REAMDE: A Virus
It is not his best work but I daresay it is his most engaging.
Mr. Stephenson and I share a mutual friend. He came over on Thursday evening and thunked a hefty tome down on my dining room table. It had this printed on the bottom: “Advanced Reader’s Copy • Not For Sale”. I had written a review of his previous book; would I like to write one for this?
Well. Of course. Neal is and has been one of my favorite authors, starting back in 1992 when my friend Dave lent me his near-mint copy of one of the Nerd Bibles: Snow Crash.
The plot of REAMDE (and I will continue to use all-caps for the title) is both simple and complex at the same time. There are many characters with many stories, and all of them weave around and through each other. As is typical of Stephenson’s writing, the threads seem at times to be unrelated and only at the climax do they bind together again to display a cohesive tapestry to the reader.
The title of the book comes from a gold farmer’s virus that has infected thousands of players of World of Warcraft-style video game. The virus works like this: if you are infected, it will encrypt the contents of your hard-drive with a key that only the makers of REAMDE possess. The victim must then pay a ransom – in the game – of 1,000 gold pieces (about seventy-five real dollars value) in order to get the decrypt key (and thus recover their files).
Purely by accident, The Wrong Kind of People get their shit trapped by this and the virus locks up some super-valuable data. The Wrong Kind of People have Muscle of the ex-Spetsnaz variety. Hijinks (read: murders) ensue and the stakes, in a series of co-incidences, keep growing higher and higher.
Neal’s strongest characters arise when he writes in “time-local” settings and the cast of REAMDE is as well-written as it is diverse. We travel the globe with this yarn and accumulate characters from several nationalities, ethnicities, creeds, and color while doing so.
The cast is also large – on the order of six or seven main characters and about ten secondaries. In the hands of a lesser writer this could easily have fallen apart but Stephenson manages to split the party up in such a manner that the reader need only concentrate on three or four at a time.
REAMDE hits the ground around page fifty and maintains a relentless pace thereafter. The final act ran a bit too long for my taste but this is mostly an artifact of the huge cast size: every thread must be tied off in some way or another.
Reading this book made me want to write games again.
Oh, yeah. What do I think is his best work? The Diamond Age, natch.