Spoiler Check: I have completed “Reamde” by Neal Stephenson
Finding myself reading Reamde in sync with its being a featured book on the Sword & Laser podcast, even if only by chance, I was keen to finish it before Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont reviewed it on the show. To my surprise, I managed to do it with a couple of days to spare.
I was never quite sure when Tom and Veronica were going to do their Reamde wrap-up. They kept putting it off week after week. Well it is a long book and Veronica in particular seemed to be taking a while to get through it.
On the whole I agree with Tom’s assessment. It is a good book but not up there with Stephenson’s finest. It is no Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon or Anathem. Definitely somewhere between “Meh” and “Wow!”, maybe closer to the latter.
I guess I had it in my mind that the denouement would take place in T’Rain, the World of Warcraft clone featured in the story. However, as Tom pointed out, T’Rain (or more precisely the Reamde virus which affected it) was just the McGuffin. Stephenson had some fun with T’Rain for sure, but his subject of special interest explored in the book was fancy guns and associated guerilla tactics. So for the final section of the book we get a complex, intricately choreographed, protracted gunfight out in the sticks involving all the main characters, pitting the baddie Jihadists against everyone else. And not a computer in sight.
Maybe it was just the thing for gun nuts or wargame addicts, but I’m neither of those and found the whole thing went on too long. I had gone with most of the book and found it enjoyable, but my interest was definitely waning by the end. I just wanted it over.
Stephenson did seem to be going to extraordinary lengths not to make the gunfight too clichéd or predictable. We’re used to the goodies winning out against improbable odds in improbable ways. That would not do for our Neal. Everything had to be carefully staged so that there was always a plausible reason why it was mostly the Jihadists who got killed while the old men, and the young women who had never used a gun, managed to survive. This mainly involved having some of the goodies die (none of the main characters of course) or get badly hurt, and ensuring that there were at least some seriously capable fighters on the goodie side.
A thought came to me. Could Stephenson have been trying to write a book he could cash in on by having it made into a film? Reamde is far more readily filmable than most of his opus to date. And it would have a far wider appeal than his typical output. It is not in any sense sci-fi or fantasy. It is basically a roller-coaster terrorist/crime/spy thriller set in a combination of the Far East and North America with some virtual world side interest and a big gunfight finale. Stephenson is now a well established successful author and the project could definitely be sold.
Hell, I’d go watch it! Not least because I have been to a number of the more exotic places where the action is set. I have been to Xiamen and spent some time on Gulangyu Island where Olivia Halifax-Lin had her flat. Neither is this the first time I happen to have visited Far East locations used as settings in Stephenson novels, the Huxin Ting teahouse in the Diamond Age being a case in point.