My first impression in reading this novel was dismay. Oh no, I thought, Neal is doing Cryptonomicon all over again, this time about MMORPGs: page after page of geeky stuff, characters found inexplicably compelled to comment on. Don't get me wrong: I *am* a geek. Yet, reading the first part of the novel I couldn't figure out how all those details were relevant. And so it goes: excruciating details about characters are given, and then they disappear from the plot for the next 200 pages or more.
The setting is not even particularly original: Deaver touched on MMORGPS in Roadside Crosses, Doctorow wrote an entire novel on gold farmers. So what are you trying to tell us Neal? Readers still don't know, one third through. But as it turns out, the author has not much to tell at all. But it's a thriller after all, so the questions should be: is it entertaining? Is it suspenseful? Sadly, I am afraid the answer to both questions is no.
At some point the POV changes, and the plot eventually picks up. But then everything stops again, for a massive 15 page info dump (approx. pages 300-315) with the backstoryt of a suddenly appearing character, all in painful detail. Said character makes a very brief apparition in the actual story, only to disappear immediately. All that could have been shown from the POV of one of the many other characters of course, interfering minimally with the flow. The bad guy dies (!) only to be replaced by an even more preposterous one. Characters speak or think like wikipedia entries, revealing technical trivia that seem intended to show how smart the author is. But why is he doing this? Beats me. The first third of this massive volume seems like an attempt to keep a high word count indulging in whatever interested him on the day he was writing it. In the second two thirds,
the author does tie up all the subplots, but does so in such a contrived, suspense-less, over-detailed way that one almost hopes to skip to the relevant parts.
*Spoilers* ahead. Or perhaps not, this being so boringly predictable.
The book soon becomes the post 9/11 equivalent to Red Dawn: jihadist sleeper cells have replaced the invading red army, and anarcho-libertarian gun-toting nerds (I kid you not) the patriotic jocks defending US soil from the invasion. If this does not sound ridiculous enough, cougars (the feline kind rather than the more common variety said to be prevalent in US suburbs) intervene firmly on the side of the good US people. Desperately converging timelines bring all the characters to an interminable Elmore Leonard final gunfight.
The novel reads more as a masturbatory gun fantasy than social commentary. Older non sf books by Stephenson (I'm thinking about Zodiac, for instance) felt much more compact and coherent. REAMDE is a strange hybrid, not thriller enough for the fans of the genre, and apparently written for an audience of geeks for whom most of what is covered in the novel is hardly new or surprising. In my humble opinion, Stephenson's attention for detail is better employed in describing possible futures (Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and above all Anathem) rather than reiterating a simil-present we know well, or tackling with genres whose mechanics the author seems unfamiliar with.
Stephenson, Neal (2011). REAMDE. London: Atlantic Books. 2011.
Ha già parlato di Neal Stephenson, a proposito del suo precedente romanzo, in questo blog (qui e qui; e ne ho parlato anche a proposito di Spook Country di William Gibson e di John Wilkins).
Neal Stephenson è autore di culto, almeno negli Stati Uniti, e io sono uno dei suoi cultori: il che significa che ho letto tutti i suoi libri, compresi quelli minori e quelli scritti a 4 mani con altri, e che non appena esce il suo nuovo romanzo mi precipito al comprarlo e a leggerlo. Cosa che ho fatto anche questa volta, grazie a Kindle.
E, tanto vale dirlo sùbito, sono rimasto molto deluso. Sapevo già – per colpa di una recensione su Salon che non ero riuscito a non leggere – che avrei trovato uno Stephenson più avventuroso e meno filosofico di quello di Anathem (che filosofico lo era fin troppo). Qui, ahimè, di filosofico non c’è quasi niente. Purtroppo, il fascino di Stephenson, per me, era tutto qui, nella capacità di inserire in una trama di fiction avventurosa e ironica grandi narrazioni storico-filosofiche: il computer digitale, la crittografia, il danaro, la scienza, l’esistenza della realtà oggettiva, persino la teologia. Quando aveva voluto dedicarsi all’avventura e basta (Interface e Cobweb) lo aveva fatto nascondendosi sotto uno pseudonimo e in collaborazione con uno zio (anch’egli sotto mentite spoglie).
Qui c’è soltanto l’avventura, e le digressioni di Stephenson, acute come sempre, sono per lo più soltanto digressioni che poco aggiungono alla vicenda. Ma questo sarebbe il meno. Mi si consenta l’anacoluto: Interface basta sapere che stiamo parlando di uno Stephenson scritto con (mezza) mano sinistra e resta un thriller piacevolissimo. Reamde non è così: via via che si va avanti diventa inesorabilmente noioso. Gli scontri a fuoco che durano centinaia di pagine con un’attenzione maniacale ai tipi e alle caratteristiche delle armi usate sono noiosissime per chiunque non sia un cultore della materia intriso della cultura NRA statunitense.
Speriamo sia un incidente di percorso e aspettiamolo alla prossima prova.
* * *
A fatica trovo qualche piccola perla da proporvi (faccio riferimento alla posizione sul Kindle). E noterete che si fanno via via meno frequenti procedendo nella lettura, a riprova del fatto che le considerazioni più intelligentemente stephensoniane sono uno riempitivo che, allo svolgersi della vicenda, deve fare spazio all’azione.
The gravamen of the F. M.’s complaints was Richard’s failure to be “emotionally available.” [538. Questo merita un minimo di spiegazione. Richard è il personaggio meglio riuscito del libro e verosimilmente l'alter ego di Stephenson stesso, un sessantenne ora miliardario ma con un passato da draft dodger e da contrabbandiere. Le F. M. sono le Muse Furiose, il coro da tragedia greca, del tutto interiorizzato naturalmente, delle ex fidanzate di Richard. E molti maschietti sicuramente almeno qualche volta nella vita si sono sentiti fare la stessa accusa]
“THAT GUY JUST tasked your boyfriend,” Richard remarked, shortly after Peter had sat down across from the stranger by the fire.
“Gave him a job to do. ‘Get the waiter’s attention. Order me a drink.’ Something of that nature.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It’s a tactic,” Richard said. “When you’ve just met someone and you’re trying to feel them out. Give them a task and see how they react. If they accept the task, you can move on and give them a bigger one later.”
“Is it a tactic you use?”
“No, it’s manipulative. Either someone works for me or they don’t. If they work for me, I can assign them tasks and it’s fine. If they don’t work for me, then I have no business assigning them tasks.” [1414: buono a sapersi, direi]
She didn’t have to decide. She just had to pass on the news. 
“You’re just clever enough to be stupider than if you weren’t clever at all,” [...] 
[...] you kids nowadays substitute communicating for thinking, [...] 
[...] “bandwidth” [...] [2612: usato come sinonimo di intelligenza" in senso lato]
“There are rules,” Zula said. For Uncle Richard had explained to her, at the beginning of her employment at Corporation 9592, that most of the people she’d be working with were burdened with Y chromosomes and that what worked at Boy Scout camp should work here. Boys, he said, only want to know two things: who is in charge, and what are the rules. And indeed this worked magically. [2650: Stephenson è equanime, e questa visione dell'universo maschile è quasi il contraltare della "disponibilità emotiva" richiamata in precedenza]
“It is a classic Dilbert situation where the technical objectives are being set by management who are technically clueless and driven by these, I don’t know, inscrutable motives.”
“Then we just need to scrutinize them harder. [...] 
[...] whatever neurological circuits were responsible for laughing took no account of what the higher brain might consider inappropriate. 
“In management-speak, there are metrics that we can use to set expectations and show progress toward a goal.” 
“It’s a selective retirement,” Richard explained, “a retirement from boring shit.” 
[...] he was a big believer in delegating responsibilities to people who actually cared about [...] 
The GPS unit became almost equally obstreperous, though, over Richard’s unauthorized route change, until they finally passed over some invisible cybernetic watershed between two possible ways of getting to their destination, and it changed its fickle little mind and began calmly telling him which way to proceed as if this had been its idea all along. [4670. Il pensiero corre al gioco del "purtroppo" che il padre di Caos calmo di Veronesi faceva con la figlia]
“Either that, or I’m wrong,” [...] 
“Polar bears and seals,” [...] [7902: un riferimento alla tecnica di caccia degli orsi bianchi, che sorprendono le foche attaccandole da sotto]
To paraphrase Tolstoy, all rich places were alike, but each poor place was poor in its own way. 
“Who’s ‘we,’ white man?” [8394: un riferimento culturale complicato all'eroe dei fumetti Lone Ranger e al suo amico pellerossa Tonto. In un'avventura sono assaliti dai Comanci e il cow boy dice: "Siamo circondati". Al che Tonto risponde: "Siamo chi?, uomo bianco"]
“No good deed goes unpunished” was one of Uncle Richard’s favorite aphorisms. [8647: vecchio ma sempre efficace]
If his experience as the creator of REAMDE had taught Marlon anything at all, it was that something always got massively screwed up with any plan, and you never knew what that something was until it happened. 
[...] she even permitted herself a brief excursion into meta/ironical land wondering if anyone else in the world—in history—had been in danger from gangsters, terrorists, and bears in the space of a single week. When would the pirates and dinosaurs show up? [12413: classico sfondamento della quarta parete da parte dell'autore che lo fa dire a uno dei suoi personaggi. E comunque, niente pirati e dinosauri, ma più tardi arriva un puma...]
It was a long day but, in the end, not radically worse than flying between continents in an economy-class airline seat. And like such a flight, it seemed interminable when she was in the middle of it. At the end of the day, though, it seemed to have taken no time at all, since nothing really had happened. 
The inherently soporific nature of software installation [...] 
A profusion of ideas spewed forth from his mind. There was no such thing as a bad idea, apparently. But, perhaps more important, there was no such thing as a good idea either, until it had been tried and coolly evaluated. 
She could only mumble corporate-sounding buzzwords: drilling down, expanding the envelope, going into the corners of the search space. 
[...] vector for sprawl [...] [14641: detto di una strada come direttrice di un'espansione urbana]
“As hire As, and Bs hire Cs,” [...] [15182: una teoria secondo la quale se assumi soltanto persone di prima qualità, queste ne attrarranno altre dello stesso livello, ma se abbassi gli standard, quelle di seconda tacca ne attrarranno altre di terza fila, e così via]
“De gustibus non est disputandem,” [...] [15521: forse l'unica svista in oltre 1000 pagine di editing maniacalmente accurato]
[...] the whooshy, saccharine jingle made by Windows [...] [15700: con buona pace di Brian Eno]
“In a perfect world,” / “Matters being what they are,” [16258/16260]
But all deaths were as different as the persons who had died. Each death meant that a particular set of ideas and perceptions and reactions was gone from the world, apparently forever, and served as a reminder to Richard that one day his ideas and perceptions and reactions would be gone too. 
As long as you made a point of hanging out exclusively with people who had the wit to see and to understand that objective reality, you didn’t have to waste a lot of time talking. When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows. It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it. 
[...] chivalry sometimes came with a price. ...Continua