My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Neal Stephenson is my favorite author, so it is probably no surprise that I tore through this book in just a couple of days and gave it five stars. I remain in love with his overly verbose writing style, and his nerdy asides. I’ll echo something Fritz said when we discussed the book briefly, which is that it hearkens back to some of his earlier work, before the heavily researched and almost academic vibe of The Baroque Cycle and Anathem. That is to say, this book is heavier on the action, but even that action is incredibly detailed, all the way down to what you could easily classify as “gun porn”.
I very much enjoyed his portrayal of the MMORPG T’Rain, and the amusing barbs directed at fantasy writing and settings wrapped up in that. I would definitely play a game with that level of obsessive detail, especially the geophysically realistic terrain generation and real passage of time, although I doubt it would turn out to be a WoW killer because it wouldn’t have that broad of an appeal.
The near-future setting felt realistic, especially because he regularly refers to real-world companies and internet services. It’s interesting to me that from a trademark perspective, an author can do that in writing, but present-day movies generally have to make up news networks, search engines, etc. because otherwise they’d have to pay for the rights. It’s jarring when they’re forced to do that, so I’m glad that distraction wasn’t present here.
One of the more amusing examples of Stephenson’s style was his apparent obsession with the word “talus“. I guess he didn’t like “scree” or “loose rock” and really wanted to emphasize the instability of the terrain the various characters were walking on. I think the final chapters mentioned it on about every other page.
As for the characters, I generally wanted to like everyone, even the bad guys. I think a big part of this was that almost all of them were non-stereotypical or outsiders in some way, making them not fit our assumptions for how they should look/sound/act.
If you like Stephenson, you definitely won’t be disappointed; if you’re new to him, this iteration of his work is also considerably more accessible than some of his work in the last 10 years. I think I will still stand by my claim that Snow Crash is the best introduction, but maybe that’s just because that’s the first book of his that I read, and I was hooked. REAMDE stands alone in his various universes, and is a bit less geekily intimidating than his other books.