REAMDE by Neal Stephenson is a massive avalanche of reading delight. You might just say that I liked it–really liked it. The book starts off in NW Iowa at the annual Forthrast family reunion at Thanksgiving. The time-frame seems to be roughly the current time. Richard Forthrast is busy shooting at cans and pumpkins by the creek on the family farm along with the rest of the extended family. He isn’t quite able to blend in with the rest of the family and we gradually learn that through his life he has been variously a draft dodger, pot smuggler and gamer who is one of the founders of the gaming company, Corporation 9592. The main output of Corporation 9592 (Richard randomly created the name after no one could agree) is a MMORPG T’Rain. T’Rain was created with the idea of being geologically accurate (the gold comes from somewhere other than just dragon lairs) and being friendly to the idea of gold farming. T’Rain has become quite popular and as a result has driven Richard’s net worth north of 600 million dollars. At the Reunion Richard chats with his niece Zula (adopted into the family by way of Eritrea) and thinks that he might be able to get her a job in 9592 as she has a degree in geology.
We get this nice fairly low key intro into Richard and then skip a few months as Zula and her boyfriend Peter are visiting Richard in his ski resort in British Columbia. Zula has indeed joined 9592. It is at this point that the main story begins and then the action escalates. Upon escalation, the action never really lets up for the next 900 pages or so with the occasion brief pause for some cool information presented with Stephenson’s knack for infodumpery. What this means is that you often don’t realize that he is feeding you info as he manages to make it part of the storytelling.
The action in this case originates from an unexpected confluence between a virus effecting T’Rain users (the REAMDE virus) and an exchange of information between Zula’s boyfriend Peter and some Russian mobsters. Chinese virtual gold farmers, terrorists, counter-terrorists, British spies, fantasy authors and Idahoan “gun” people are some of the groups that will get run into, over and through.
In addition to a breakneck plot and fantastic characters (Zula is the very soul of an empowered female lead) there are a number of really cool concepts. The base idea of T’Rain being hospitable to gold farming (the exchange of in game gold with real world money) is pretty interesting. Most games try to actively prevent this and there are some murmurs of tax issues from governments that seem to encourage this attitude. Couple this with some of the action of the novel occurring in the game environment and aspects of the game that seem quite a bit more advanced than actual games that currently exist and you get a bit of science fiction feel to parts of the book for anyone who might be desiring such a feel. Most of the book is quite firmly ensconced in the world of the current techno-thriller so don’t expect spaceships, but instead private jets.
One detail that I found slightly annoying was that Stephenson went out of his way to keep pointing out that his characters (from Iowa) were pronouncing creek as “crik”. I’m from north central Iowa and don’t know anyone who actually does this so it seemed out of place. He does mention that the Forthrast’s migrated to NW Iowa from Missouri, so they presumably brought this dialect with them. I have heard anecdotal evidence that this pronunciation holds in places so it isn’t necessarily an incorrect detail, just odd that he keeps mentioning it. He doesn’t comment on Chinese character’s dialects, for example.
But, on the other hand, since he mostly then portrays the Iowa portion of the cast as quite the cool set of people I’ll forgive him this.
So, there you go–a thrilling book that you won’t want to put down with interesting characters a non-stop plot and some cool pieces of info along the way. Highly recommended.