Book Review: Reamde

steph-n_reamdeTitle: Reamde
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 1044

First Line: Richard kept his head down.

This book is a beast. What’s more, it’s a joyously ridiculous beast. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Anathem (nor will it, I suspect, stick with me as long as the brilliantly mind-numbing Anathem), but it’s a surprisingly fast-paced read for such a huge book.

Most often, I thought of the book as a satire of the “big book” phenomenon that is sweeping though so many genres these days. For while the storylines are tightly woven, still they sprawl – not just from chapter to chapter, but also around the globe. The plot twists and turns are engrossing yet ridiculous, the characterizations enjoyable yet laughable. The story itself is a romp and seems to mock itself – mock not just what it is, but also what it isn’t.

Which isn’t what I was expecting at all, so it took me a good while to make the adjustment. I’m used to Stephenson’s ultra-intelligent examinations of social and technical constructs. Reamde, however, seems to be rooted in how ludicrous the whole thing is. The vast majority of characters are static stereotypes – tropes that are easily identifiable and, somewhat fascinatingly, just as easily relatable.

As usual, it takes about 200 pages for Stephenson to really get things moving, but when he does it’s virtually a non-stop game of cat and mouse as characters chase one another (or try to escape from one another) from the US to China to Canada and a host of other international locations. With several different (but closely related and/or intertwined) storylines going on at the same time, Stepehson has plenty to work with to keep the reader cruising along at a good clip. His handling of the pacing is one of the main strengths of the book.

The weakness, for me at any rate, is that this just isn’t that “smart” a story – not in the traditional Stephenson-sense, anyway. Even though I ended up reading it as a satire, I still couldn’t get past just how “stupid” it all felt – how the story just didn’t seem to work, how plot twists never felt quite honest, how character decisions and actions often didn’t feel quite justified.

At the end of the day, when I finally turned that 1044th page, I was glad to be shut of it. I didn’t want to read any more about these characters or their absurd situations. It’s a decent read, and I recommend it to fans of Stephenson, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who has never read him before.

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