TL; DR: Read this. Like today. Or listen to it. Whatever. It’s amazing.
So, lemme get this out of the way: I’m developing a real thing for Neal Stephenson. After Snow Crash I was certainly
intrigued; it’s a good book. Then Cryptomonicon. Quite different by all means, but still right up my interest alley.
It almost seems like he’s writing specifically for me, and I don’t even know it. And then, of course, just look at the
Epic, right? He’s either the most intelligent person you’ve ever met, or he’s a complete wack-job.
And now, Reamde. The book was just brilliant. I mean, it’s almost 1100 pages long (37 hours in audio format), which is
just HUGE. But the entire book was… tense? Yeah, but “what’s happening next???” kind of tense. From page one, all the
way through the end. The whole thing was just knit together so well and had sooo much wacky stuff going on, it couldn’t
fail to be interesting; Stephenson just kicked it up a couple notches. So, here are some of the major players (both
people and groups):
- the crazy-rich founder of a MMORPG which is popular world-wide
- his niece
- the Russian Mafia
- a Hungarian computer expert working for the Russian Mafia
- a Welsh Muslim terrorist
- a Chinese computer hacker who creates the titular virus
- MI-6 (yes, MI-freaking-6)
- Right-wing gun nuts living off the grid in northern Idaho
- the CIA
So, now that we know who’s involved, let’s talk a little about the book!
Reamde is the name of a computer virus which infects players of the game T’Rain, created by the crazy-rich founder -
Richard Forthrast - to be a more gold-farmer-friendly version of World of Warcraft. As a result, it has created a global
money market, making it an easy way to transfer money between people around the world. The Chinese hacker, Marlon,
creates the Reamde virus to essentially hold a user’s files for ransom; upon infection, it encrypts all the files in the
user’s home directory, and the only way to get the decryption key is to drop some in-game currency in a particular
location in T’Rain.
The upside is that the amount you have to drop is not very much; so far, so good. There is a small problem with this:
since many people are infected by the virus, many people are going to the same place. Since there’s a lot of money just
laying around, there’s a lot of in-game fighting for what can be converted to real-world money. Plus, the hacker and his
large crew of players are doing their best to keep the money for themselves. Getting the money to the right place quickly
Enter Zula, Richard’s niece, Peter, her boyfriend, and the Russian mafia. As a side job to his computer security gig, Peter
dabbles in identity theft. He sells a bunch of info to an agent of the Russian mafia (a Scottish Canadian named Wallace),
who happens to play T’Rain. Well, his computer gets infected, and now he can’t give the info to the Russian Mafia. They,
understandably, are pissed, and so they come and pay a visit to Zula and Peter, introducing Ivanov, who is prototypical
of a crazy Russian gangster, except for the fact that he’s under a huge amount of pressure and is literally going insane.
All this happens pretty quickly in the book, so… there’s a lot left.
As I said, the whole book is immensely enjoyable. I also LOVED the narrator, Malcolm Hillgartner. He did an incredible
job of distingushing who was talking, even with such a large cast of characters. He even did accents, and pretty decently,
too. I’m gonna be looking for more books narrated by him, just because of how well he narrated!
Any rate, as I said at the very beginning, this book is awesome, of the same kind of intensity, thought-outedness, and
realistic detail as, say, the Bourne seriese of books, but with the modern tech flavor of the movies added in. The
pacing is amazing, the characters believable and likable, and… well, just all around, this is the best book I’ve
listened to all year!