by Neal Stephenson
Wm. Morrow Books, $35.00, 1056 pages
In the interest of full disclosure, the prospect of reading a Neal Stephenson book fills me with giddy anticipation. Generally speaking, a Stephenson novel will clock in somewhere north of 1,000 pages, and is filled with a patented blend of brilliantly elaborate globetrotting characters doing clever things. As one who is accustomed to the pitch and yaw of one of his narratives, I was able to navigate REAMDE. To the uninitiated, Neal Stephenson is not an easy read, he fills his books with an enormous international cast of dramatis personae, each following multi-parallel stories that (mostly) interrelate. Honestly, you’ll just have to read the book if you want to figure out how they all come together in the end.
It starts off as a witty technothriller, involving Russian gangsters who kidnap a woman named Zula, the niece of an American computer game designer in order to pursue a Chinese hacker who’s written a virus, which accidentally exposed their underworld finances. The well-armed Russians fly to China, who are then tricked into attacking a cell of Al-Qaeda terrorists. It all comes to a head in a prolonged firefight between a gang of well-armed international terrorists, a large, extended family of well adjusted quasi-militia from the wilds of unincorporated Idaho, a lovesick Hungarian IT specialist, a Chinese computer gamer/hacker, a British Spy and her Russian ex-commando paramour, and a hungry man-eating cougar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
At the core of REAMDE beats the heart of a Romantic Comedy. It’s brilliantly funny, exciting, and interesting. A word of caution though, I would suggest reading this in manageable bite-sized pieces. You’ve heard of books that you just can’t put down? This is one such book, but you may find yourself needing a break for sleep, or something to eat.
Reviewed by Bradley Wright