickly and smoothly that I read it in a fraction of the time it took to complete his last novel, the slightly shorter (but much heavier) Anathem.
I didn't get more than a few hundred pages(!) into it but I gathered he was trying to make some kind of philosophical point by obfuscating schools of philosophy that I was familiar with behind made up terminology.
A lot of the reviews say if you can make it through the first 100-200 pages of exposition, then the story is great. But there just isn't enough time in this world to wade through a novel's worth of setup, and somebody should've told him so. I've tried twice now, and this needs to go back to the library at some point. So I'm declaring defeat. Maybe when I am a very old woman with nothing better to do I'll give it one last try, but probably not before then!
I spoke in bursts because I was trying to write and talk at the same time: "When I came—that is, before I was Collected—we—I mean, they—had a thing called a speely. .. We didn't say 'speel in'—we said 'cruise the speely.' " Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fluccish, and so this staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if I'd said it in Orth. "It was a sort of—"
"Moving picture," Orolo guessed. He looked to the artisan, and switched to Fluccish. "We have guessed that 'to speel in' means to partake of some moving picture praxis—what you would call technology—that prevails out there."
"Moving picture, that's a funny way to say it," said the artisan. He stared out a window, as if it were a speely showing a historical documentary. He quivered with a silent laugh.
"It is Praxic Orth and so it sounds quaint to your ears," Fraa Orolo admitted.
"Why don't you just call it by its real name?"
"Because when Fraa Erasmas, here, came into the math ten years ago, it was called 'cruising the speely' and when I came in al¬most thirty years ago we called it 'Farspark.' The avout who live on the other side of yonder wall, who celebrate Apert only once every hundred years, would know it by some other name. I would not be able to talk to them."
Artisan Flec had not taken in a word after Farspark. "Farspark is completely different!" he said. "You can't watch Farspark content on a speely, you have to up-convert it and re-parse the format…."
Fraa Orolo was as bored by that as the artisan was by talk of the Hundreders, and so conversation thudded to a stop long enough for me to scratch it down. My embarrassment had gone away without my noticing it, as with hiccups. Artisan Flec, believing that the con¬versation was finally over, turned to look at the scaffolding that his men had erected beneath the bad rafter.
"To answer your question," Fraa Orolo began.
"The one you posed just a minute ago—if I want to know what things are like extramuros, why don't I just speel in?"
"Oh," said the artisan, a little confounded by the length of Fra Orolo's attention span. I suffer from attention surplus disorder, Fraa Orolo liked to say, as if it were funny.
"First of all," Fraa Orolo said, "we don't have a speely-device."
Waving his hand as if this would dispel clouds of linguistic con¬fusion, Orolo said, "What ever artifact you use to speel in."
"If you have an old Farspark resonator, I could bring you a down-converter that's been sitting in my junk pile—"
"We don't have a Farspark resonator either," said Fraa Orolo.
"Why don't you just buy one?"
This gave Orolo pause. I could sense a new set of embarrassing questions stacking up in his mind: "do you believe that we have money? That the reason we are protected by the Sæcular Power is because we are sitting on a treasure hoard? That our Millenarians know how to convert base metals to gold?" But Fraa Orolo mastered the urge. "Living as we do under the Cartasian Discipline, our only media are chalk, ink, and stone," he said. "But there is another reason too."
"Yeah, what is it?" demanded Artisan Flec, very provoked by Fraa Orolo's freakish habit of announcing what he was about to say instead of just coming out and saying it.
"It's hard to explain, but, for me, just aiming a speely input de¬vice, or a Farspark chambre, or whatever you call it. . ."
".. . at something doesn't collect what is meaningful to me. I need someone to gather it in with all their senses, mix it round in their head, and make it over into words."
"Words," the artisan echoed, and then aimed sharp looks all round the library. "Tomorrow, Quin's coming instead of me," he announced, then added, a little bit defensively, "I have to counter-strafe the new clanex recompensators—the fan-out tree's starting to look a bit clumpy, if you ask me."
For anyone who's tempted, realize that there was a very good reason Stephenson refused for years for it to be reprinted. (I assume the pile of money he was being offered for reprint rights eventually got too big to ignore.)
Sandpoint [Idaho]… which had all the indicia-- brewpub, art gallery, Pilates, Thai restaurant-- of a place where Blue State people would go to enjoy a high standard of living while maintaining nonstop connectivity and assuaging their guilty consciences in re global warming, fair trade and the regrettable side effects of Manifest Destiny.
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