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Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
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A-ReamdeA writer for the cybergeek in all of us, Neal Stephenson returns with Reamde, an epic thriller that bridges reality and the virtual world. Stephenson's 10 novels include Snow Crash (1992), Cryptonomicon (1999), the Baroque Cycle trilogy (The Confusion [3 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2004], The System of the World [4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2004]), and Anathem (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2008).

The Story: Richard Forthrast earned a great deal of money in "international commerce" (read "pot smuggling") between Canada and the United States. Now he's gone straight, creating the world's most popular online role-playing game, T'Rain, replete with shoot-‘em-up scenarios and "gold farmers"--Chinese teenagers, mostly, who do virtual tasks for real money. When Forthrast's adoptive niece, Zula, a talented programmer, becomes unwittingly involved in a stolen-data scheme--thanks to the eponymous virus, a transposition of the common phishing subject line README--Richard can save her, but only through an act of betrayal. Hackers, intensely "real" virtual worlds, Russian gangsters, terrorists, the CIA and MI6, and more guns than a Texas flea market--Reamde is part-thriller, part-commentary on the world-behind-the-world.
William Morrow. 983 pages. $35. ISBN: 9780061977961

Boing Boing 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Stephenson's one of my favorite novelists, a writer who is both very good at what he does, and who is nevertheless willing to go all the way out to the edge of his prodigious talents and take brave risks. ... [Reamde] is ... a triumph, all 980 pages of it." Cory Doctorow

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"True to Stephenson's baroque style, even the slightest of the book's narrative threads takes entertaining twists, and the main plot lines crisscross crazily. ... Once again the geek Homer has produced a novel worth its every page: large enough to lose yourself in and engaging enough that you'll be glad you did." Nisi Shawl

Time 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Sometimes when you're reading Neal Stephenson, he doesn't just seem like one of the best novelists writing in English right now; he seems like the only one. No other author embeds characters in an authentically contemporary Web of technological connections the way Stephenson does." Lev Grossman

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Stephenson runs both plots with equal skill, the real world providing the tension, the geek world, often, the humor. ... There's an intellectual pill buried deep in Mr. Stephenson's narrative candy, one powerful enough that he deserves to be classified as a major national and international resource." Tom Shippey

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Among all the books tied to the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Neal Stephenson's massively entertaining new thriller, Reamde, may turn out to offer the best take on this increasingly fragmented, bizarre and bleakly beautiful world we now call home. ... This is the rare book that will appeal equally to fans of both NPR and the NRA." Elizabeth Hand

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If you are a Stephenson fan who believes Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon (1999) are his greatest novels, Reamde will come as very good news, for in many ways it can be read as a thematic revisitation of those excellent precursors. ... But Reamde, at a certain point, becomes less a novel than a book-shaped IV bag from which plot flows." Tom Bissell

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Stephenson has always had a gift for luring readers along with engaging, heroic characters and page-turner plots. ... Despite some flaws, Reamde maintains a roller coaster's momentum through nearly 1,000 pages of story, something many writers have trouble doing over a quarter of that length." Marc Mohan

Salon 3 of 5 Stars
"If anyone has the right to take a break from plumbing the Big Questions of What it All Means and to divert himself with a lesser undertaking, it would be Stephenson. ... Reamde is disposable Stephenson." Andrew Leonard

Critical Summary

In literary circles where hyperbole is the order of the day, Neal Stephenson really has--inarguably--put together the most ambitious portfolio of any major writer working today (an old saw about prolix American novelist Henry James's chewing more than he bit off comes to mind). Finishing one of Neal Stephenson's best-selling novels--or, more herculean yet, the 2,500-page, two-million-word Baroque Cycle--is a badge of honor for the author's many fans. Not surprisingly, then, more than one critic bemoans the accessibility of the latest effort. Indeed Reamde, more than any other of Stephenson's novels, cleaves to cyberthriller conventions, telling a straightforward tale of greed, deception, and terroristic intent. Still, "Stephenson's imperfect results [are] better than most writers' best days" (Salon). A rare and visionary talent, Stephenson will certainly win more fans than he alienates.