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.